From the Forest to the Faucet: Protect Clean Drinking Water on O&C Forestlands
There has been a lot of public debate about the 2.6 million acres of publicly owned “O&C” lands in western Oregon and for good reason. The forests on these lands provide Oregonians with multiple ecological and economic benefits—timber for harvest, fish and wildlife habitat, and opportunities for hunting, fishing, and other recreation. Most importantly, these lands play a critical role in providing clean drinking water for roughly 40 percent of Oregonians downstream.
A recent article highlighted concerns about the effects of changes in forest management on drinking water for Corvallis, Oregon.
1.8 million Oregonians receive their clean drinking water from O&C lands and 73 percent of the O&C lands are located in areas identified by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality as Surface Water Source Drinking Water Areas. Overall, there are 81 public water supplies such as the water for Corvallis, Eugene, Salem, Medford, and metro Portland that have O&C lands within their drinking water source areas.
A bill recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, co-sponsored by Representatives DeFazio, Schrader, and Walden, would adopt forest practices that threaten this irreplaceable resource. The relaxed standards in their bill would reduce current protective buffers on riverside lands important for clean water by half, allow clearcut logging in areas prone to landslides, and permit application of herbicides shown to migrate into drinking water sources. Senator Wyden should be applauded for seeking input from Oregon drinking water providers including several that expressed their support for current river protections in September.
As Senator Wyden crafts his comprehensive solution for management of O&C lands, he should make sure to preserve current protections for the most valuable resource on our forests: clean water.