Oregon’s 100-Year Water Vision Moves Forward

From the Capital Press: Stacey Dalgaard, center, with Oregon Environmental Council, brainstorms water challenges with Roger Fantz, left, of the Clackamas Soil and Water Conservation District, and Torrey Lindbo, water sciences program manager for the City of Gresham

Last fall, the Governor announced the beginning of a multi-year effort to develop and implement a 100-Year Water Vision to meet the needs of healthy communities, a robust economy and the environment for today and future generations. Now state leaders have launched the first phase of public input gathering to shape the vision and how it can guide us as we face a more uncertain water future than ever.

Why does Oregon need a water vision?

Our water system is at a critical tipping point. Every major river in Oregon is out of compliance with one or more of the water quality standards that protect human health and aquatic life. Local fish in many waterways are contaminated with mercury, PCBs and other chemicals, making them unsafe to eat and threatening their survival. Toxic algae blooms are becoming more frequent. In parts of the state wells are going dry or groundwater is unsafe to drink, and climate change is bringing more damaging drought and flooding as our communities continue to grow.

In the 1970s and 80s, the federal government helped with about 60% of the cost for water infrastructure. The federal share has now dropped to 10%, leaving locals to foot the bill on water treatment and delivery upgrades that are long overdue. Irrigation systems are leaky, sometimes losing as much water as they deliver to the farm. And in Oregon – like the rest of the country – past resource and infrastructure decisions have not included or affected all Oregonians equally. This summer, old pipes on the Warm Springs Reservation burst, leaving tribal members without running water for more than three months, closing schools and daycares, putting elders at risk, and forcing people to improvise for basic human needs.

But there is new momentum building across the state to address these challenges and make a bold commitment to a secure and resilient water future for all Oregonians! Future investments and water policy priorities can begin removing disparities if the voices of communities of color, Indigenous communities, immigrants, rural and low-income Oregonians can be heard and centered.

OEC’s water and rural partnerships team has been traveling around the state over the past year listening to the needs and priorities of tribes and communities from Wallowa to Coos County. Oregonians across the state are calling for transformative action, not just in the solutions identified and investments promised, but in how we get there, together.

OEC will continue to provide input every step of the way, elevating the importance of investing in water with legislators in Salem, prioritizing inclusivity and sustainability in the vision, and activating stakeholders across the state to weigh in on what a secure and resilient water future looks like for their communities.

You can weigh in on the 100-Year Water Vision at oregonwatervision.org by clicking “Share Your Thoughts.” We believe that any vision for Oregon’s water future should be bold enough to protect and restore healthy watersheds for people and environment; broad enough to deliver integrated, cross-sector solutions; collaborative and community-driven; and designed to be equitable and lasting from the start.

Over the next year, we’ll be exploring the challenges and opportunities Oregon communities face in restoring and managing our water systems with an eye to a more sustainable and just future. Share your water story and what you think should be prioritized in a vision for the future of our water systems in the comments below.

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