Water is magic and joy, and water is life. I’ve used these words many times to reflect the cultural, spiritual, and practical significance of water in my life. And it’s because water is so important to so many that the “right” way to manage water is elusive.
In the last year, Oregon’s natural resource agency leaders have begun a conversation about constructing a 100-Year Water Vision for the state. To build that vision, they’ll need to take a close, hard look at what’s working and not in how we manage water today. And they’ll need a range of voices to help answer the hard questions about what’s needed to get us to the future we want.
There is no better time to talk about our water future and we’re thrilled to see the state agencies beginning this work. We’re also excited for water champions from across the state to engage as the conversation continues. In reflecting on the ambitious and necessary work ahead, we hope the 100-year vision develops in a way that can:
- Build prosperity and healthy communities for all Oregonians, no matter where we come from or what our color. In Oregon and around the country, the most vulnerable communities have experienced the greatest inequities and injustices related to water – outsized exposure to toxics, localized flooding, and flood-related losses; barriers to affordable water service; and loss of culturally important places. Past resource and infrastructure decisions have not included or affected all Oregonians equally, but future investments can begin removing these disparities if the voices of communities of color, indigenous communities, immigrants, rural and low-income Oregonians can be heard and centered.
- Make space to collaborate. Developing a 100-year vision can leverage and reinforce the role that collaboration plays in governing Oregon’s natural resources. Collaborative process brings in new ideas, leading to durable solutions that benefit more parties. Collaboration is critical because the challenge of creating a sustainable and equitable water future for Oregon is far bigger than one person or one point of view.
- Break down silos. The regulatory programs that govern water are complex. So much so that it would be easy to forget that stormwater, flood water, groundwater, wastewater, and drinking water are one water. If we want to identify “one water” solutions for today’s complex and interwoven issues, we should build our 100-year vision in a way that incentivizes integration across water resource silos, and with other core infrastructure (e.g., power, transportation) sectors.
- Give natural infrastructure a real place alongside engineered systems. Watersheds store, treat, and transport water. Then the pipes, pumps, and filters of our engineered systems pick up where nature leaves off. Making nature part of our infrastructure systems can ease the burden on built water infrastructure or replace it all together. Cities like Prineville, Portland, Ashland, and Salem have all found great ways to make nature a pragmatic and cost-effective part of the way they grow. But traditional regulatory, financial, and institutional systems do not create a level playing field for natural infrastructure. We need to make sure that when there is an opportunity to get more (or pay less) by investing in nature, the state’s systems make that an easy choice.
Oregon can have the most forward-thinking water policy in the county. And if we start now, Oregon communities can shape the water future they want – a future that supports their residents, economy, fish, wildlife, and healthy rivers.
Willamette Partnership has thought a lot about how we can support the collaborative process, policy innovations, and technical information needed for the next 100 years of water management. And we also know that we need more voices and ideas to inform and deliver on it. Share your ideas with our staff, and let’s build that future together.
Partners like Oregon Environmental Council have also been active in the 100-year water vision discussion “Whether in your backyard, your business or at the Capitol in Salem, every Oregonian has a role to play in preserving our precious water resources for future generations.”