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EWEB Introduces Program to Fund Wildfire Restoration in the McKenzie Watershed

March 17, 2021

McKenzie River in black and white

At the March 2 EWEB Board meeting, Commissioners approved a new program that will pay for wildfire restoration projects in the watershed through a temporary 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 2020 Holiday Farm Fire caused extensive damage to the McKenzie watershed, by reducing tree cover and creating toxic ash, debris, and sediment that can wash into the river, degrading drinking water quality and increasing treatment costs.

In recent storm events, enhanced monitoring in the river has detected fire-related increases in metals, nutrients, solids, bacteria, and organic carbon. Fortunately, these impacts have been short-lived, and the water quality issues experienced so far are well within the capacity of EWEB's treatment plant to handle. Read more about your drinking water quality.

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.

EWEB Commissioners voted unanimously to adopt the fee that will raise $12 million over a five-year period to fund critical response and recovery efforts.

"I fully support the fee and view this as money well spent," said EWEB Board President Mindy Schlossberg, who represents the entire city in the at-large position. "It's our responsibility to take care of watershed. I'm proud of the work EWEB is doing and I think this will serve as a model for many other communities who recognize that wildfires are becoming more and more common."

Over more than a decade of outreach and research, customers have expressed a clear and unchanging priority—ensuring safe, reliable drinking water remains the most important EWEB program.

The community-funded watershed recovery and restoration initiative will supplement EWEB's McKenzie River Source Protection Program and provide financial resources to ensure that our community's most basic need for clean, safe, and abundant drinking water is reliably met.

EWEB is exploring ways to mitigate the fee's impact on limited-income customers. We will share more details about the Watershed Recovery Fee with all customers in the coming weeks and months.

Learn more about protecting drinking water in the aftermath of the Holiday Farm Fire.