Oregon’s statewide plan to update water infrastructure, address climate change challenges and conserve precious water resources are under public review, with potential impacts lasting well into the 22nd century.
The 100-Year Water Vision community conversations, a series of forums that will run until mid-November, made a stop in Bend on Friday to brief Central Oregonians on what’s being done locally and statewide to improve the quality, usage, conservation and delivery of water.
The use of water by Oregonians has been a matter of dispute since the arrival of the first settlers in the mid-1800s and has only gotten more complicated over the years with the addition of each dam, canal, farm and other change on the landscape.
Kyle Gorman, south central region manager for the Oregon Water Resources Department, said drought, aging infrastructure and a changing population remain some of the many challenges in the region.
“The 100-Year Water Vision seeks to build awareness about our challenges, and to call for strategically investing in water so that we can have a future that we all want and that is supported by clean and abundant water,” said Gorman on the sidelines of the Bend meeting.
The conversations are expected to help state leaders address the multitude of challenges with efficiency and cost effectiveness. The road map to water resource management is outlined in Oregon’s Integrated Water Resources Strategy. The strategy contains more than 50 recommendations on how to improve the state’s water systems.
In August, Gov. Kate Brown tasked state and local organizations to get together and discuss how to build awareness and develop investment strategies, a process now called The 100-Year Water Vision.
Meta Loftsgaarden, executive director of the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, said implementing water projects today requires substantial funding that is no longer available from the federal government.
In the 1970s, the federal government paid for about 60% of the water infrastructure in Oregon, but that percentage has dropped to just 10% today, Loftsgaarden said.
“It’s a trend we are seeing nationally. Transportation infrastructure has stayed steady, but water investments have fallen off. Our hope is that through the 100-Year Vision we can tee up those investments — hopefully bringing in federal dollars and using state and local funds, as well,” Loftsgaarden said.
Before committing taxpayer funds on projects, representatives of state and local water departments are meeting to understand water needs and opportunities for Oregonians.
“This is the beginning of the conversation, an outgrowth of our Integrated Water Resources Strategy, which talks about our (water) needs — and they are big. We have a lot to do,” said Racquel Rancier, senior policy coordinator at the Oregon Water Resources Department.
“Once we take all this information and put it all together, we will talk to the governor’s office about next steps.”
There are a number of projects around the state that can be used as models for modernizing aging infrastructure, said Bobby Cochran from Willamette Partnership, a nonprofit that promotes the use of green infrastructure.
Cochran cited the Whychus Creek Canal project, an open canal that was piped and upgraded with hydroelectric capabilities, as a good model for dealing with Oregon’s leaky canals. The project has returned 30 cubic feet per second of water flowing into Whychus Creek.
“Farmers are actually generating energy. They are not having to use energy to pump water out of the river. Some 39 miles of salmon habitat have opened up, and there’s a more reliable water supply for downstream communities — which is all really good stuff,” Cochran said.
Meeting attendees reviewed the award-winning Crooked River Wetlands Project in Prineville, a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly wastewater treatment plan that averted the construction of a $62 million mechanical plant. The 128-acre project lowers wastewater rates and created a new public hiking trail system.
“It used to cost a new homeowner $9,000 to connect to the sewer. They restored a wetland to come up with a way to treat their wastewater and (the connection price) dropped to $3,000. So how do we do that everywhere? This is the kind of water feature that Oregon needs,” Cochran said.
The series of conversations continues with organizers visiting Ontario, La Grande and Albany. The final live meeting is scheduled for Thursday in Medford and then a virtual meeting is planned for Nov. 13. The public is encouraged to comment on the draft vision document, at OregonWaterVision.org.
Summaries of the eight conversations will be compiled into a report along with comments received through oregonwatervision.org, as well as interviews with statewide water interests. The report will be presented to the governor and the Legislature in early 2020.
“We’re hearing a lot of excitement around the state around water, so we also anticipate the governor and Legislature are thinking about how they can support Oregon’s communities too — we’re just not sure what that looks like yet,” Cochran said.