Building Climate Resilience in our Drinking Watersheds

Water is ground zero for climate change in the West.

From more frequent and intense winter rainstorms to drier summers, extreme flooding and drought are often how we first experience the impacts of climate change. The good news is that we can reduce risks to people and wildlife by strengthening nature’s ability to capture, filter, and store water.

To help communities take advantage of nature’s free water filtering and storage services, our Working Waters initiative leads a five agency partnership called the Drinking Water Providers Partnership. The Partnership supports restoration projects in watersheds that provide drinking water to communities by encouraging drinking water providers, landowners, and restoration practitioners to work together on projects that benefit communities and native fish. It is the first public-private program of its kind nationally.

In 2016 the Partnership awarded $588,000 in grants to 11 restoration projects in streams that provide drinking water for roughly 250,000 Oregonians. While improving drinking water, these projects will also enhance roughly 32 river miles and 423 acres of habitat for native fish. The Partnership is expanding into Washington in 2017.

Three Partnership-Supported Projects

Willamette River basinA collaboration between the City of Dallas, Oregon, the Polk Soil & Watershed Conservation District, and several landowners placed large wood back into the Rickreall Creek channel. Sediment can now settle out of the water column, groundwater storage will increase, and summer water temperatures will be cooler, all while reducing treatment costs for the public water system.

Powder River basin – Baker City in eastern Oregon collaborated with the Umatilla National Forest to replace fencing in sensitive areas of the Elk Creek drainage. As a result, vulnerable streams are protected and Baker City residents can be assured there is less risk of pathogens getting into their drinking water from wildlife and cattle.

Umpqua River basin – The Umpqua National Forest collaborated with the town of Glide, Oregon to repair roads in the town’s source watershed to reduce erosion. As a result of these improvements, sediment will no longer suffocate salmon eggs and Glide’s public water system will see more reliably clear water passing through its intake, reducing operation costs and allowing them to use fewer chemicals.

From small coastal towns to high desert urban hubs, Working Waters is enhancing watershed health as a key strategy for adapting to the uncertainties of a changing climate.

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