Water Can’t Wait
By Lori Grant, Water Program Director
Whether it’s Idaho, Nevada, or Oregon, states across the West are all having the same conversation about water: our rivers and aquifers are over appropriated, which is to say that more water has been promised to people, agriculture and ecosystems than nature can continue to provide.
Even as we experience one of the wettest winters in a decade, the future of Oregon’s water resources is uncertain. Across the state, wells and streams are already going dry seasonally, and according to a recent report from OSU’s Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, diminishing water supply and increased demand are expected to strain the ability of existing infrastructure and operations to meet all the varied water needs in the state.
Even the Willamette Valley is not immune: The Oregon Climate Assessment Report called attention to summer water scarcity as a growing concern for the most densely populated region of the state. And a report on California’s extended drought showed that water shortages disproportionately affect already disadvantaged communities, including low-income households, people of color, and communities already burdened with environmental pollution.
Water scarcity affects everyone, including growing communities, fishermen, farmers, Native peoples, manufacturers, and all Oregonians who love our rivers, salmon and steelhead runs, and who depend on our natural resources. Oregon’s economy and way of life depend on a clean and reliable source of water, but drought has left Oregonians vulnerable. We can’t afford to wait until water scarcity is the norm to address these challenges.
This legislative session, you will hear about our water budget, water rights and expectations of water users, but the bottom line is that the state must find a way to pay for the ongoing management of our water supplies and to fill critical gaps in our knowledge of how much water we have and how quickly it is being consumed. Without this basic information, it’s impossible for communities on the ground to reliably and responsibly plan for the seasons ahead.
It is our civic duty to take responsibility for the integrity of our water supply and protect the land we call home. That’s why OEC is working collaboratively with partners from across the state to address the problem before it becomes a crisis, and reliably and responsibly plan for the changing seasons ahead.
Image credit: Great Basin region of Oregon photo courtesy BLM, aquifers under extreme pumping stress graphic courtesy The Oregonian Draining Oregon series