Over the past 10 years, Geos Institute has carved an impressive legacy of river and stream restoration in the Rogue River Basin of southern Oregon through the Freeways for Fish initiative. With the primary goal of allowing salmon, steelhead, and lamprey to reach 1,200 miles of historic stream habitat more easily, Freeways for Fish helped to remove 22 fish passage impediments throughout the basin.
That's not just good news for fish; it's good news for cities and towns throughout the region. Many communities in the West rely on streams and rivers for their drinking water, and these supplies are threatened by a warming climate. Unfortunately, not many towns realize that upstream restoration can be a key component of their larger water management strategy. Through our work improving fish passage, we began to see how restoration’s benefits extend well beyond wildlife, to everyone who needs healthy, functioning watersheds.
We want to make it easy for towns and water managers to turn to nature whenever possible, instead of concrete and chemicals, in order to meet their water quality and quantity goals.
Towards this end, we strive to:
- Build relationships between downstream communities and upstream land owners and restoration practitioners.
- Identify, implement, and monitor restoration activities in municipal watersheds to secure high-quality water supplies for communities while benefiting wildlife and the natural environment
- Prove the economic sense of green infrastructure to promote its use throughout the Northwest
Nature is a brilliant engineer. Healthy forests and healthy watersheds provide clean, reliable drinking water for people and wildlife, free of charge. Natural systems like floodplains, healthy forests, and free-flowing rivers are called green infrastructure, because when they are working, they can naturally ensure safe, sustainable drinking water. Green infrastructure is effective, inexpensive, and regenerative.
“Headwaters forests provide over 60% of the American West’s water supply and they are in grave danger.”
-Carpe Diem West
Today, many places rely almost exclusively on grey infrastructure, human-built solutions like dams and filtration technologies. Grey infrastructure, while highly effective, is also expensive to build, maintain, replace, and upgrade. And, as we move into the 21st century, we face new water safety challenges. Our environment, climate, and communities are changing, and existing infrastructure is struggling to keep up with demand.
Working Waters believes that green infrastructure is an essential complement to gray infrastructure – and often a missing piece - in today’s water management strategies. It has the power to improve water quality and restore natural lands while helping reduce water utility costs, benefiting everyone from source to tap.
The Working Waters Initiative partners with communities and natural resource agencies to restore watershed health as a means of securing clean water for communities while improving freshwater habitat for fish and wildlife.
Many communities in the Pacific Northwest, from major cities in Puget Sound to small towns along the Oregon coast, rely upon “surface water” (rivers and streams) for their drinking water. Unfortunately, human development over the past 150 years has diminished stream and watershed health, which has, in turn, reduced the reliability of clean water for our citizens. Moreover, climate scientists tell us that changing conditions will make our water supplies much less predictable, with larger and more frequent floods and droughts. Water managers – especially those in small towns – find themselves pinched between meeting increasingly stringent regulatory requirements for water quality and a lack of financial resources to meet them.
The good news is that there are alternatives. Watershed restoration can be a cost-effective solution to improve water quality supplies.
Watershed restoration activities might include:
- Reconnecting a river to its floodplain to slow stream flow and restore specialized habitat for fish and wildlife
- Restoring beaver populations to increase groundwater recharge and biodiversity
- Removing or replacing undersized road culverts to reduce erosion and improve fish passage
- Protecting riparian environments to reduce water temperatures and filter nutrients
- Decommissioning obsolete or unused roads to reduce chronic erosion and the risk of potential slides
Protection and restoration of our drinking watersheds can only happen in collaboration with many different groups. We work closely with a broad range of stakeholders, including local water managers, land owners, state and federal agencies, and elected officials, to build connections and create opportunities that lead to successful on-the-ground restoration and conservation actions. Our focus is serving communities in Oregon and Washington that are interested in addressing water quality and supply concerns via upstream habitat improvement, but aren’t equipped to take on projects alone.
Through our Drinking Water Providers Partnership, we are partnering with multiple agencies including the USDA Forest Service, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the Washington Department of Health, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and WildEarth Guardians, to facilitate environmental conservation and restoration in municipal watersheds across the Northwest. The Partners share a common vision that watershed restoration is an important and effective way to provide clean, inexpensive drinking water to communities and protect native fish populations.
Our goals are to:
- Restore and protect the health of watersheds which communities depend upon for drinking water while also benefiting aquatic and riparian ecosystems, including the native fish that inhabit them.
- Support local partnerships between drinking water providers, landowners, and restoration practitioners.