Oregon Leans in on Water, Climate, Health, and Justice

Oregon Leans in on Water, Climate, Health, and Justice

By Darren Golden, Golden Solutions; Vivian Satterfield, Verde; and Bobby Cochran, Willamette Partnership


Oregon’s 2021 legislative session ended on June 26 with an impressive list of actions. The session started off with Oregon anticipating a $2B budget shortfall and a narrow focus on COVID-19 and wildfire recovery. Well, a few big things changed that focus. First, Oregon’s tax revenues were higher than forecasted. Second, the federal American Rescue Plan Act infused the Oregon budget further, turning a deficit into a significant surplus. Third, important leaders stepped up with ideas and commitment. The Racial Justice Council formed after George Floyd’s murder and the following protest actions. The Council built recommendations for Criminal Justice Reform and Police Accountability, Housing and Homelessness/Houselessness, Economic Opportunity, Health Equity, Environmental Equity, and Education Recovery. A number of legislators, both Democrat and Republican, also stepped up to invest significantly in issues important to both Oregon’s rural and urban communities. Three of those include:

But it doesn’t end there. House Bill 2021 set a 2040 date for Oregon’s electric utilities to move to 100% renewable energy. A suite of police reform bills passed, and there were significant investments in affordable housing and equitable community development. House Bill 2842 established the Healthy Homes Program within the Oregon Health Authority to help improve housing quality for low-income households. The program will invest in indoor air quality, lead abatement, energy efficiency, septic system repairs, and other actions that will extend the usable life of a healthy home. 

On water, a lot more happened than most people expected. The Oregon Water Futures team issued a letter to the Governor, legislators, and agency directors based on a wide range of community conversations on water justice. Those specific asks, leadership from legislators and the executive branch, generated the $530M water package which includes:

  • $5 million to support Oregon’s 100-Year Water Vision, equitable water access, and state, local, and regional water planning;
  • $15 million for septic system repair and replacement;
  • $2.5 million for domestic well remediation and replacement;
  • $375,000 for drinking water well testing;
  • $11.2 million to modernize the data collection and technology used to monitor Oregon’s water supply; and
  • More than $300 million for water, sewer, stormwater, and other water infrastructure replacements — especially in low-income and rural towns.

And with all of these investments, important policy actions happened too. Business Oregon initiated rulemaking to ensure natural infrastructure was eligible for public works and economic development funds, and agencies worked to consistently apply a definition of natural infrastructure. Check out these and other actions to advance the use of natural infrastructure in a report from Oregon Environmental Council and Willamette Partnership. Oregon is also taking steps to increase its readiness for federal water infrastructure funding

This all represents a significant down payment in Oregon’s water future, one where everyone has access to enough clean water now and for future generations — no exceptions. It also represents the kinds of achievements that occur when community voices are heard, trust has been built, and leaders step up together. The next two years are going to be BUSY as Oregon moves to make good on the full faith and promise of this legislative session’s actions. We hope you join us in continuing to listen, trust, work together, and lead. Thank you to all the Oregon communities and leaders who did that — this Session, and every day you spend in service of your community.

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.

1 Comment

  1. Jan Irene Miller 3 years ago

    Bobby and team,
    Thank you for leading and promoting community health in all ways.
    We’d love to have you come and present to the board and technical advisors of the North Santiam Watershed to understand the possibilities and opportunities of the legislative changes and what that means for us in our role as watershed stewards.

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