About Us

Since 1985, WaterWatch has pursued a single, clear mission: Protect and restore flows in our rivers to sustain the native fish, wildlife, and people who depend on healthy Oregon rivers. 

Our Origins

In the late 1970s a pioneering group of Rogue River Basin anglers set out to restore streams for salmon and steelhead. What began as an effort to improve conditions for fish with shovels, logs, boulders and plantings sparked a movement that changed water law and river conservation across Oregon and the west.

As they worked, these visionary anglers recognized that without protections for instream water, all of their labor would be for nothing. But across Oregon, more water often flowed in irrigation canals than in adjacent streams. One angler, Tom Simmons, began to investigate. Almost immediately, he met Audrey Jackson, a long-time Oregon activist on water issues. Tom and Audrey joined forces and learned Oregon gave away new rights to use water — a public resource — for free, without considering the impacts on rivers or fish through processes dominated by agricultural, municipal and industrial interests. They also learned that many waterways across Oregon were literally being sucked dry.

The situation was not unique to Oregon. Across the west, rivers ran dry under antiquated water laws that failed to meaningfully consider the needs of rivers, fish, wildlife or the public interest in water. To address the dramatic imbalance between private and public uses of water, Tom and Audrey founded WaterWatch of Oregon in 1985, becoming the first organization in the west to seek structural reform of antiquated water laws to protect and restore our rivers.


Rivers need water


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