2022 Oregon Legislature Recap

In a first of its type, the 2022 Oregon Legislature funds a drought resiliency package for rivers, wetlands, and other aquatic ecosystems!

In a triumph for conservation, the 2022 Oregon Legislature funded a $25.6 million Drought Package for aquatic ecosystems that will help move the state forward in building aquatic ecosystem resiliency in the face of increasing incidents of drought.

WaterWatch and our conservation partners developed the package that will fund efforts to protect, restore, and enhance habitat to help buffer effects of climate change and associated drought. The $25.6 million package delivers the following:

• $2.6 million to Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for drought resiliency measures, including cold water refugia mapping, installing real-time temperature and streamflow gages, and securing instream water rights to protect streamflows.

• $8 million to Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for fish passage barrier removal.

• $10 million to Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board for voluntary water right acquisitions to restore water instream.

• $5 million to the Oregon Conservation and Recreation Fund to fund conservation projects aimed at restoring aquatic habitats.

Thank you to the Oregon Legislature for funding this important package!

While we celebrate this drought funding package as a great step forward, additional resiliency measures are needed if we want healthy freshwater habitat in a climate changed world.

In addition to continuing funds for drought resiliency measures into the future, it is time for the state to get serious about enforcing existing laws and/or passing new laws to ensure smart water management and the protection of critical streamflows and clean, cold water needed for fish survival in times of drought. A few critical steps needed to protect aquatic habitats in the face of a warming planet include:

• Protect minimum survival flows for fish: The state should protect minimum survival flows for fish during times of drought. This will require action by the Oregon Legislature.

• Use existing drought tools meant to protect water users and ecosystems: The state has existing authority to mandate conservation measures during declared droughts but, to date, has not used this authority to require agricultural or municipal providers to meet conservation targets during drought.

• Modernize irrigation to respond to a changing climate: To help ensure sustainable agriculture in a warming climate, the state should 1) require measurement and reporting of water use; and 2) set basin-specific efficiency standards for irrigation.

• Use existing laws to ensure against illegal or wasteful use of water: It is illegal under Oregon law to use water without a permit. It is also illegal to waste water. The legislature should further fund the Oregon Water Resources Department’s watermaster corps to shut off illegal and wasteful use of water.

• Sustainably manage Oregon’s groundwater resources: The Oregon Water Code requires the Water Resources Department to manage groundwater sustainably, but too often this is not achieved, especially in times of drought. The state needs to stop issuing new groundwater rights, including emergency drought permits, where it does not have the data to ensure that the use is within the capacity of the resource.

As Oregon faces increasing incidents of drought, these and other measures are critical to ensuring protection and restoration of freshwater habitat into the future.

Thank you for supporting WaterWatch. These important legislative victories that help protect and restore Oregon’s beautiful and ecologically vital waterways are possible because of you. Please consider a donation today to help us continue this work.