“Water is life. And the findings in this advisory report are shocking.”

On 1/26/2023 the Oregon Secretary of State released a report titled “State Leadership Must Take Action to Protect Water Security for All Oregonians”. Per the press release announcing the report,

“Water is life. And the findings in this advisory report are shocking,” said Secretary of State Shemia Fagan. “Not only are many families in Oregon dealing with water insecurity today, many more are at high-risk of becoming water insecure in the very near future. What’s shocking about this report is it shows that we don’t have a plan to address the problem.

I have been stating for years that we are in a water crisis and don’t have a plan for addressing it, a statement that continues to be denied by local cities and politicians. It’s well past time for political leadership on this topic and I am grateful that some are finally taking it seriously. The report itself is 73 pages long, but the press release provides a good high level summary and I encourage you to at least read it.

Here’s a story from OPB on the “dire picture” painted by the audit. The story adds some good commentary including that “it fails to mention major industries that have had deleterious effects on the state’s water supplies, including agriculture and developers. The actions suggested by the audit were less direct than the solutions offered by the communities affected by drought, who were more likely to identify the sources of Oregon’s water problems and where the agencies in charge of regulating them were falling short.”

State and local officials continue to dismiss water management as an issue that needs immediate attention. While Central Oregon is not yet facing the depth of issues being experienced in places like the Klamath Basin, Harney County, and in some communities along the Columbia River, it is playing with fire to not plan for the future on a heating planet. Local municipal water departments and the Oregon Department of Water Resources continue to assume that we will indefinitely have abundant water resources, in spite of the current 22-year mega drought that is so far showing no sign of abating.

Lack of planning for a drier, hotter future is putting communities across the West in peril today. Here are three recent articles from the NY Times detailing just how bad it is in places like Arizona and California. As the Colorado River Shrinks, Washington Prepares to Spread the Pain. Skipped Showers, Paper Plates: An Arizona Suburb’s Water Is Cut Off. Arizona Is in a Race to the Bottom of Its Water Wells, With Saudi Arabia’s Help.

Perhaps you don’t trust the NY Times. Here’s a good one from OPB. An internet search will find plenty of other stories. Is Bend really immune to the problems being faced elsewhere? As I wrote a year ago, in many ways Arizona is far advanced in its water policy where compared to us, but it has not spared them.

In Central Oregon we continue to encourage development without identifying sustainable, renewable water resources, with only the assumption that we will be able to pump water out of the ground with deep wells. We continue to avoid the discussion of pumping’s impact on surface water and on fish, wildlife, and recreation. We continue to avoid addressing the fundamental need to reallocate and better monitor water usage. Others have similarly avoided the issue and are now paying the cost.

Footnote: Here’s my complaint with the Secretary of State audit. After a good job of detailing the seriousness and numerous causes of the crisis, only a single page (page 72), containing 11 briefly outlined steps, is provided for recommended actions. None of them address the fundamental issue of reforming 100+ year old water laws. Here’s an announcement from earlier this month from the Governor of Arizona announcing the creation of a new “Office of Resiliency” which will “coordinate stakeholders among state agencies, tribal governments, universities, organizations and others to address Arizona’s water challenges from a local, state, regional and national level”. Oregon needs to do something similar.