Mother Nature Makes the Best Drinking Water

Fourteen years ago, the Geos Institute dedicated itself to helping salmon and steelhead reach their historic habitat in the Rogue River basin. For over 13 years, we helped coordinate the removal of dams on the main stem and fixed problematic irrigation diversions on tributaries so that native fish could once again get to some of the area’s best spawning and rearing habitat and to cool water when river levels were low. As a result, chinook, steelhead, and other native fish now have unfettered access to almost 1,300 river miles that were denied to them for nearly a century.

Through our work improving fish passage, we also began to see restoration’s benefits extend to everyone who needs healthy, functioning watersheds. In our Little Butte Creek project, we worked with Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife and many other partners to put a very large meander back into a section of creek that had been channelized decades earlier. Not only did this project recover important salmon habitat, it also had positive benefits for the nearly 100,000 people who rely upon the Rogue for their drinking water.

We are all aware that changing climate conditions are having negative impacts on freshwater – and climate scientists tell us that changing conditions will continue to make our water supplies much less predictable, with larger and more frequent floods and droughts.

Water managers find themselves pinched between increasingly stringent regulatory requirements for water quality and a lack of financial resources to meet them. Healthy watersheds are our best way to prepare for a changing climate and watershed restoration is a cost-effective solution to improve water quality supplies for fish and people. 

Projects like Little Butte Creek allow rivers to once again spread across the floodplain, and when the water slows down, sediment can drop out. Clearer, less muddy water requires fewer chemicals to make it safe for drinking. And slowing down flood waters creates more opportunity to recharge groundwater, which improves late summer stream flows and keeps water cooler for fish.

This was the impetus of our Working Waters Initiative, which two years ago started the Drinking Water Providers Partnership, a group of agencies and organizations collaborating to restore and protect the ecosystems that native fish depend upon as well as those we rely upon for our drinking water. And we’re doing this in an innovative way: coordinating an annual grant process that builds partnerships between drinking water providers, landowners, agencies, and restoration practitioners throughout the Pacific Northwest.

The first eleven projects to receive funding are located in communities throughout the state, and one project is bringing us back to where it started, Little Butte Creek right here in Southern Oregon. Visit www.WorkingWatersGeos.org to learn more.