Drinking Water and Wild Salmon Runs Protections

Location Acres Ecological value Economic Value

O&C Lands play a vital role in providing drinking water for over 1.8 million Oregonians, with approximately 75% of O&C Lands falling within the Department of Environmental Quality’s “Drinking Water Protected Areas.”  O&C’s iconic rivers—the North Umpqua, Illinois, Rogue, McKenzie, Nestucca and others—provide several thousand miles of habitat for fish and wildlife, supporting the healthiest wild salmon and steelhead runs south of Canada.

We support a long-term solution to the management of O&C Lands that provides timber revenues and safeguards clean drinking water, wild salmon runs and the many recreational benefits these lands provide. Beyond the varied recreational benefits to anglers, hunters, hikers and others, effective watershed management saves tens of millions of dollars by mitigating the severity of floods and droughts, and supplying clean drinking water without the need for expensive secondary treatment plants to filter pollutants. 

Recently, for example, watershed conservation efforts on Portland’s Bull Run Watershed saved taxpayers over $60 million in avoided secondary treatment costs. Indeed, effective management practices help these healthy watersheds act as natural refrigeration and filtering systems.

We propose three basic actions to protect these natural systems and the people and wildlife that depend upon them:

  1. Enact into law the current riparian reserves, buffers key watersheds and other aquatic protection standards - The Aquatic Conservation Strategy (ACS), a central component of the Northwest Forest Plan, is the most successful large scale public lands strategy to protect clean water and fish ever implemented. Currently, scientists agree watershed health in Western Oregon is improving in large part because of the ACS.  The ACS includes innovative “riparian reserves” and designates several “key watersheds.”  These standards have proven to be effective to restore healthy and resilient rivers – they should be enacted into law.

  2. Designate “Watershed Conservation Opportunity Zones” in Federal and State Law - The O&C lands house important clean drinking water sources and wild salmon habitat.  A new “Watershed Conservation Opportunity Zone” designation should be crafted that will protect high-priority watersheds and facilitate collaborative management between federal, state and private entities in key drinking water source areas, salmon strongholds, and other watersheds with extraordinary conservation values. Primary management goals for these systems would be the restoration and maintenance of ecological processes and functions beneficial to water quality and quantity, and the creation and maintenance of habitat for native fish and wildlife. At least six systems have been identified for this designation - North Santiam, McKenzie, Umpqua, Rogue/Illinois, Nestucca/Tillamook, and Sandy/Clackamas – but a scientific panel should review and assess what areas should be identified specifically.  State and Federal funds will be directed towards conservation priorities in these zones, including addressing road-related issues (i.e. – de-commissioning, restoration, mitigation).

  3. Expand Wild and Scenic Rivers and Wilderness Areas - Western Oregon is probably best known for its many outstanding rivers that deliver clean drinking water, provide recreation opportunities, and support fishing businesses in communities up and down the coast. Segments of 67 streams covering 10 different river systems in the O&C landscape are eligible for protection under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, a federal law established to protect special rivers from degradation. This designation would preserve the rivers and streams in their current condition for generations to come.

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Protecting the O&C Lands