Imagine Oregon Without Water

Imagine Oregon Without Water

By Bobby Cochran


Water is so much a part of why I love Oregon. Water brings significance to every aspect of our lives, from a relaxing walk along a river to being at church where we use water to cleanse our spirit and start the season anew. My kids gripe when they drink tap water outside of Oregon—the Cascades’ finest is always colder and more refreshing. In Oregon, water grows our food, provides places to recreate, supports our high-tech industry, keeps us healthy, and is essential to a natural ecosystem where fish and wildlife thrive.

Every one of us cares A LOT about water

—and that’s pretty consistent across populations in rural and urban centers, gender, race, and income. Yet, we have taken our water management for granted. I turn on my tap and clean water comes out. My office doesn’t flood when heavy rains come. It’s pretty easy to forget all the work that goes into clean, healthy water because the people who manage water have done an incredible job!

But now it’s time we all get involved and lend each other a hand, because how we manage water in Oregon is due for an upgrade. As we celebrate Imagine a Day Without Water on October 23rd, we have to think about Oregon and the heavy lift we have ahead of us. Here are some challenges that pose a real threat to Oregon communities who might actually be without water for some parts of the year in the near future!

Learn about Oregon’s 100-Year Water Vision. The vision is geared toward preparing a secure, safe, and resilient water future for all Oregonians. / Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board

    • The City of Salem depends on Detroit Lake, in the forested upper watershed high above the city, for its drinking water supply. In May 2018, toxic algae so affected water quality in the lake that Salem residents were warned that young children and those with health issues should avoid drinking tap water. These toxic algae blooms can be expected to increase as water temperatures warm and reservoir levels reach new lows due to climate change.
    • In the 1970s and 80s, the federal government helped locals with about 60% of the cost for water infrastructure. The federal share has now dropped to 10%, leaving locals to foot the bill on water treatment and delivery upgrades that are long overdue. This summer, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs lost part of their water supply because of old faulty pipes. The federal government had helped build the infrastructure but had yet to help upgrade it.

But these challenges are also an opportunity!

Watershed GraphicWhen we imagine a day without water, we can imagine the potential for Oregon’s water future! In Oregon, we have water and we have ecosystems that function (even though they need more protection). We are attracting people and business because they love water. So, how can water be a part of Oregon’s comparative advantage?

The State of Oregon has begun a 100-Year Water Vision—building off the state’s Integrated Water Resources Strategy from 2017. The Vision can be our way of organizing actions to secure Oregon’s water future. With this, we can do things like encourage community capacity to do water planning. We can provide the information locals need to manage water for their health, environment, economy, and safety. How we manage water in Hermiston will be different than managing water in Burns or Newport or Portland—and that’s cool and important. We can invest the energy and resources now in protecting nature, clean drinking water, efficient farm irrigation, effective wastewater treatment, and the flood protection we need.

This Imagine A Day Without Water, join the conversation around Oregon’s 100-year Water Vision. Share your thoughts, participate in the Community Conversations happening around the state this month, and learn more about Oregon’s water at

Learn about Oregon’s 100-Year Water Vision.


Register for a Community Conversation.


Bobby Cochran led Willamette Partnership's work around building community resilience and innovation. He is passionate about supporting community leaders to move resources from dumb stuff to better stuff - especially when that means clean water, better health, and economic inclusion. Bobby is now with the Rural Community Assistance Partnership. He received a Ph.D./M.A. in Urban Studies/Conflict Resolution from Portland State University.


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