It has become commonplace among political elites to observe that clean, fresh water will increasing become one of the world’s most precious and fought-over resources as this century progresses.
Astoria leaders couldn’t have known this decades ago when a series of wise decisions led to acquisition of the city’s forest watershed, but we and future generations will have ample reasons to be thankful for their understanding of water’s importance.
In late August, The Daily Astorian provided a thorough update on the city’s watershed and ongoing management of its timber. Routinely thinning the forest enhances its health and biological diversity, while improving fire safety and generating revenue and forestry jobs.
Last month’s logging yielded $228,651 net revenue for the city, mostly from harvesting non-native, disease-prone trees. Much of the native vegetation was preserved, including healthy spruce, hemlock and Pacific silver fir. Watershed managers are systematically steering the forest away from Douglas fir, the species favored in the region’s intensely harvested industrial tree plantations. Carefully planned harvests within the watershed take pains to avoid creating erosion, sedimentation and other impacts on water quality and the environment.
Water originating in the city’s wholly owned 3,700-acre forest once fed the city’s booming canneries and now supplies its breweries. It includes 32 miles of stream and tributaries, Bear Creek Reservoir, Middle Lake and Wickiup Lake.
The city’s forest is a thriving storehouse for carbon that could otherwise be contributing to global climate problems. Astoria was paid $2.2 million two years ago when it enrolled in a carbon-credit program — essentially being paid to not aggressively harvest for the next 20 years. The city has since sold an additional $40,000 worth of carbon credits. Funds have been spent on city firefighting equipment and also placed in the capital improvement fund.
It would be hard to overstate the long-term importance of Astoria’s watershed management choices. Although, unlike much of the world, precipitation is actually forecast to increase in the Pacific Northwest in coming decades, we will also struggle with increasing population pressure and the need to manage more-intense rainfall events.
Only time will tell whether forecasts are accurate. But smart planning — past, present and future — puts Astoria in a far more advantageous position than countless other places in a changing world. Even now, it isn’t too late for all surrounding communities to slowly make similar investments in healthy watersheds. It will be more difficult and expensive than when Astoria did so, but a great bargain compared to what it will cost 50 years from now.