In late October, COLT traveled to Newport and North Bend on the Oregon Coast to join several of its members, water providers, local government officials, federal and state agencies, and a host of other community partners to talk about protecting drinking water sources with land conservation tools.
Source water protection is the protection of the sources of our drinking water. The quality, reliability, and cost of our drinking water is all tied to quality of the water source. And the quality and quantity of our water sources is tied to the health of our natural lands. The watershed is as much a part of our water infrastructure as the pipes and treatment plant.
Coastal drinking water sources face unique threats due to their unique land ownership matrix and geographies. Many coastal communities rely on water from small streams in forested watersheds—around 43% of these watersheds are privately owned industrial timber lands. Communities have almost no control over land uses on private lands to ensure they do not impair their water sources. Land conservation provides a pathway for communities to protect lands in their drinking watersheds and manage them to secure clean and reliable drinking water.
As we heard during our time on the coast, the impacts of unprotected watersheds are not academic for water providers and communities—they are real and felt when water providers worry about being unable to treat water due to a high sediment following logging or being unable to provide water with increasingly drier streams in summer months.
Recent federal appropriations provide a once-in-a-generation opportunity for communities to invest in their watershed, but communities can’t do this work alone. Partnerships are critically important to provide communities with the capacity and expertise to secure their drinking watersheds.