Communities Collaborate to Create Local Water Solutions

Water is fundamental to our lives, yet it’s easy to take for granted. When extreme situations hit—floods, droughts or drinking water rendered unsafe—we’re reminded how important water is for our communities, culture, economy, and native fish and wildlife.

Multiple factors are stressing Oregon’s water and water systems, with the Warm Springs drinking water infrastructure crises being just one example. With no one-size-fits-all solution, local communities must have a voice. Through its Community Water Solutions program, OCF supports collaboration around water quality and allocation in rural and BIPOC communities and among tribes in Oregon.

Governor Brown’s 100-Year Water Vision, released in 2020, called attention to the multiple uses of water and the opportunities and challenges to planning and implementing actions across Oregon’s diverse geography, geology, and water flows. Additional challenges include aging water infrastructure, declining federal funding and shifts in climate and population.

In 2016, OCF launched the Community Water Solutions program with the goals of funding underserved rural communities’ water planning to represent diverse interests and inform policy and funding priorities.

OCF recently provided grants in the mid-coast region, lower John Day Basin, and Harney Basin to local planning groups working in partnership with the Oregon Water Resources Department, the state agency responsible for allocating surface water and groundwater. Undertaking place-based planning is a long-term endeavor built on voluntary participation, balanced representation, and relationships.

“When working on these issues, you build trust over many meetings and years. OCF’s support has been invaluable because finding funding for the staff capacity to run a place-based collaborative is extremely difficult. OCF has been a consistent and dedicated supporter of the collaborative work on water in Harney County,” says Representative Mark Owens, House District 60.

In addition, OCF funds work to engage communities equitably and amplify tribal water stories and priorities in water management and policy. One example is support of the nonprofit organization Verde’s efforts to gather input from BIPOC communities about their aims, including water affordability and access. OCF has also supported the successful Changing Currents project of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians. Among its many aspects, the project takes an intergenerational approach to water, engaging youth leaders with tribal leadership.

“Changing Currents convenes important intertribal and Indigenous perspectives on water resource issues and builds connection to non-Native neighbors, communities of color, partners, and stakeholders. OCF provided support to develop the Changing Currents Tribal Water Summits and communications platform forum to share information, stories and wisdom about water resources,” says Direlle Calica, coordinator for the Changing Currents Tribal Water Summit and the Policy Project and program coordinator for the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians energy program.

Recognizing that significant water investments are needed in an era of decreasing federal funding for water, OCF recently provided a grant to Willamette Partnership to examine how successful Oregon’s water programs have been in securing federal funds.

Lastly, the 2020 wildfires burned watersheds that provide drinking water to communities and brought into stark relief the need for resilient water resources and a holistic approach to our watersheds. As our state charts a course forward for sustainable water management, consensus-based solutions—shaped by and for the community—have the potential to ensure safe, accessible water for our communities, economy, and natural areas.

To support the collaborative work for Community Water Solutions, please consider donating to the Healthy Environment Fund of OCF (Fund number 266635). Make a gift with a credit card online, or if you have a donor advised fund, give through MyOCF or contact your donor relations officer.

For more information about Community Water Solutions, contact Carlos Garcia, OCF’s environmental resource officer, at cgarcia@oregoncf.org or (503) 227-6486.