top of page


Josephine County is located on the southern border of Oregon. It contains many diverse watersheds that are vital to the local ecosystem. The county encompasses portions of the Rogue River, Applegate River, and Illinois River watersheds. These watersheds provide essential water resources for agriculture, recreation, and wildlife habitat. However, they also face challenges such as water scarcity, pollution, and the need for sustainable water management practices.

What people are talking about

Josephine County's watersheds provide critical water resources for agricultural activities, wildlife habitat, and recreational purposes. However, wildfires have posed significant challenges to these watersheds, with large-scale fires impacting water quality (GP 2021), soil erosion, and the overall health of the ecosystems. Preparative efforts are made every season to maintain fire safety and restore impacted areas to mitigate the long-term effects on the watersheds (Belville, 2023). In addition to wildfires, water pollution is another concern in Josephine County's watersheds. Pollution can originate from various sources, including agricultural runoff, urban development, and industrial activities (Profita, 2022), These pollutants, such as bacteria, microplastics, and other contaminants, can degrade water quality, harm aquatic life, and impact downstream communities that rely on these water sources, (Patterson, 2022). Improving water quality monitoring programs and renovating aging infrastructure are essential to address and prevent water pollution in Josephine County's watersheds.

Water breaks come with spills, boiling advisories and potential bacteria contamination, as observed in Grants Pass, where 1.58 million gallons of water was lost (Water main break in Grants Pass could introduce harmful bacteria, city says. (2022, October 17)); (Grants Pass water main break is affecting customers, repair pending. (2022, October 17)); (Grants Pass boil water advisory lifted. (2022, October 18)). The issue affected between 7,000 to 8,000 customers located in Grants Pass and part of Redwood, with a health advisory given for up to 48 hours (Water main break in Grants Pass could introduce harmful bacteria, city says. (2022, October 17)); (Grants Pass boil water advisory lifted. (2022, October 18)). 

Josephine County is labeled as an extreme risk by the Oregon Department of Forestry (Fire risk map ignites controversy. (2023, January 1)). On August 17, 2022, a lightning strike evoked a wildfire in Rum Creek that would spread to 11,700 acres (Firefighters continue to battle growing Rum Creek Fire in southern Oregon. (2022, August 30)). Kate Brown, Oregon’s Governor at the time, declared a state of emergency, resulting in over a thousand firefighters coming in to fight the fire (Rum Creek fire on Rogue River grows to 11,700 acres. (2022, September 1)); (4,700-acre Rum Creek wildfire in southern Oregon prompts evacuation orders, spurs Gov. Kate Brown to issue emergency order. (2022, August 28)). One death occurred after a tree fell on one firefighter (4,700-acre Rum Creek wildfire in southern Oregon prompts evacuation orders, spurs Gov. Kate Brown to issue an emergency order. (2022, August 28)). A study on water quality and wildfires observed gases from products burnt during wildfires, mostly benzene, to be present in 20 out of 25 drinking water systems (Oregon Wildfires: Impacts on Drinking Water Systems and Water Quality. (2022, December 30)). In some instances, wildfires can be started by bad actors in the community. A man set two wildfires in a forest near Grants Pass before being caught and restrained by three residents of the area (Residents tie man accused of starting wildfires in Oregon to a tree while waiting for police. (2022, July 26)); (Man Starting Fires in Oregon Gets Tied to Tree by Locals. (2022, July 27)). The fires, one at 0.1 acres and the other at 0.01 acres took three helicopters to get under control (Man detained by three Curry County residents pleads guilty to attempted arson. (2022, September 29)). The man pleaded guilty to setting both fires and was put into state prison for one year (Man detained by three Curry County residents pleads guilty to attempted arson. (2022, September 29)). Although Josephine County is susceptible to wildfires, wildfire risk is becoming a serious topic that the county is tackling. The Oregon Department of Forestry, for example, offered a $500 grant to Grants Pass in 2022 to lower wildfire risk (Oregon communities receive grants to lower wildfire risk for National Wildfire Community Preparedness Day. (2022, May 3)). The Oregon Conservation Corps program is offering higher education students large stipends to gain experience maintaining forests with the opportunity of earning a wildland firefighter certification (Youth crews help protect Oregon homes from wildfire thanks to a training program. (2022, October 3)). In terms of legislation, the state had plans where many residents within Josephine County would be subjected to different regulations of their private property (Fire risk map ignites controversy. (2023, January 1)). Once public, the plans caused a major backlash among residents who did not agree with the probable costs they would have to pay (Fire risk map ignites controversy. (2023, January 1)); (Swamped by public outcry, Oregon withdraws controversial wildfire risk map. (2022, August 5)). The backlash caused The Oregon Department of Forestry to revise the plan and wildfire risk map with Oregon State University to remove errors and give greater opportunities for public opinion to be heard (Fire risk map ignites controversy. (2023, January 1)). 

Historically, Josephine county has experienced numerous floods, with a major one in 1964 that wiped out many houses on Christmas (Flood Management. (2023)); (50th Anniversary: Christmas flood still stirs memories. (2014, December 25)). The flood peaked on December 23rd and resulted from major rainfall and snow melt that flooded the Rogue river (50th Anniversary: Christmas flood still stirs memories. (2014, December 25)). The highest risse for the 1964 flood was 34.15 feet, higher than the flood in 1955 by 2 feet and the flood in 1997 by 10 feet (50th Anniversary: Christmas flood still stirs memories. (2014, December 25)). The river still has potential to rise even with the Lost Creek dam built in 1977 taking off 25% of the peak flow (Flood Management. (2023)); (1964 Christmas Flood: 'Swept out into the river, smashed to pieces'. (2014, December 22)). The latest major flood in 1997 caused $10 million in damages within Josephine county (Flood Management. (2023). Most recently, a flood watch was issued for many counties including Josephine for heavy rainfall and the possibility of landslides. Floods can result in landslides and debris flow, which not only pollute water but can easily turn dangerous when large objects are loosened (Heavy rain in SW Oregon could cause landslides & debris flows, officials say. (2016, March 11)).

Lake Selmac is a resort lake with many recreationists visiting it every year. In October of 2019, officials put a health advisory risk on the lake after the sighting of cyanobacteria blooms (Health advisory issued for Lake Selmac. (2018, October 10)). Cyanobacteria are less frequently observed in Josephine county, although the alarming amount of fish kills that occurred in years 2017 and 2018 brought a lot of attention. Specifically, bass species were dying out in Lake Selmac due to the lack of oxygen as investigated by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (Lake Selmac fish died due to suffocation. (2018, May 10)); (Nearly 100 fish found dead in Lake Selmac. (2017, November 29)). In 2017, about 100 fish died, with no other species having suffered the same fate (Lake Selmac fish died due to suffocation. (2018, May 10)). It is suspected that the turnover after a drought period in 2015/ 2016 caused low oxygen conditions that heavily impacted the bass populations, although the answer is not certain (Lake Selmac Fishing Report. (2020, October 21)). In 2022, Lake Selmac was stocked with about 1,000 trout to prosper the ecosystem (Fishing Report: Friday, March 18. (2022, March 18)); (50th Anniversary of Oregon Christmas Flood of 1964. (2014, December 22)).

To fight the climate crisis, Josephine County is working towards building rainwater gardens that collect rainwater and retain the water within plants and soil to eventually recharge natural aquifers underwater (The Value and Importance of Water Retention on our Land. (2019, August 14)). By restoring a part of the water cycle, we have less runoff going into the sewer systems while preventing floods (The Value and Importance of Water Retention on our Land. (2019, August 14)). The projects themselves are made by terracing rock structures with deep-rooted species that can retain water (The Value and Importance of Water Retention on our Land. (2019, August 14)).

Rogue River goes through Grants Pass and supplies the city’s water system. The threat of zebra mussels is spreading into nearby systems, with the city launching a ‘Don't Move A Mussel' Campaign (City Launches 'Don't Move A Mussel' Campaign. (2021, March 17)). The idea is to have residents destroy any zebra mussels they find, especially when boating or doing water activities. Zebra mussels can damage hydroelectric plants and power plants by clogging them. In order to prevent their spread, the county is making boats stop for inspections and charging boaters fees to register their motorized boats, where the mussels especially hide (Oregon motorists with boats must stop for aquatic invasive species inspection. (2011, September 2)). Aside from water invasives, forests in Josephine County are becoming invaded by the Gypsy moth, a destructive species to agricultural crops, leaf foliage, and promotes invasive plants (Leaf-eating gypsy moths captured in Grants Pass. (2015, September 28)). In 2015, 7 Gypsy moths were found nearby Grants Pass, the highest number out of any Oregon county (State agriculture officials concerned gypsy moths jumped in numbers. (2015, September 24)).

bottom of page