The John Palensky Memorial River Conservation Fund supports WaterWatch projects that are specific to the Columbia River and its tributaries. The Columbia River Basin was John’s favorite river system.

The fund also supports an annual award in John’s memory and recognizes those with a special passion who work to protect, restore, and promote the Columbia River and its tributaries.

John Palensky made many significant contributions to saving fish and wildlife in the Northwest. WaterWatch was extremely fortunate to have John serve on our Board of Directors. You can read John’s bio below.

John’s Bio

John Palensky believed that water of sufficient quantity and quality is necessary not only to ensure the viability of endemic species of fish and wildlife, but also to sustain the quality of life that characterizes the Pacific Northwest.

John’s career focused on restoring Columbia Basin salmon populations. Responsible for developing a collaborative fish and wildlife program at the Bonneville Power Administration, he worked to minimize power generation impacts to salmon and wildlife. Under his guidance, the Columbia River Fish and Wildlife Program grew enormously and has become the largest, most complex rehabilitation effort undertaken in the world.

John was a devoted member of the board of WaterWatch. Recently enshrined into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, John was an avid fisherman whether fishing for salmon and steelhead or fly fishing for trout. Above all else, he enjoyed fishing with his friends and family.  He also enjoyed birding, gardening and traveling, particularly in the northwest and Alaska.

John was a leader who inspired passion, perception and progress in restoring the Columbia Basin’s legendary salmon runs and fisheries. This award memorializes John’s personal and professional contributions and his river conservation vision for the Columbia River and its tributaries.

At the 5th Annual Celebration of Oregon Rivers: 2007 Banquet & Auction, John’s family was presented with the first John Palensky Memorial River Conservation Award.

Each year this award is presented to someone who represents John’s passion for conservation.

If you would like to nominate someone for this award, please contact us by submitting an email to: info at

Donations to the John Palensky Fund can be made online here. Under “In Honor of,” be sure to mention the John Palensky Fund. Or you can mail your donation to:

WaterWatch of Oregon
Attn: John Palensky Fund
213 SW Ash, Suite 208
Portland, OR 97204

Award Recipients

2010 Recipients

Hiram and Judi Li

2009 Recipient

Andrew Purkey has been dedicated to flow restoration in the Columbia Basin for nearly 16 years. From 1994 through 2002, Andrew served as the first Executive Director of the nation’s original water trust, the Oregon Water Trust. Under his leadership, OWT was the pioneer in the field of water transactions.  Their groundbreaking work inspired other organizations throughout the Columbia Basin to develop water transaction programs.

Given his leadership role in the emerging water transaction field, Andrew was the logical person to direct the first basin-wide water transaction program that was created by the Bonneville Power Administration, Northwest Power and Conservation Council and NOAA Fisheries.  Since 2003, Andrew has served as the program director of the Columbia Basin Water Transactions Program, a cooperative partnership between BPA, the Council and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the group for which he works. In this role, Andrew works with seven nonprofit organizations and the four state water agencies in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana, to restore flow to critical tributaries that provide spawning and rearing habitat for anadromous and resident fish species. Since the CBWTP’s inception, Andrew’s successful program has resulted in restoration of 4.3 million acre feet of water in chronically under-watered Columbia Basin streams, significantly boosting flow for the benefit of imperiled fish species.

Under Andrew’s leadership, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation is now expanding its flow restoration program to other critical areas throughout the American West. The Columbia Basin experience, which Andrew has led for 16 years, serves as inspiration and model for flow restoration practitioners everywhere.

2008 Recipient

In 2008, the award went to James Ruff, during the WaterWatch’s annual banquet, A Celebration of Oregon Rivers.

Jim Ruff has worked on Columbia Basin river and salmon issues through his service with federal and state agencies, and as a WaterWatch Board member. Throughout his career, Jim’s guiding principle has been to protect and restore river ecosystems.

Currently Jim is the Manager of Mainstem Passage and River Operations for the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, where he is responsible for strategic development and monitoring of Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program measures. Previously, he served as Chief of the Federal Columbia River Power System Branch with National Marine Fisheries Service and as a senior hydrologist for the Northwest Power Planning Council’s Fish and Wildlife Division.  Jim has also worked as a planning engineer with Oregon Water Resources Department.

A charter member of the WaterWatch Board, Jim served from 1985 to 1999, including serving as President his last five years.  Jim’s leadership and passion for WaterWatch helped guide passage of Oregon’s 1987 landmark Instream Water Rights Act and the Conserved Water statute, and helped lay the groundwork for removal of Savage Rapids Dam.

We are proud to present the John Palensky Memorial River Conservation award in honor of Jim’s dedicated past, present and future work to protect the Columbia River and its tributaries.