Managing water resources: Where do we go from here?

In recent months, water in Oregon has become a topic of much interest, groundwater in particular. Some opinions have painted a dire picture of the state of the water resources in Oregon, and have cited poor management by the Oregon Water Resources Department as the cause. The secretary of state recently completed an audit of the department, with findings that basically show the department to be understaffed and overworked.

The members of the Oregon Ground Water Association, made up of ground water professionals of every discipline and representing the state’s ground water specialists, see things from a very different perspective. Currently there are many groups and parties actively pursuing more sustainable water use practices throughout Oregon. The question now being posed is: “Where do we go from here?”

The association would encourage Oregon’s water management to focus on long-term sustainability, considering all water uses and users equally. The first step for improving management of this vital resource is developing a better understanding of water use in the state. The association supports providing additional money to the Water Resources Department from the state  general fund specifically targeted to improve data collection and research to further our knowledge in the use of this resource.

A recommendation from the audit included improvements in the well inspection program on newly constructed wells. Coupled with the need for improved information as the basis for water management standards, the association also supports efforts to review every newly constructed well report to ensure compliance with well construction standards. A review of every well log is important to ensure the standards are consistently followed and to prevent further declines of water levels, which in some areas are attributed to commingling of aquifers in improperly constructed wells.

Ground water reserves may also be increased through the processes of aquifer recharge  and aquifer storage and recovery. These applications, supported by the department and the association, involve taking surface water during low-demand times and storing it underground for use when ground water demand is much higher. Recharge and storage and recovery  hold much promise for stabilizing and maintaining ground water supplies throughout the state.

The association also supports statewide conservation efforts. While the Water Resources Department has the task of managing Oregon’s water resources, everyone who uses water in Oregon has the responsibility to use water without waste. There are many organizations, agencies and utilities that are actively promoting and funding projects to improve the efficiencies of irrigation water delivery and application. The department, through Senate Bill 839, has provided $8.89 million in funding for irrigation efficiency projects, helping to improve water use efficiencies.

The association is encouraged by the improved efficiencies and management of water use in Oregon. However, improvements in our understanding and in the evolution of how we use this resource must continue. The OGWA would like to encourage Oregon residents to support advancement in sustainable management and water use practices in the state.

— This opinion is from the Oregon Ground Water Association, representing well drilling contractors, manufacturers and technical experts such as geologists and hydro-geologists.

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