Current work in wildlife, rivers, public lands, and climate
Drinking Water Partnership Announces Grant Awards Where Upstream Restoration Benefits Downstream Drinking Water
Our survival depends on clean water, a fact that Pacific Northwesterners know very well: nearly 3.7 million people in Washington and 3.6 million people in Oregon get their drinking water from rivers and streams. When their sources of drinking water are polluted, these communities suffer. So do fish that depend on clean water, such as salmon and steelhead. Yet Oregon and Washington don’t have the billions of dollars needed to repair drinking water infrastructure like filtration systems, pipes, culverts, etc.
The Drinking Water Providers Partnership made the connection: money being used to restore rivers and streams for threatened salmon runs could be stretched to provide additional benefits for drinking water. The partnership, comprised of the Geos Institute, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Washington Department of Health, U.S.Environmental Protection Agency, and WildEarth Guardians, pooled resources to create a grant program incentivizing work that benefited both aquatic species and drinking water systems. This year, $519,000 was available for this work.
The Partnership recently recommended funding be awarded to 14 projects in Oregon and Washington that will re-create or enhance natural river processes compromised by past land use practices. These projects benefit native fish while also helping municipal water utilities. By ensuring that water coming into their systems is as clean as possible prior to treatment, towns save money, which can be put into fixing leaking pipes and other local priorities.
“It seems obvious that a river connects everything that it touches. But we often miss seeing what’s right in front of us,” said Marlies Wierenga, WildEarth Guardians’ Pacific Northwest Conservation Manager. “Our partnership aims to do what’s obvious: link upstream efforts to restore streams to the drinking water needs of downstream communities.”
For an example of the link between upstream and downstream, drinking water and salmon, just look for muddy waters. When too much sediment is in the stream (e.g., dirt from roads, landslides, etc.), drinking water providers may have to close their intakes because mud can clog filters and increase the cost of water treatment. Salmon also suffer when muddy sediment smothers spawning gravels. Several projects funded by the partnership focus specifically on slowing erosion and trapping sediment, including restoration actions that will benefit residents and fish in Carson, Wash.; Eagle Point, Ore.;and Glide, Ore.
“Nature is the original hydro-engineer and when watersheds are healthy, they store and filter water more economically than many human-designed systems while providing many other benefits for people and wildlife,” said Cathy Kellon, Geos’ Working Waters Program Director. “Restoring streams is a common sense and cost-effective strategy for protecting public health while keeping drinking water treatment costs down.”
Other examples include efforts to make the link through increased education. Community members often are unaware that the river they camp next to or the stream that they swim in also is the source of their drinking water. Several projects aim to raise awareness with strategically placed signs and direct outreach. And other projects have simply identified one need, e.g., fencing, and have been awarded grant funds to address that need, such as in Baker City, Ore.
Benefits from these projects will be seen over many years, not only for people but also for salmon and other aquatic species that depend on well-functioning river systems. The Drinking Water Providers Partnership congratulates all those working to make these connections.
About the partnership:
The Drinking Water Providers Partnership is a collaboration of the Geos Institute, USDA Forest Service Region 6, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the Washington Department of Health, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 10, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management OR/WA Office, and WildEarth Guardians. This is the third year the partnership has awarded grants.
The goals are to:
- Restore and protect the health of watersheds, which communities depend upon for drinking water while also benefiting aquatic and riparian ecosystems, including the native fish that inhabit them.
- Support local partnerships between drinking water providers, landowners, and restoration practitioners.