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A Banner Year for Water in the Oregon State Legislature - VOTER Q4 2021

by Peggy Lynch, Natural Resources Coordinator for the State Action Team

2021 legislative session was remarkable in many ways. For water enthusiasts, it was historic. The 2021 session’s access to federal funding, a surprising positive state revenue forecast, and all the work we and others had done the past 10 years to address water issues meant legislators had a guide to funding a complete water package, with $538.1 million in staffing

and projects for agencies, cities and towns across the state.

The League of Women Voters of Oregon has studied and developed positions on water quality and quantity since the 1960s and 1970s. In 2007, under the leadership of Liz Frenkel, our convention authorized a new water study, intending to update and combine our water quality and quantity positions. Under the leadership of Marnie Lonsdale and Robin Wisdom, League members spent almost 2 years compiling the responsibilities and laws of all the state water agencies, federal laws and court rulings, interviewing water users and engaging members in a conversation around water. Part 1: Regulating Water in Oregon is a concise review of current Oregon laws and regulations for water resources and water quality. The committee took another year to focus on issues around water in Oregon and members

adopted our new position in 2011. Part 2: Issues and Perspectives covers the current issues facing water quality and quantity from the perspectives of stakeholder groups throughout the state.

As a result of local leagues’ engagement and education efforts, a member was selected to serve on the first state Integrated Water Resources Strategy in 2012 and again in 2017. Over the years, our Action Team worked with state water agencies to fund their staffing needs and a variety of projects as well.

The Dept. of Agriculture received money for another water staffer, for work with small watersheds in Oregon and to work on groundwater management areas in the state. Coastal groups received money to study ocean acidification. The Dept. of Environmental Quality received staffing to improve water quality data and to work with the Oregon Health Authority on harmful algal blooms. They also received money for grants or loans to repair or replace on-site septic systems. The Dept. of Fish and Wildlife received funding to create a new Habitat Division and permanent funding for fish biologists who work with stream flows. The Water Resources Dept. received a major infusion of staff to work on place-based planning and regional planning discussions. They were also given authorization to create a new well repair and replacement fund. And then there were the projects: money for repair or replacement of drinking water and sewer systems, especially for small towns across

Oregon. Some of this money will also help the communities who suffered from the 2020 Labor Day fires to protect Oregon’s water sources. Lastly, money was allocated to the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board to continue work on a 100-year water vision.

As the entire state is suffering from drought, we hope this is the beginning of investments in water. League members should know that our studies with their subsequent adopted positions and our Action volunteers who help educate and advocate with legislators to address these important issues make Oregon a wonderful place to live. $538.1 million! What a victory!

(To volunteer to work on water or other natural resource issues, contact

Peggy at Training provided.)

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