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Water Challenges

Water is not like other kinds of infrastructure or natural resources. It is a public resource, but is managed by both public and private entities. It has cultural significance, and is essential to sustain life. There is a finite amount of water and it moves across the landscape while also varying in availability from year to year. Each of us has our own unique background that influences our perspectives on water and water infrastructure. This history forms the foundation for the different ways we each envision our water future. When we each bring that background to a common table, there can be disagreements. Respecting our different perspectives, the lessons we have learned, and the unique water challenges we’ve faced in our history will be important to develop a shared water future. Below are a list of common challenges and opportunities that will benefit from the focused attention of Oregonians with diverse perspectives.


Challenge. Many of Oregon’s water delivery systems are outdated and inefficient, increasing the chance that water will not be available for communities when it is most needed.

Opportunity. We can incentivize water conservation and reuse, and invest in modern water delivery systems statewide. Efficiency gains and updated systems will help improve water reliability for cities and counties, tribes, ecosystems, and the many aspects of a thriving economy that depend on water.

Challenge. Not all parts of Oregon have reliable access to clean water, resulting in increased health risks for those who live here.

Opportunity. We can invest in resilient built and natural water infrastructure, and reduce pollutants to provide clean water for all Oregon communities.

Challenge. Not all watersheds provide cool, clean water and habitat for fish and wildlife, threatening the sustainability of those species in Oregon.

Opportunity. We can increase investments in watersheds to store, filter, and deliver water for fish and wildlife.

Challenge. Too much of Oregon’s built infrastructure is neglected and not keeping communities safe, while we have not fully realized the benefits of natural infrastructure and ecosystems to protect communities from harmful floods and provide resilience to drought.

Opportunity. We can modernize our flood protection infrastructure where appropriate, while fully incorporating the benefits of natural infrastructure and ecosystems. Combined, these will help mitigate impacts of increased flooding and drought, while reducing the impacts of sea level rise to coastal communities.


Challenge. Communities across Oregon lack basic data and information to make strategic, long-term decisions about water investments and water management.

Opportunity. Good data is the foundation of wise and coordinated decisions. We can work across agencies at all levels, with tribes, and with the private sector to improve access to accurate, relevant, trusted, and current water data and infrastructure condition. We can also use science and information to anticipate future trends. Access to quality information will help communities strategically plan for and invest in their water future.

Challenge. Communities with fewer resources are challenged to strategically plan for and invest in their water future and need access to a skilled workforce to implement, manage, and monitor water projects.

Opportunity. We can begin investing now in strong community capacity and a skilled water workforce in every region across Oregon.

Challenge. We have underinvested in our built and natural water infrastructure, and our ecosystems. Investments in water planning and projects are not fully coordinated at the community, regional or state levels, and there has not been a concerted conversation about how Oregon will fund its future water needs.

Opportunity. We can coordinate our current investments and seek new sustainable, dedicated public and private funding for restoration of ecosystems, and built and natural infrastructure. Coordinated and new investments will ensure communities – including Oregon’s federally recognized tribes and those people living in disproportionately impacted and rural communities - can afford and access adequate clean water, and return it to our rivers for downstream users, fish, and wildlife.

Challenge. Oregon lacks a cohesive governance system to strategically prioritize water investments at the local and regional levels, leaving those decisions to a wide array of individuals, governments, and other interests with overlapping priorities and investment needs.

Opportunity. Learning from other successful models, Oregon can implement best approaches to ensure water planning and investment decisions are strategic and coordinated across jurisdictions, and with public and private partners. This system can successfully combine a state-level framework with local and regional planning and flexibility.

Challenge. Community leaders across Oregon have limited awareness of Oregon’s water challenges, the urgency to act now, and potential water solutions.

Opportunity. We can work with communities to build a culture and leadership that prioritizes water at the local, regional, and statewide levels.