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Oregon Water Futures

A new report from Oregon Water Futures reveals the many water challenges facing communities across the state, from water shortages, to living with unsafe water, to watching sacred ecosystems disappear. The report highlights key findings from community conversations conducted last year, and its insights are already informing policy discussions in the legislature.

Community members have extensive knowledge and experience that can help Oregon achieve its water resource goals. But they face significant barriers to participating in policy and infrastructure discussions. In recognition of these challenges and the increasing vulnerability of our water resources, the Oregon Water Futures (OWF) project was formed to elevate water priorities from communities currently underrepresented or historically discriminated against in water policy decision-making.

Pictured: Oregon Water Futures Project Report cover.

Pictured: Oregon Water Futures Project Report cover.

Over the course of 2020, the Oregon Water Futures  project hosted a series of water-focused conversations with Native, Latinx, Black, and various migrant communities across the state – including Indigenous Latin American, Caribbean, Southeast Asian, Middle Eastern, Arab, Pacific Islander, and Somali communities. These conversations lifted up culturally-specific ways of interacting with drinking water and bodies of water; concerns around water quality and cost; resiliency in the face of challenges to access water resources essential for physical, emotional, and spiritual health; and a desire for water resource education and to be better equipped to advocate for water resources. Now, the Oregon Water Futures project has summarized their findings of this outreach and its learnings to share with Oregon policy and decision-makers.

Project partners included Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN), Euvalcree, Unite Oregon, Verde, the NAACP Eugene-Springfield, and the Chinook Indian Nation, all of which are a part of communities often impacted by water policy, yet lack access to public debates about water-related and environmental disaster policies. The collaborative project brought these diverse voices together to create momentum in elevating water justice in Oregon. 

"When one enters water infrastructure, law, and policy spaces, the language that is used is often inaccessible... And when we talk to people and bring that kind of language, people say, ‘well, I don’t know anything about water.’ But if we just ask people how did you grow up with water, how do you feel about water, people have a lot to say and a lot to share.”

- Alaí Reyes-Santos, Indigenous, Race, and Ethnic Studies Dept., University of Oregon, Oregon Water Futures Partner

"I was struck by the deep connection that many community members felt to water and the strong desire to learn more. Hopefully this project is just the beginning and helps to spur further community education and capacity building related to water justice"

- Taren Evans, Coalitions of Communities of Color, Oregon Water Futures Partner.

"The Oregon Water Futures team has incorporated the community stories into some timely and actionable ways the State of Oregon can invest in water justice. This includes repairing and replacing failing septic systems and wells for low income families so that everyone has access to clean drinking water, as well as investing in stronger community engagement. We encourage the Oregon Legislature to use their power to make these investments with American Rescue Act and other funds this legislative session, without further delay."

- Vivian Satterfield, Verde, Oregon Water Futures Partner.

Through a water justice lens, the Oregon Water Futures project aims to impact how the future of water in Oregon is imagined through storytelling, capacity building, relationship building, policymaking, and community-centered advocacy at the state and local level. As the world has been confronted with realities like the Coronavirus pandemic and increased natural disasters due to climate change, we need to make sure our communities have access to clean, affordable water. By centering community voices in policy and infrastructure discussions, we can ensure that everyone has that basic human right.

The Oregon Water Futures project and participating community members presented the findings of these conversations at a Zoom Press Conference, Monday, May 24th. We encourage you to follow-up with any of our speakers for more specific interviews about this work. All follow-up interviews can be scheduled through Emily Irish, irish@willamettepartnership.org. You can download the full report, learn more about participating organizations and this effort, and read the summary of this work in multiple languages at oregonwaterfutures.org.

University of Oregon Indigenous, Race, and Ethnic Studies Department (https://ethnicstudies.uoregon.edu):

The University of Oregon department of Ethnic studies pursues the abolition of white supremacy through generating scholarship and creative expression, fostering community, and providing students with the intellectual tools to help fulfill their potential as historical actors creating a more just world.

Coalition of Communities of Color (@colorcoalition):

The Coalition of Communities of Color's mission is to address the socioeconomic disparities, institutional racism, and inequity of services experienced by our families, children and communities; and to organize our communities for collective action resulting in social change to obtain self-determination, wellness, justice and prosperity.

Verde (@verde_nw):

Verde serves communities by building environmental wealth through social enterprise, outreach and advocacy.

Oregon Environmental Council (@OECOnline):

Founded in 1968, OEC is a statewide nonprofit dedicated to advancing innovative, collaborative and equitable solutions to Oregon’s environmental challenges for today and future generations.

Willamette Partnership (@Willamette_P):

Willamette Partnership is a conservation nonprofit with a deep commitment to helping build stronger, healthier, and more equitable communities that are sustained through nature.

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