Oregonians Weigh in on Water

A majority of Oregonians who recently participated in a series of water forums don’t believe the state has enough water to meet all of its basic needs, including those of wildlife.

Despite its abundant rainfall, people are pessimistic now and even more wary about where the state will be in 20 years; about two-thirds of respondents in statewide forums said the quantity of water won’t be adequate to meet future needs. These are among the findings in one of the first surveys ever done in Oregon to ask people what they think about water issues. They reflect the participation of 301 citizens attending five different water “roundtables” around the state this past fall.

 “This was an effort to simply find out what was on Oregonians’ minds when it came to water issues,” said Michael Campana, director of the Institute for Water and Watersheds at Oregon State University. “We found that people were not optimistic about future water supplies, and that there are a lot of concerns.

 “But it’s not all doom and gloom,” Campana said. “Many people are ready and willing to tackle some of the difficult water issues we’re facing and work together even though there are some contentious disagreements. That gives me some cause for optimism. As much as anything, though, we kept hearing that Oregonians want customized, local or regional water solutions, not a one-size-fits-all mandate imposed by state or federal agencies.”

Five water roundtables -- held in Salem, Bend, Newport, Ontario and Medford -- attracted a broad group of participants, mostly just concerned citizens but also people with interests in agriculture, resource management, land development, recreation, tourism, and other areas. The meetings were open to anyone and not designed to be a scientific cross-section of Oregonians, organizers said. A report on the findings was just completed, and the results will be reported to the governor, state legislature, and Oregon Water Resources Commission. The full report is available on the Web at http://water.oregonstate.edu/roundtables/docs.htm.

Among the key issues mentioned are:  

  • Adequate water quantity and quality;
  • Concerns about non-point water pollution as a result of urbanization;
  • Need for more funding for water and wastewater infrastructure and management;
  • Protection of existing water rights and uses;
  • Better integration of water planning and land use planning;
  • Climate change impacts;
  • Restoration of wetlands, floodplains and in-stream flows;
  • Interstate water allocation and management.

Many of the citizens surveyed felt that state agencies dealing with water should get more support and funding, Campana said.

But they didn’t want those same agencies dictating solutions to local communities. “We need to do it ourselves,” said one Ontario, Ore., resident at the roundtable meetings. “We need to start local and include those impacted physically and economically by water use.”

 Some local initiatives, Campana said, are already fairly well-advanced.  “Residents in the Umatilla Basin are already very aggressive in their desire to manage groundwater,” he said. “They are considering tribal, fishery, irrigation and other issues, and have formed a task force to help reach consensus on what needs to be done. This may include proposals to tax themselves to produce funding for better groundwater management.”

Some potential solutions cited in the roundtables included water reuse and recycling; water conservation tax credits; water storage and conservation; local integrated water planning; interstate compacts, and other approaches. Specific concerns at the various roundtables ranged from fish barriers and groundwater withdrawals to herbicides, E. coli, and invasive species.