Fall rains have begun. What does that mean for salmon and drinking water providers?

It's officially autumn and for water managers around the Pacific Northwest, the onset of fall rains brings with it the first wave of seasonal treatment challenges.

Intense storms and damaged watershed habitat are a recipe for water quality disaster for native salmon and hundreds of town’s public water supplies.

Many small and rural communities in Oregon and Washington rely upon rivers and streams for their drinking water, but there is often degraded habitat upstream, which causes water quality issues that water providers must address to deliver clean drinking water. For example, older logging roads in forested lands, particularly those built before the 1980s, were poorly designed and can deliver massive amounts of sediment into streams, especially during storm events.

With climate change we are seeing more frequent and bigger storms. Plus, snow pack has been decreasing for decades in the West. As a result, with more of our total precipitation coming in large and irregular rain events, we anticipate seeing more sediment in our rivers than either people or fish are accustomed to.

Intense rains and rain-on-snow events can oversaturate soils, compromise legacy forest roads, and otherwise exacerbate erosion and landslides. Soil and organic matter end up in our streams and rivers at rates beyond what fish adapted to over millennia and what towns built their water treatment plants to handle. Elevated levels of turbidity and suspended sediments in creeks can smother salmon eggs and force drinking water treatment systems to shut down. To bring highly turbid water to safe drinking water standards also requires increased use of disinfection products. Toxic and potentially carcinogenic chemicals, such as bromate and trihalomethanes, are created as byproducts of the disinfection process.

Moreover, climate change brings with it a lot of unpredictability. While the total amount of suspended sediment in a stream makes a big difference for spawning salmon, the variability over time can be even more problematic for water treatment operators. Constant vigilance is required when the clarity of water can change by orders of magnitude within a matter of hours. Uncertainty at this temporal scale has very practical consequences for operations, maintenance, and costs borne by the public.

Fortunately, watershed restoration is a cost-effective strategy for helping to keep drinking water treatment costs down while ensuring the protection of community public health and improving fish and wildlife habitat. That’s why we help to lead the Drinking Water Providers Partnership. Our group of federal and state agencies and nonprofits directs money and technical assistance to community groups for projects that will enhance water quality for native salmon and steelhead, and people.

map dwpp funded 2018

The most common restoration projects that the Partnership has supported are those designed to reduce the risk of erosion and recover in-stream habitat complexity. As a result of these habitat improvements, flood waters can slow down, groundwater supplies can recharge, and sediment can settle out which means that drinking water treatment plant operators get a more reliably clean supply of water. In turn, they need less chemicals and energy to make the water safe for public consumption, plus there’s higher quality habitat in-stream for native fish, ensuring future generations can enjoy salmon returning year-after-year.

In its three years of operations, the Drinking Water Providers Partnership has invested $1.3 million dollars in nearly three dozen projects that are improving more than 750 acres and 60 river miles in watersheds that provide habitat for native salmon and steelhead as well as drinking water to over 1 million Oregonians and Washingtonians.

Check out this map to see where all this good work is happening and look for the Drinking Water Providers Partnership’s 2019 Request for Proposals at the end of this month. Applications will be due January 29, 2019. Stay tuned!

Learn more about the Partnership here:

Imagine a day without water

It can be easy to forget that some issues we all care about cut across political and geographic lines. Constituents may have different opinions on health care and tax reform, but when it comes to our daily lives, voters have a lot in common. They get up in the morning and brush their teeth. They shower, do their laundry, and wash the dishes. But none of which would be possible without safe and reliable water infrastructure, from the forested headwaters of our drinking water supplies to the pipes under our streets, to the rivers that receive treated wastewater.

If you’ve never experienced it before, it’s hard to imagine a day without water.

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Spotlight on Oregon: why we do what we do

As our climate changes and our infrastructure ages, new challenges arise to keep ratepayers confident in the water flowing from their taps and for water managers committed to keeping drinking water supplies reliable and affordable for all residents.  Traditionally, water utilities have relied on human-designed infrastructure – concrete and chemicals – to engineer their way to safe drinking water but as the risks grow, so do costs.

At Working Waters, we help communities capitalize on the original engineer: nature.

ww or facts1

We know that healthy watersheds store and filter water more effectively than many human-designed systems. By incorporating nature-based solutions into water infrastructure management, we can reduce pollution before it enters any pipes thereby lowering water treatment costs, offsetting the burden of infrastructure maintenance, and supporting environmental health while preparing for a changing climate.

And we cannot wait any longer: 

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A new guide for communicating with customers on source water protection

awwa guidance report coverIn national polls, American consistently rank drinking water quality and safety as a top environmental concern. At the same time, polls also reveal that few Americans actually know where their drinking water originates. These facts highlight how important it is for drinking water utilities to communicate regularly with their customers. Ratepayers who understand and care about their drinking water supply are more likely to support the utility’s source water protection efforts. 

Finding the right means to reach customers and deciding what to say may seem like a challenge, though. That’s why the American Water Works Association (AWWA) commissioned a report to help small- and medium-sized utilities more effectively communicate on source water protection issues in their Consumer Confidence Reports (CCRs). The CCR is a unique opportunity to connect with and educate customers since every utility is required to send one to every customer each year.

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Source Water Workshops around Oregon and Washington

Towns and cities throughout Oregon and Washington provide safe, reliable supplies of clean drinking water to their residents, day in and day out. However, small and rural towns provide this amazing service with far fewer resources.

dwpp workshop wenatchee 1

Protecting drinking water at its source is the first line of defense in a multi-barrier approach to ensuring safe drinking water. But small drinking water providers do not have staff dedicated solely to source water protection. Operators are busy treating water to regulatory standards and keeping it flowing in its pipes. There’s no doubt that their job would be a lot easier if they had some help to protect and enhance water quality before it enters their treatment plant.

Fortunately, in the Pacific Northwest we have many groups that can provide the critical services needed to plan and implement source water protection activities.

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