Willamette River

The Willamette River flows past downtown Portland.

In the West, few resources evoke more passion than water. The reason is obvious: Everything comes down to the quantity and quality of water.

That’s well illustrated across Oregon. In the Klamath Falls region, the periodic shortage of water is well-known, as are the many demands placed on it.

Analogous stories can be found in many areas east of the Cascades, as agriculture, urban growth, residential and industrial uses, fish and other environmental concerns collide.

Even on the west side of Oregon, where ample precipitation is the rule, its seasonality and limited storage put stress on cities and farms. Protected fish and other species also have a major impact on the quantity of water available at any given time.

Because of the critical importance water holds for every aspect of life, it’s surprising that Oregon is just now developing a plan for managing it in the years to come. More clearly, the state does have a strategy, but has done little to put it into effect.

That could change in the near future, as state water managers, in conjunction with their regional counterparts, put together a plan to better manage surface and ground water.

During the course of developing this “Water Vision” managers have asked for comments, and we have some. We also have questions. For example:

• Why are people in regions such as Klamath Falls left fighting for their livelihoods, often as the result of state actions, or inactions?

• Why don’t cities such as Salem and Portland get their water from the Willamette River, which runs through them? Instead, Salem gets much of its water from the North Santiam River 20 miles away, and Portland gets some water from the Willamette but most of it from anywhere else. Wouldn’t it make more sense for those and other cities on the river to clean it up instead of taking water from other sources?

• The video introducing the the “Water Vision” refers to providing clean, affordable water to Oregonians. Why is it that some residents of small towns are paying nearly $100 a month for water and sewer service, while other cities, whose overloaded sewage systems sometimes empty directly into the Willamette, pay much less?

• The video also says the state’s water infrastructure has been pretty much ignored for the past 50 years. Why is that? Is it a case of misplaced priorities? Storage, including dams and aquifer recharge, continues to be the ongoing need in Oregon, yet little has been done at the state level to maintain or develop it.

• The Columbia River — one of North America’s great waterways — flows along much of the northern border of Oregon, yet it is barely mentioned as a source of water. Why is that? Wouldn’t it make sense to tap the Columbia as a source of water for municipal use and irrigation, as Washington state has?

These and other questions represent the “elephant in the living room” as water managers look to the future, but they can also represent solutions.

Our hope is that all sources of water will be “on the table” as Oregon’s leaders plan for the future.

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