SUNRIVER, Ore. — Oregon has a public perception problem when it comes to water quality, said Richard Whitman, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s natural resources policy director.
Addressing foresters at the Oregon Forest Industries Council’s annual meeting here Oct. 12, Whitman said: “The public perception out there is that water quality is bad and it is getting worse.
“That is not true,” Whitman said.
“In actuality, since the passage of the (Estuaries and) Clean Water Act in 2000 … we’ve been pretty much stable. We haven’t gotten worse. In some places, it is getting a bit better. In some places it’s not. But there is this perception out there in the public that we have an enormous water quality problem in the state, and it is simply not the case,” Whitman said.
“The Northwest is also a breeding ground for litigators, unfortunately,” he said, “and that litigation also feeds this perception that we are not in good shape in terms of water quality.”
Whitman said the state also has a perception problem when it comes to water quantity.
“The problem in the land of water quantity is that we have plenty of water in Oregon and that we are not California,” Whitman said. “That is not really the reality, either.
“These public perceptions about where we are at as a state are in and of themselves a problem,” he said. “They make it difficult to build collaborative lasting solutions to real problems and, in order to work through that, we need to be thinking not just how to work through the substantive issues, but also how to bring the public along, so the public understands where we are truly at in terms of resource issues and can be part of the solution, rather than creating additional problems in terms of solutions.”
Whitman said that while water quality in Oregon is good, it could be better.
“It is not necessarily good enough for all the things that we want water to do,” he said. “It is not good enough in some places for our fisheries. In some places, we have issues with our drinking water.
“So there is still some progress to be made on water quality, even though we have made an enormous amount of progress already,” he said.
“Also, with warming temperature and less snowpack, we are facing water-quality challenges,” he said. “We saw that this year with a need for fish advisories on many of our streams in Oregon because of low flow and unusually high temperature.
“On the water quantity side, Oregon is blessed with abundant water, but with less snow and warmer temperatures, we have several problems. We have a storage problem,” he said. “Without the snowpack, we are losing that storage.”
Whitman said Brown was instrumental in advocating for passage of the $54 million package that lawmakers passed in the 2015 Legislature to fund water storage projects.
“The governor has followed that up with an executive order on drought, making sure that our Oregon agencies lead by example in terms of reducing their water use, and also putting in place a new Oregon drought plan so we are better prepared in the future for the type of summer we saw this past year,” Whitman said.
In an interview after his presentation, Whitman said he hopes to have some water-storage-project news in the near future.