Protecting the Source
Do you know where your drinking water comes from? Whether it comes from the ground or a local river or reservoir? Who or what you live downstream from?
This week is National Drinking Water Week and a good time to reflect on how we can protect and preserve our local water sources. From partnerships between drinking water providers and landowners upstream to community forest initiatives, people across Oregon are taking steps to ensure the water that comes out of your faucet is safe to drink for your family and future generations.
Along the Oregon Coast, 50 coastal municipalities get water from forested drinking watersheds, but few have control over how that timber land is managed and what kind of pesticides get sprayed on it. Now the community of Arch Cape is getting closer to purchasing its 2,100-acre watershed and designating it a community forest.
“I see this as a holistic approach to treating and providing safe water. It’s not about just treating symptoms — turbidity, eroding slopes — [at the treatment facility],” said Phil Chick, the manager of Arch Cape Water and Sanitary District, to The Daily Astorian. “It’s about ownership of the entire process from headwaters to the tap.”
Learn more about community forests from the Northwest Community Forests Coalition.
Harmful nutrients from agricultural operations, home fertilizers and septic systems can make its way into streams, rivers and groundwater and ultimately impact drinking water supplies for communities downstream. However, farmers, water utilities and other community partners can work together to combat the problem.
In Eugene, the McKenzie Pure Water Partnership is designed to reward McKenzie River landowners who protect high quality land along the river, assisting the Eugene Water & Electric Board (EWEB) in protecting water quality and helping to avoid future water treatment costs. Nearly 200,000 residents in Eugene-Springfield rely on the McKenzie River as their sole source of drinking water, but like in Arch Cape, EWEB owns very little land in the McKenzie Watershed and has no control over how the watershed is managed. This program is essential to helping EWEB accomplish its mission to provide clean drinking water to the community.
Addressing the infrastructure gap
Newly incorporated in 2006, the City of LaPine has been working for the past decade to build the systems and services that residents of other Oregon cities take for granted. Now, this small community is looking to the future by connecting 300 existing lots to a safe municipal drinking water and sewer system to provide families with clean water and prevent pollution from impacting the health of residents and rivers downstream.
Communities across the state face the challenge of aging or inadequate infrastructure to provide clean drinking water, but in rural Oregon, many towns don’t have the population density to generate needed money for improvements. This can lead to disproportionate negative impacts – small water systems accounted for 70 percent of drinking water violations in 2015, according to a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Things you can do:
We are facing a pivotal moment for water in the West, and Oregon is not immune to the challenges facing other states. Warming water temperatures, polluted runoff and drought are putting our rivers, wildlife and drinking water sources at risk. In parts of the state, wells are going dry and groundwater is too contaminated to drink.
Oregon Environmental Council is working with state agencies and partner organizations to build support for investing in sustainable solutions to these issues. And it will take commitment from Oregonians across the state to preserve the ways of life we depend on.
Be an advocate for your drinking water:
- Learn where your drinking water comes from and how safe it is for human health. Look at your water bill to see who your water provider is, then look up their health record using the Environmental Working Group’s Tap Water Database or Oregon Health Authority’s Drinking Water Data Online. While a little clunky to navigate, OHA’s database will actually tell you the source of your drinking water, not just the utility’s record.
- Get your water tested. Some communities have programs for free drinking water testing, so check with your city or county to learn more. Oregon Health Authority has a list of accredited drinking water labs.
- Ask your legislator what they are doing to protect your drinking water. Find your legislators at https://www.oregonlegislature.gov/findyourlegislator/leg-districts.html.
Protecting our source water is the best way to ensure safe drinking water in our communities and avoid the future expense of higher treatment costs. You save money when water utilities don’t have to treat contaminated water, build new treatment facilities, or deal with hazardous material spills. It costs much less to protect the land around our water source than to restore degraded land.