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EWEB Celebrates our #SourceWaterChampions for Source Water Protection Week

October 03, 2022

Last week, EWEB celebrated Source Water Protection Week by honoring our very own Source Water Champions! Source water protection is a proactive approach to safeguard, maintain, or improve the quality and/or quantity of drinking water sources and their contributing areas.

Source water protection (SWP) is the first layer in what is known as a ‘multi-barrier approach’ to protect drinking water resources. Other layers include water treatment and distribution to homes and businesses. Protecting our drinking watershed is much cheaper and more effective than having to treat contaminated water down the line. There are multiple benefits that result from SWP in addition to clean drinking water, including better water quality for recreation and fish and wildlife habitat, higher property values, etc.

SWP involves collaboration of multiple partners- one organization cannot do it alone. In the McKenzie Watershed, EWEB owns very little land, so we rely on partnerships with the Forest Service, private industrial timber, farmers, and rural residents.

EWEB's Source Water Champions work year-round to protect our drinking water. They take water quality samples throughout the watershed, help our neighbors be better stewards, and coordinate multi-agency teams for restoration work and hazard mitigation.

Meet Nancy Toth:

“I work for Eugene Water & Electric Board in Drinking Water Source Protection. Source Water Protection is my passion and it's my work. It's looking at the watershed as a whole and recognizing that it's not just the water quality itself, but it's the whole watershed and the land uses surrounding it that contribute to excellent water quality.

The McKenzie River is Eugene's sole source of drinking water for about 200,000 people, and my job is to work with all different kinds of landowners in the watershed to protect water quality. We have really excellent drinking water quality and we really want to keep it that way because if you start with a really clean source, you're going to get better drinking water.”

Lisa Erkert takes water quality samples from the McKenzie RiverMeet Lisa Erkert:

"I am an environmental technician with EWEB’s Water Quality and Source Protection Department. My primary focus is on water quality monitoring in the McKenzie Watershed which includes field monitoring, sample collection and water quality monitoring equipment maintenance.

Source water protection is critical because it leads to a more secure and safe drinking water supply for our community as well as beneficial environmental impacts.

I am grateful that EWEB sees the importance in source protection and has many programs and efforts in place. I enjoy being a part of this collaborative effort to monitor and protect Eugene's drinking water before it gets to the treatment plant. But seriously, working outdoors along the McKenzie River, what's not to love?!” 

Meet David Donahue:David Donahue labels water quality samples

"I’m an environmental specialist with EWEB’s Source Protection Program. My primary focus is on water quality monitoring in the McKenzie Watershed. From data analysis and reporting, to field monitoring, sample collection and hazard mitigation, I’m tasked with monitoring water quality conditions and identifying/mitigating water quality threats to the McKenzie River.

Clean drinking water and healthy environments are important for everyone. I think the investments we make today in source protection will benefit generations to come, not only in terms of clean drinking water, but also reduced treatment costs and watershed resiliency.

I really enjoy being able to work with a diverse group of stakeholders on a range of water quality issues that are not only protective of drinking water sources, but also increase our understanding of the natural systems we all depend upon. If I can do some of that work outside in challenging conditions, then even better. In the end, I feel very fortunate to be part of a forward thinking, publicly-owned utility that strives to meet the needs and expectations of its customers." 

Karl Morgenstern surveys forest lands for potential watershed conservation sitesMeet Karl Morgenstern:

"I’m EWEB’s Watershed Restoration Manager. EWEB and Eugene are one of the first larger metropolitan areas to take their Watershed as part of their water infrastructure and to recognize that. Back in 2000, I was hired to start a new program that the board and eweb and the citizens decided that, you know this is our sole source of drinking water, it's excellent drinking water, and we know there are threats from climate change that we really don't have any control over, but if we can invest in a watershed to make sure it's resilient to future issues, we should do that.

And so the board had the foresight to make that investment and that has allowed us to build partnerships. Because we don't own the watershed, we have to work with the federal government, landowners, and others to make things happen. And as you know it just takes time to build relationships, and now we have trust and relationships to do projects like large-scale floodplain restoration with the timber industry, for example. 

Other places are facing disasters and those relationships are not in place and they're having to build those relationships in the midst of a disaster and that just adds complexity and delays action. And so what we've done with the partners that we’ve worked with, like the Watershed Council, The Soil and Water Conservation District, the Forest Service, and McKenzie River Trust is really to put into place programs that help with a wide spectrum of things, whether hazardous material spills, to urban runoff, to helping repair septic systems - we've had the luxury, in a way, to spend twenty years to make these investments and building relationships and now it's paying off.

One of the ideas as far as investment and long-term watershed restoration is to take these creek basins that are incised creeks, that have high velocity flow during winter, and restore the floodplain so they spread out, drop out sediment, attenuate metals and nutrients coming out of the burned landscape. So the idea is to pre-filter was what’s coming off the landscape before it hits the river. 

The model is to look at the big tributaries like Quartz Creek and Gate Creek and Ennis Creek and Deer Creek that are big enough and have a low gradient valley that these projects would be effective. And to do it in those areas that make sense that have a large burned landscape above them that could mitigate those impacts. And even for those creeks that we realize, you know, we can't do a large-scale restoration project, is to put in what we call these “catcher mitts,” which are large wood projects that act to slow down flow, drop out sediment - smaller scale projects in the upper parts of the tributaries. But yes, the whole idea is to try to do this across as many of the creeks as we can where we can get access and make these projects happen. And the beauty is that this project and others that we're doing, a large part of them is actually funded by the federal government and other money sources and EWEB is letting them happen by making that match investment of 25% or whatever it might be. So we're getting pretty good value on the dollar but we're spending. 

The restoration projects we've done to date on South Fork of the McKenzie, Deer Creek and now Finn Rock Reach - it's amazing how they bounce back from the restoration. You go from 25 redds to 250 redds, or the amphibian population explodes, or even the avian population explodes, macroinvertebrates, - just all across the board you see an uptick of wildlife and habitat.

I think the message to our water customers is first, thank you, for supporting these efforts in an area that is kind of out of sight and out of mind, but is our sole source of drinking water. I think the ability to have Urban centers help rural areas and not have that urban-rural divide, we can start to break that down a little bit, I think these Investments help that. Folks are willing to pay a fee to restore an area that's not in their backyard. It is, but it's not in a way. So I think Eugene citizens are really proactive in so many ways and forward-thinking and so, thank you for being that, for supporting these kind of projects that help future generations with water, having clean water.”

Meet Susan Fricke:Susan Fricke leads a tour down the McKenzie River to show EWEB restoration projects

“I'm the Water Resources Supervisor here at EWEB. For my job, I get to work with three different parts of water quality. I get to work with protecting our source water, which is everything in our McKenzie watershed upstream of the Hayden Bridge Water Treatment Facility. I get to work with the water quality compliance and also with our amazing water quality lab.

My favorite thing about working at EWEB is working with our large variety of collaborators. We work with a wonderful diversity of folks, from watershed councils to land trusts to the cities and other utilities to be able to do some really amazing source water protection work, both within our urban area and upstream in the watershed.

Since the Holiday Farm Fire, we’ve been working with our collaborators through Pure Water Partners to reach out to landowners and see how we can help them after the fire. We've gone to hundreds of private properties to help with things like erosion control, invasive species, mulching around new plantings that we're coordinating, planting a bunch of native species, using Naturescaping and Firewise principles, and that all works together to reduce the sediment that's coming into the watershed and our treatment system. It helps reduce contaminants coming in, and it also provides shade that helps cool water temperatures as well.

We know we have great source water for Eugene. And when it comes to the treatment plant, we have some of the best water quality on the West Coast.”