Community Water Solutions: Working Toward a Secure Water Future

Clean and reliable water is fundamental to our communities, economy, fish and wildlife, yet it’s easy to take for granted. Growing demands, competing interests, aging infrastructure, and climate change are straining water systems. We’re reminded of the importance of water when we see crises – unsafe drinking water, flooding, drought, lack of access and affordability – affecting communities across Oregon. 

Recognizing that water is vital to Oregon’s future, OCF supports projects that facilitate collaboration about water quality and quantity among people with diverse interests. Through our Community Water Solutions grantmaking, OCF supports rural, Tribal and underserved communities in identifying their needs and priorities for water and developing solutions that influence statewide decisions and funding. Since 2016, OCF has made more than $1 million in grants to support water-related efforts in Oregon.  

Place-based planning for water

Oregon’s diverse water flows, economy, and communities mean that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to water. OCF grants support place-based planning — voluntary, locally-led efforts — to understand water needs and identify solutions that inform local, regional and state-level decisions.

“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,” said Representative Mark Owens, House District 60.

OCF funding supports meeting facilitation, networking, and communications for place-based planning pilot programs in three regions: Harney Basin, the mid-coast region, and lower John Day Basin. OCF grants also support collaboration in other regions such as the Deschutes Basin Water Collaborative. The place-based planning pilot projects provide a model for other Oregon communities to understand and meet their current and future water needs. For instance, the state’s 2023 Drought Resilience and Water Security Package included a permanent Place-Based Water Planning Fund.

Northwest Tribes setting priorities for water

As stated by the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI), Tribal water resources have been under increasing pressure to meet a multitude of demands such as drinking water, commerce, agriculture, fish and wildlife habitat, recreation, and other needs. OCF has supported the annual Changing Currents Tribal Water Summit.

“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,” said Direlle R. Calica, coordinator for the Changing Currents Tribal Water Summit and the Policy Project and program coordinator for ATNI’s energy program.

Community engagement on water

The Oregon Water Futures Project sought to address disparities on water issues and amplify the voices of communities of color, Indigenous people, and low-income residents. With support from OCF and fellow funders, this collaboration produced the State of Water Justice in Oregon report and the Oregon Water Justice Framework, published in November 2022. The state’s 2023 water package reflected framework priorities such as Indigenous leadership and water access and affordability.

Preparation to access public investments for water

In addition, OCF has provided support so that organizations can tap into technical assistance and other resources to navigate, apply for, and secure public funding for water projects across the state.

Although Oregon is making significant progress, “water insecurity is a reality for many Oregon residents and a growing risk for many more…water insecurity may ultimately threaten the environmental and economic well-being of the entire state,” according to a 2023 report by the Secretary of State’s office. Climate change, drought, overallocation of groundwater, disparities in communities, aging infrastructure, the fragmented management of water, and other pressures are affecting our natural systems and communities. Through OCF’s Healthy Environment Fund and Community Water Solutions grantmaking, we seek to build resilience for people and place and help to create a secure water future.

For more information

To support OCF’s Healthy Environment Fund, please consider making a gift online, or if you have a donor advised fund, please give through MyOCF or contact your donor relations officer.

For more information about the Healthy Environment Fund, contact Carlos Garcia, OCF’s senior program officer for the environment, at cgarcia@oregoncf.org or (503) 227-6486.