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Centering Equity in Oregon’s 100 Year Water Vision: A student-led policy paper

Did you know that the State of Oregon is currently working on revamping how we manage water in a new policy, the 100 Year Water Vision? Given the challenges our water systems are facing from climate change, shifting population dynamics, and aging infrastructure, the state began the process of developing this new, forward-looking water policy recently by holding listening sessions across the state. Our Oregon Water Stories research team wanted to add onto the outreach being done by the State and see if there were any water priorities that mattered to Oregonians that were not being covered by the initial 100 Year Water Vision.

We conducted qualitative and linguistic analysis on our database of almost 1,000 water-related recent Oregon newspaper articles. This analysis output a geographically-organized inventory of water issues, and made us want to delve further into the patterns we were seeing and analyze how water equity was playing out. We looked at 4 case study locations--Ontario, Pendleton, Roseburg, and Warm Springs--and used the water issues inventory and qualitative data analysis to identify elements of water injustice happening in each place.

We condensed our findings into a 5 page policy paper aimed at influencing work on the 100 Year Water Vision to further center equity in the policy. We used the 4 case studies as examples of the 4 pillars of environmental justice: Representational, Procedural, Distributive, and Recognition Justice. Describing how these 4 pillars of justice were not being incorporated into the water policy decision making context in each location allowed us to segway into broader suggestions for how to bring equity into water policy arenas. We recommended a list of questions legislators could ask in any given water policy scenario to evaluate if the 4 pillars of environmental justice are being taken into account.

Ultimately, we recommended that Equity be added as a 5th statewide goal in the 100 Year Water Vision to complement the already-identified goal areas of Safety, Economy, Health, and Environment. We sent the policy paper to the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board as well as the Willamette Partnership, a Portland environmental nonprofit organization, and saw some of our equity-focused recommendations come to fruition in the second draft of the Water Vision.

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Mar 09, 2021

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