As our state and the Western U.S. deals with record heat, drought and wildfire, we are reminded of the importance of water to every Oregon community. These conditions underscore the urgent need to protect the sources of clean water: our rivers, streams and their tributaries.
That is why I am pleased to support Sen. Wyden and Sen. Merkley’s River Democracy Act. This is at once a visionary and prudent measure that will ensure the values of the waterways that support our way of life — like the Upper Grande Ronde, Umatilla, North Fork John Day — are protected. As historic and important as this legislation is, still, only 6% of Oregon’s waterways would be protected.
What makes this legislation particularly special is that it was built from the bottom up using input from Oregonians here, and across the state, to determine which waterways to include. In late 2019, Sen. Wyden invited Oregonians to nominate the rivers and streams that were important to them, their families, businesses and communities. More than 15,000 nominations were submitted and considered, forming the backbone of the River Democracy Act.
It is truly a bill for Oregonians by Oregonians, as we all stand to benefit from protecting our rivers. The past year has shown us all how important our public waters are as people from all walks of life sought refuge in our forests, streams and meadows. They gathered safely with friends and families, fished and hunted, and physically and emotionally healed from one of the greatest challenges our country has faced in a generation.
Protecting our waterways is a net positive for Union County and for Oregon. Doing so will help ensure continued access to clean drinking water, preserve access to the waterways that support our way of life, help fuel a thriving outdoor recreation industry and support the fish and game that draw anglers, hunters and wildlife watchers. The bill protects these important values while allowing the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service to mitigate fire risk and carry on existing activities.
It was also encouraging to see the proposal go beyond simply naming big iconic rivers. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act allows smaller waterways and different types of waterbodies to be protected. Several smaller tributaries like Beaver, Lookingglass and Five Points creeks are also included. Those, and other tributaries, feed cold water into the larger streams and help support fish and wildlife. Supporting our rivers means supporting our creeks and streams. Sens.—Wyden and Merkley were wise to recognize this important fact and built a bill that takes a holistic approach to protecting a critical resource.
Clean, cold water is an irreplaceable resource. If this warming trend continues, as it is expected to, that resource will become ever scarcer and more precious. The recent heat wave and current drought demonstrate how important it is to have more — not less — water available.
It is sound policy to be thinking now about how to protect and preserve access to waterways while also accounting for other uses and human safety. The River Democracy Act accomplishes all of the above, and its passage would be a win for Union County and a win for Oregon. I encourage my friends and neighbors to join me — and so many others — in supporting this important legislation.
Randy L. Knop lives in Union and is the vice-chair of the Union County Democratic Central Committee.