Speaking To The Origins Of The Water Action Community

After being involved for years in regional sustainability efforts and helping teach the Project Drawdown climate change courses, I became more and more concerned about Water and the lack of preparedness and system improvements in the Rogue Valley. Like many places in the country, we’ve rested on our laurels and of late falsely depended on “good luck” for historic average rainfall and snowpack. 

Over 30 years living in Southern Oregon, working and serving in many jobs and community efforts, I was increasingly surprised with the lack of attention to our most essential ingredient necessary for happy lives of all beings and the natural world – WATER: the universal solvent, the very essence of life on this planet.

How could it be that potable water is used for every purpose? – washing cars, watering golf courses, fighting fires, etc.? How could cities and counties ignore ways where treated water could be used for outdoor use? Why did tankers have to be driven from Phoenix and Talent to fill up in Ashland to fight the spreading Almeda Fire in 2020? How could land use be approved to build developments while so many buildings sat empty? How could some domestic and industrial water rates actually decrease the more water a customer uses? Why was corporate agriculture allowed huge water allotments at the expense of small family farms, wetlands and waterways? Why are our aquifers drying up? Why do landowners not growing crops have to flood their fields and wasting water in order not to lose their water rights and have their property values decrease? 

These and other questions, with an almost child-like curiosity and naivety, were what I wanted to find out. Like the kid in the classroom who asks the “stupid” question, I raised my hand and suggested to my fellow Southern Oregon Pachamama Alliance core team members that we host a Water Solutions Summit. It is such a blessing that the professionalism and determination of my team members and those individuals and agencies who responded to our initial Interest Survey stepped forward to make today’s first gathering of the Water Action Community a reality.

The subsequent observations of many who participated and shared their knowledge during the 6-session Water Summit illuminated how woefully unprepared for the future our region is. Our laws don’t reflect the rights of nature, nor give fair treatment to all who have a claim to fairness in water availability. Our water systems and infrastructure are antiquated, and tax dollars aren’t being earmarked for upgrades or new projects. 

The need to do more with less water, in regard to climate change, unmitigated growth and other factors like boosting local food product and best stewardship of all water is real. The complexity of issues and massive overlap of water management agencies has confounded the public in how water could be better managed and has obscured the potential for dangerous flooding even while most of us are frighteningly aware, yet have felt impotent to address, the ongoing and projected droughts in the West. 

And with climate changing it’s not just coastal areas at risk, but every valley can become a water-filled bowl with all the problems that follow. Our forests, the essential birthplace of our water sources, need much attention too.

The original Water Solutions Summit organizing team (Lorraine Cook, Cynthia Taylor, Lauren Oliver and myself) chose to study and educate ourselves and the public on the existing sources and systems before diving in to the solutions. Our approach from the beginning was to know about “What Is” then dream and envision “What Could Be.” We engaged in water metaphors and hosted water blessings, consulted with many indigenous leaders as well as those who’s charge it is to plan well and with earnest for the unpredictable future water scenarios in our region and throughout the State. We are grateful for all those who brought knowledge and courageous ideas to the six Water Summit Sessions. 

Valuable video footage about water and solutions and recorded presentations are available on our website. We believe we’ve laid a foundation for innovative community engagement in solving our water problems in proactive and creative ways and have amassed an incredible amount of experienced or earnest individuals and groups favorable to activating needed change through engaging and amplifying community voices.

Today we are proud and excited about our collaboration with Water League, whose outstanding leadership will guide us to successful and timely implementation of solutions. Our efforts today are the result a year of thought and planning for the Water Summit, followed by the impressive organizing of issues and solutions into four Cohorts that Chris Hall and his well-qualified Water League Board of Directors will be supporting beginning today and throughout 2023. Thank you for being here and continuing with us on this watery journey to envision and implement What Could Be – Equity for all water users and preservation of water well-being in Jackson and Josephine counties, deepening the public’s respect and gratitude for Water as a living being essential to all existence and challenging or collaborating with agencies and public entities for equity, quality, best uses and the very best outcomes.

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