How does the water crisis in Oregon affect you?
The water crisis that has engulfed Oregon is a tragedy, but so is the ongoing battle for public health.
It is also a story of public health as much as a political one, and one that touches on everything from the role of climate change in water and the economic impact of drought, to the role environmental regulation has played in the state’s recent water policy.
What’s more, Oregon has experienced three distinct crises in recent years: The first was the drought in the early 1990s, which killed over 800 people in the largest human death toll in the nation.
Then came the devastating fires that decimated the state in the 2000s.
And last year, the Oregon Health Authority reported that the statewide water consumption and water quality were worse than ever, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep the water supply safe for all Oregonians.
In recent months, the state has faced more intense droughts, floods, and other weather-related events, and more people have become displaced in the drought-hit state.
As of last Friday, the drought was in its fifth year, and a third of the state was experiencing severe water shortages, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
What made these crises so serious?
First, the severity of the drought is unprecedented.
While the state experienced some short-term droughtakers, the overall effects of the unprecedented drought have been devastating.
The state experienced an average of 1,700 milligrams of water per person per day during the drought, according the U of A. That’s equivalent to about 10,000 liters of water for a typical household.
And that number could increase in the coming weeks, as the drought continues to spread.
“The worst case scenario is that there’s going to be more water use, which is a lot of water, because you’re going to have more water coming into the system,” says Mike Johnson, executive director of the Oregon Coalition for Water, Environmental and Climate Solutions.
The coalition also notes that while the water level has decreased since the beginning of the year, there are still a lot more people in need of drinking water than usual, with water rates at record levels in some areas.
“I can’t really tell you how much worse it’s going now than it was a month ago, because the average person in the community is still not getting water at their tap, and they’re still not drinking it,” Johnson says.
The impacts of the recent water crisis have also impacted Oregon’s economy.
While there is a connection between climate change and extreme weather, it has not been the primary driver of the crisis in the Pacific Northwest.
The region has been hit particularly hard by climate change, with the average annual rainfall there dropping from 4 inches in the mid-1990s to 3 inches in 2017, according a report from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
It’s also a region that has experienced extreme weather over the past few decades, with floods, droughty droughtes, and wildfires more frequently.
“There’s been a lot going on in the Northwest in the last 10 to 15 years that have been a little bit like a kind of drought,” Johnson adds.
“People are still recovering from the drought of the ’90s, but the next year they’re going back to it, and that’s a very different story than the next.”
What are some of the more immediate impacts of this drought?
The impacts have been felt across the state, with a number of water-related issues affecting communities.
“We are seeing that [in the Pacific] that [drought] can take a really long time to get under control,” Johnson explains.
“In the past, people were really optimistic that things would get better, but it’s been very slow-going.
The water has come out of the ground, but we still don’t have all the reservoirs we need.
The next few years are going to see more and more water in the water system and we’re going the same way as the ’80s and ’90, when the water was really scarce,” he says.
While some residents are not concerned about the water shortage, others are concerned about how they will manage their water supplies.
“If we have an average amount of water that’s just over a third, it’s not enough for everyone,” Johnson cautions.
“So we’re getting some people that are using less water than normal, which could cause a water shortage if it’s too hot or too dry.
The drought has also been a blow to the health of the local economies.
“It’s been devastating for our businesses. “
This drought has impacted our economy in a big way, and people are struggling,” he said.
“It’s been devastating for our businesses.
It really has impacted all of our residents.
It just makes it difficult for people to pay their bills.”