For more than 100 years our community has relied on and benefitted from the McKenzie River for safe, abundant drinking water and clean, reliable electricity.
Now, in the aftermath of the Holiday Farm Fire, the safety and security of our community's sole source of drinking water is at risk. Wildfire can dramatically increase erosion in forests by reducing tree cover and altering the physical and chemical properties of soils. Post-fire ash, debris, and sediment can complicate water treatment, impact water quality for downstream communities, and challenge our source water protection efforts.
We are working in partnership with watershed researchers, forest management agencies and local non-profits to identify threats to our water supply and public health, prioritize watershed restoration activities and help with long-term community recovery.
Information and programs for McKenzie valley landowners affected by the Holiday Farm Fire.
In the wake of the Holiday Farm Fire, EWEB has been working with our community partners to reduce downed and dead vegetation that could fuel future fires. Lara Colley of the McKenzie Watershed Council had an idea: instead of burning and chipping that wood, why not distribute it to families who lost their firewood in the fire? EWEB helped get the McKenzie Firewood Program off the ground in 2021 and Brink's Land Improvement is carrying the torch. Brink's has delivered over 300 cords of wood to HFF survivors and other McKenzie families in need. They split the wood at the Three Sisters Meadow, next to the McKenzie track in Blue River. The property is currently owned and stewarded by McKenzie River Trust. The McKenzie Long Term Recovery Group helps cover the cost of deliveries. While many folks still have a long way to go to fully recover from the fire, the McKenzie Firewood Program proves to be another story of a community building back together, and one that warms our hearts.
The Pure Water Partners planted more than 500,000 trees in the McKenzie Watershed in 2022 to help our lands recover from the Holiday Farm Fire. Thanks to people like Jan Helfrich and Lara Colley - who sign up to have the PWP assess and restore their properties - our partners are able to remove invasive vegetation, plant native species, mitigate fire-risk fuels, and jump-start our watershed's recovery to health. These efforts not only help our upriver neighbors move on from the devastation of the Holiday Farm Fire with some green new hope, but every thing we do protects the water quality of the McKenzie River - the sole source of drinking water for the people of Eugene.
"This is everyone's water source. This is the water source for everyone upriver, this is the water source for everyone in town. So, first of all we want to be protecting that for everyone." - Lara Colley, Vida resident and Restoration Specialist for the McKenzie Watershed Council
In the year since the Holiday Farm Fire, EWEB and the Pure Water Partners have worked with over 270 landowners to assess fire damage, replant riparian forests, install erosion control devices, and reduce fuels to mitigate future fires. We thank and admire all of the people who partner with us. Despite the hardships they face while rebuilding, they continue to honor their commitment to be good stewards of our watershed. EWEB is committed to protecting the McKenzie River - the sole source of drinking water for nearly 200,000 people in Eugene - and to standing with the upriver community as we continue to recover from the fire.
EWEB Commissioners joined Mayor Lucy Vinis, State Representative Nancy Nathanson, and other local leaders on a float down the McKenzie River to learn about the many Pure Water Partners watershed restoration activities following the Holiday Farm Fire.
"You know, I'm in a little bit of emotional turmoil seeing it. I mean, you see the devastation on the hillsides—and then you see the soft greenery that is coming up: the alder trees by the river and the grasses. And so this contrast between the new growth and the devastation is just—it's haunting, actually," Mayor Vinis said.
The tour showcased several restoration activities, including at Quartz Creek, where the Pure Water Partners are working with the timber company Campbell Global to conduct floodplain restoration using FEMA funds for water quality and ecological benefits.Read more
At the March 2 EWEB Board meeting, Commissioners approved a new program that will pay for wildfire restoration projects in the watershed through a flat fee assessed to customer water bills beginning later this year.
The community-funded watershed recovery and restoration initiative will supplement EWEB's McKenzie River Source Protection Program to safeguard drinking water for Eugene residents by addressing immediate risks such as erosion from high burn areas and redevelopment along the river, as well as longer-term resiliency investments to restore floodplain areas that are critical to water quality and habitat.
The Watershed Recovery Fee will be assessed to all residential and commercial customers based on meter size. For most residential and business customers, the fee will be a flat $3 per month (based on a 1-inch or smaller water meter). Some customers, such as large businesses and those with extensive irrigation needs, will pay more ($4.50 to $30 per month) based on meter size.
The fee will go into effect mid-2021 and will be in place for 60 months (5 years), at which time it will automatically sunset.
The security of our water supply is tied to the health of the entire McKenzie watershed, and all of us who rely on and benefit from the McKenzie River will have important roles in meeting the challenges ahead.
EWEB made the decision as soon as it was safe to enter the fire-impacted area that we would take early action to protect water quality. Thanks to years of efforts to manage costs and operate more efficiently, EWEB has the financial headroom to get this critical work started immediately.
But the long-term work of planning and funding watershed restoration will require extensive financial resources through public and private partnerships to ensure that our community's most basic need for clean, safe, and abundant water is reliably met.
As we have for decades, EWEB will take a strong leadership role in protecting our community's drinking water source. In addition to funding through existing EWEB budgets, we are applying for grants through FEMA and reaching out to our State partners to secure additional funding.
We are also investigating additional ways for customers to contribute to shared stewardship and restoration efforts. At the March EWEB Board meeting, Commissioners will consider a 2021 budget amendment to fund restoration work which could include a dedicated Watershed Recovery Charge on customer bills.
On the heels of the Holiday Farm Fire, additional water quality sensors have been placed in the main stem of the river, as well as in several creeks and tributaries.Read more
Voluntary programs help residents restore their land and prepare for rebuilding while reducing the impacts of the fire on the McKenzie River.Read more
Wildfires can have potential impacts on our community's drinking water from source to tap.
Heavy rain in the McKenzie Valley over the weekend gave EWEB's water quality team a close look at the potential impacts from the Holiday Farm Fire on source water.
Crews of young people are helping to protect Eugene's drinking water by mitigating the impact of post-fire soil erosion along the McKenzie River.Read more
In the aftermath of the Holiday Farm Fire, we're working to protect the safety and security of our community's sole source of drinking water.Learn more
Access to clean water is vital to our community. That is why we work hard to deliver water that meets or exceeds all state and federal health standards.
As a public utility, we share our customers' values around environmental stewardship.