Meta Loftsgaarden - Executive Director, Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board
"Oregon’s 100-Year Water Vision"
Biodiversity, the variety of life in an ecosystem, refers to not only living things in the environment, but also the complex relationships between living things and the natural world. Biodiversity includes many things that are considered valuable to a natural system, like variety in genetics, species diversity, and variability in different levels of an ecosystem, including populations, communities, and the ecosystem as a whole, (3). Biodiversity enhances ecosystem productivity, and strengthens many ecosystem functions, ensuring natural sustainability on Earth, (4).
Watersheds are vital to an ecosystem’s biodiversity. According to the EPA, watersheds are a valuable natural resource, providing habitat for wildlife and plants, as well as many other ecosystem benefits and services like “cycling of nutrients, carbon storage, erosion/sedimentation control, soil formation, wildlife movement corridors, water storage, water filtration,” as well as many others, (1).
According to the NOAA, In a healthy watershed, water from rainfall and stormwater runoff throughout its entirety is conserved and sustainably flows across the terrestrial and aquatic environments, providing vital support to animal and plant growth. This water eventually recharges groundwater or drains into larger bodies of water like lakes, streams, or rivers, (5).
Anthropogenic stressors and poor land management can alter the natural cycles of watersheds, causing habitat loss and rises in invasive species counts; two of the most major threats to biodiversity, (3). Urban development, pollution, and many other stressors cause watershed degradation, putting many species at risk.
Despite how valuable watersheds are to an ecosystem and the critical ecosystem services they provide, they are largely undervalued when it comes to land use decisions, (3). This is true here in Oregon, with under investment in natural water infrastructure, as well as inadequate protection of Oregon’s natural water systems. Meta Loftsgaarden, the executive director of the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, brought this to my attention as a speaker at the PSU water justice seminar series. According to Loftsgaarden, there are three main forces that are playing a role in negatively affecting Oregon’s watersheds. These include climate change, an under investment in water infrastructure, both built and natural, and population growth and urban development. These combined create stress on Oregon’s water systems, putting our watersheds in danger of being degraded, which would cause a drop in Oregon’s biodiversity.
Oregon’s watersheds and the plants and animals that they support are a huge part of this region’s character. Here in the PNW, local watersheds make up the Columbia River Basin; a vital river system that supports the runs of native salmon, (2). The Columbia River Basin and the watersheds that feed it are a significant part of this region’s identity and character. The watershed and the biodiversity it supports are woven into the cultural roots of the PNW, and this is true for everywhere that is supported by a watershed, (3).
Loftsgaarden, through her presentation, brought attention to this fact. Oregon is home to valuable natural environments that support biodiversity that need to be protected in order to support the health of the natural environment as well as the health of Oregon’s people and communities.
Decisions in land-use will have huge impacts on the health of our watersheds and Oregon’s biodiversity. Conservation of biological resources should be a huge consideration when it comes to water planning, (3). Loftsgaarden informed that Oregon’s 100 Year Water Plan has a goal of providing adequate cool and clean water for native wildlife to thrive in our watersheds, as well as working to restore watersheds to their former water storage and filtration capacity. This makes me hopeful for the future of Oregon’s biodiversity. As Loftsgaarden showed through her presentation, how we steward the land now and work to invest in water systems of our state will determine the future of water quality for the generations of people and wildlife that will share in Oregon’s bounty in the future.
Benefits of Healthy Watersheds. (n.d.). Retrieved from United States Environmental Protection Agency website: https://www.epa.gov/hwp/benefits-healthy-watersheds
Explore Portland's Watersheds. (n.d.). Retrieved from City of Portland website: https://www.portlandoregon.gov/bes/32197
Section 3.3 - Biodiversity. (n.d.). [PDF file]. Retrieved from: https://www.clearwater.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/Section-3.3-Biodiversity-12.30.pdf
Shah, A. (2014, January 19). Why is Biodiversity Important? Who Cares?. Retrieved from Global Issues website: https://www.globalissues.org/article/170/why-is-biodiversity-important-who-cares
What is a Watershed? (n.d.). Retrieved from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/watershed.html
Danielle Schwantes holds an Associates Degree from Rogue Community College and is currently an undergraduate student in the Environmental Science and Management Bachelor’s Degree Program at Portland State University, working to earn a B.S. in Environmental Science and a minor in Biology. She is also enrolled in the PSU Honors College.