New report elevates water justice in Oregon
A new report from the Oregon Water Futures Project reveals water challenges facing communities across the state, from water shortages, to living with unsafe water, watching sacred ecosystems disappear, and critical information gaps about clean water during emergencies.
The report highlights key findings from community conversations that OEC, University of Oregon, Coalition of Communities of Color, Verde, Willamette Partnership and community partners conducted last year. These insights helped spark momentum for an historic $530 million water investment this session.
Based on a series of water-focused conversations with Native, Latinx, Black, and various migrant communities across the state – including Indigenous Latin American, Caribbean, Southeast Asian, Middle Eastern, Arab, Pacific Islander, and Somali communities – the Oregon Water Futures team issued a letter to the Governor, legislators, and agency directors earlier this year emphasizing actions the state can take to advance water justice.
We asked state leaders to:
- Invest in culturally-specific organizations to do community engagement;
- Ensure clean and trusted drinking water for renters, homes, and workers on domestic wells is prioritized for Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC), low-income, and rural residents and businesses;
- Prioritize replacement of failing septic systems for BIPOC, low-income, and rural residents and businesses;
- Update state and county emergency notification systems for culturally-specific needs to reach non-English speaking, low-income, tribal, and rural residents and businesses;
- Ensure communities don’t fall through the cracks in disaster relief;
- Increase access to traditional and cultural foods for Native and Indigenous people;
- Broaden access to funding for all tribes, including those not federally recognized;
- Prioritize utility bill assistance for BIPOC, low-income, and rural residents; and
- Ensure utility water/sewer bills and water quality reports are provided to renters.
These asks, along with leadership from legislators and the Governor’s office, generated big wins for water this biennium!
In a first for the Oregon Water Resources Department, the legislature dedicated $1.5 million for community-led water needs assessments centering Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, and Tribal communities – a priority elevated by the Governor’s Racial Justice Council, where OEC Executive Director Diana Nuñez serves on the Environmental Equity Committee and advocates for water justice.
Important funding was also allocated for septic systems, domestic wells, drinking water well testing, water infrastructure improvements for low-income and rural towns, and regional water planning. These are critical investments to ensure everyone has access to clean water now and for future generations.
We’re facing a critical juncture to bring people together from all communities to work toward bold, collaborative, and community-driven solutions for our increasingly vulnerable water resources. As we imagine a better water future together, it’s urgent that we invest in community and state capacity to meaningfully engage frontline communities in shaping how to solve water challenges and address inequities.
Looking ahead, the Oregon Water Futures Collaborative aims to continue to center community voices in public policy around water resources, future water investments, and Oregon’s 100-year water vision; help build leadership capacity within BIPOC-led organizations to engage in water advocacy; and inform a statewide water justice agenda.
Water justice cannot and will not be accomplished in a single legislative session or biennium. It requires an intentional investment in relationships, trust, recognition of history, and a way of doing work on water that centers the leadership of communities experiencing inequity.
Find a summary of the report in English, Spanish, Nepali, Burmese, Arabic and Chinese at https://www.oregonwaterfutures.org/report-summaries.