Oregonians Demand Healthy Watersheds

Dear ROPnet,

Rural Oregonians are deeply connected, despite the miles between us. The many human dignity leaders across the state who are organizing campaigns to protect their watersheds feel this deeply, especially when decisions by powerful upstream actors directly affect livelihoods downstream. An article by OPB last month described how federal lawmakers are considering the struggles for drinking water in rural Oregon as examples of a national crisis

From preventing aerial pesticide spraying to drawing attention to a dangerous and disruptive dam to calling for solutions for polluted groundwater, human dignity leaders in every corner of the state are demanding cleaner and safer watersheds. Read on for more details about each of these campaigns and ways to get involved! 

Lincoln County Limits Herbicide Spraying

In Lincoln County, residents have been fighting to stop aerial pesticide spraying in the South Beaver Creek watershed, near Seal Rock. When locals found out that a timber company was scheduled to spray herbicides via airplane on a 473-acre property owned by someone living in Denmark, they loudly voiced their opposition by organizing community meetings and demonstrations. Community members know that the runoff from that land flows straight into the water supply for the Seal Rock Water District, which much wildlife and thousands of people rely on. Residents succeeded in stopping the aerial spraying! But unfortunately there are still plans to use backpack sprayers. Locals say this isn’t enough and are still pushing back. They’ve made a Stop the Spray website, which includes a Contact Us form if you want to reach out and get involved!

Douglas County Campaigns for Dam Removal

Douglas County protestors hold signs protesting the Winchester Dam.

In Douglas County, folks are calling for the removal of a dam that disrupts local ecosystems and poses incredible danger to the community. There are a series of issues with the Winchester Dam, which is on the North Umpqua River. Firstly, the dam’s last inspection in 2013, conducted by the Oregon Water Resources Department, stated “urgent dam safety issues – action now” but no prompt action was taken. The dam also interferes with the migration of native, endangered fish, as it’s fish ladder is expected to be rated in the worst 10 fish ladders in the state in next year’s report. Not only that, its only use is recreational and the lake it creates is only accessible to about 100 wealthy landowners who own homes just upstream of the dam. Check out Community Rights Douglas County’s Facebook page for ongoing updates on the campaign and ways to get involved

This isn’t the only community in Oregon demanding the removal of a dam that threatens livelihoods and disrupts wildlife. Check out this ROPnet from August about the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) Youth Leadership Council and their campaign to remove the four lower Snake River Dams

Lower Umatilla Basin Demands Safe Drinking Water

Poster with text: "Make sure you water is safe" and a QR code to scan.

Organizers in Northeastern Oregon have been calling attention and demanding answers to the dangerously polluted groundwater in their area. Oregon Rural Action (ORA), a human dignity group and nonprofit based in Eastern Oregon, is leading a campaign to spread the word about the dangerously high levels of nitrate in much of the water in Morrow and Umatilla counties and ultimately stop the pollution at its source.

Protestors holding signs in Spanish with jars of water in front of them.

In May, organizers finally succeeded in having Governor Kotek visit and hear from them about local frustrations and fears regarding the situation. The community is still waiting for real solutions that address the emergency. You can read or listen to this article by the Hermiston Herald that explains ongoing frustrations with the state’s response. ORA explains, “Not only has testing by the Oregon Health Authority been unacceptably slow, but the Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Agriculture have failed to take meaningful steps to rein in the industrial-scale practices that contaminated local groundwater in the first place.”

What do these stories bring up for you? Do you have thoughts on how can we learn from one another and draw strength from these interconnected local efforts? Reach out to us by emailing your local ROP organizer or sidra@rop.org

Sidra and the ROP Team

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