Gov. Brown orders Oregon agencies to cut water use
By Kaylee Tornay
Posted Aug 3, 2015 at 12:01 AM; Updated Aug 3, 2015 at 12:04 PM
State agencies managing programs from prisons to parks are considering their options in response to Gov. Kate Brown’s executive order calling on them to reduce water use by 15 percent by the end of 2020.
“Water is the foundation for our economies, communities, ecosystems, and quality of life,” the governor wrote in her order, signed July 27. “Oregon has a strong history of managing and caring for water to meet both instream and out-of-stream needs.”
California garners most of the national attention when it comes to drought, having been in a drought state of emergency since January and cutting its water use by 27.3 percent since Gov. Jerry Brown signed an executive order in April affecting all Californians.
Now Oregon, suffering from low stream flows and reservoir levels because of record-breaking low levels of snowpack, also must start conserving water, Gov. Kate Brown said. She has ordered state agencies to develop conservation strategies by November.
State agencies will work with the Water Resources Board to establish their total water use and ways to reduce it over the next five years. Many of them, though, have been implementing water-saving measures already.
The Oregon Department of Corrections, for example, has been improving facilities across the state to diminish water waste, said spokeswoman Elizabeth Craig. The 14 Oregon prisons have been upgraded with high-efficiency showerheads, and drip irrigation is being used in landscaping rather than sprinklers to minimize water loss through evaporation. Craig said other potential changes could include installing rock gardens instead of grass, hand washing dishes instead of using dishwashers, or implementing shower schedules.
Most of the agencies have been reducing the amount of water used in landscaping or washing their state-owned vehicles less often. Gary Leaming of the Oregon Department of Transportation said the agency will no longer use water in street sweeping in addition to other water-saving measures. Although it’s early in the process, he expects the next few months will mean a lot of conversation with individual cities to develop new strategies.
“We applaud the governor’s leadership on the issue,” Leaming said.
The Oregon Department of Forestry is also cutting back, but its duties include fighting forest fires, which remains a necessary use that can be difficult to decrease. Brian Ballou of ODF’s Medford unit said that part of firefighting training includes learning how to use water economically. But washing fire trucks is usually considered necessary when going from one fire to another, to avoid introducing foreign plant species to different areas by spreading seeds. Drought makes fighting wildfires more difficult, as low levels in natural bodies of water can mean the firefighters have to seek sources farther from the blaze itself.
Meanwhile, the Oregon University System was explicitly excluded from the governor’s order. Press secretary Chris Pair said universities’ water use is nuanced and conservation measures will take more time to develop.
“Universities are part of the long-term conversation,” Pair said.
Citizens can help the agencies by reporting leaks or inefficient systems at campgrounds and day-use areas, for example. Chris Havel of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department said that parks will be most efficient in their water use if people apply the water-saving techniques they employ at home while taking advantage of campsite facilities.
“Take short showers, make sure if you’ve got an RV your fixtures are tight. Don’t wash your vehicle ... you’re going to see some bug guts on our vehicles just like everybody else,” Havel said.
“You’re probably doing everything you can to conserve water at home, so bring that mentality to the campground. No water is free.”