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McKenzie River water quality remains excellent

May 01, 2023 Adam Spencer, EWEB Communications

Koosah Falls demonstrates the amazing water quality of the McKenzie River

Monitoring and prevention efforts have paid off in protecting the health of the McKenzie River watershed since the Holiday Farm Fire devastated the region in 2020, according to Eugene Water & Electric Board’s (EWEB) annual State of the Watershed Report. 

Water quality on the McKenzie River remains excellent in 2022, the report found. (click to download PDF of the State of the Watershed Report)

After the fire in 2020, EWEB’s Source Water Protection team worked closely with federal, state and local partners to ramp up monitoring efforts to detect threats to water quality and respond to them, while launching a vast landscape restoration effort.  

“EWEB responded rapidly to the Holiday Farm Fire thanks to years of building trust with our agency partners and private landowners upriver,” said EWEB Chief Operations Officer Karen Kelley. “Working with our Pure Water Partners, EWEB is helping our neighbors recover from the fire, and we are replanting riparian areas and restoring floodplains to improve watershed resiliency and mitigate future risks.” 

EWEB has garnered $11.4 million of funding for fuels reduction, invasive species control, replanting and working with partners to manage forest dynamics. EWEB is also partnering with Lane County, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, and others to distribute up to $3 million in grants from the American Rescue Plan Act to landowners affected by the Holiday Farm Fire so they can replace aging septic systems. 

Over the course of many decades, the formerly meandering McKenzie River has been constricted into a channel with fast-moving water. But efforts highlighted in the State of the Watershed Report seek to restore the river to a more natural state. The large-scale restoration projects are the work consortium that includes EWEB, the McKenzie Watershed Council, the McKenzie River Trust and the U.S. Forest Service. 

These types of projects have numerous benefits. They mitigate floods, turbidity, and organic carbon by spreading out and slowing down river flows. They cause sediment to drop out of the water. They pull out of the water nutrients and organic carbon, which if left unchecked can prompt harmful blooms of algae. They allow water to soak into the ground, increasing groundwater storage. They foster habitat for fish and wildlife. They protect nearby areas from fire by serving as firebreaks. And they offer shaded areas of slow-moving water that serve as a refuge for migrating fish.  

“When we take our channel and let it function as a big floodplain, where we can have creeks, tributaries, rivers that meander across the floodplain, they improve their water quality, which makes it easier for us to treat the water downriver as well,” said Water Resources Supervisor Susan Fricke. “These projects make the water cleaner for everybody to be swimming, recreating, and fishing in the McKenzie – doing all the things they love to do in the McKenzie – and it also reduces costs at the Hayden Bridge Water Treatment Plant for Hayden Bridge for the water we all drink.” 

The report details other aspects of EWEB’s Source Water Protection Program, including incentives for landowners to reduce pesticide pollution, programs to improve water quality monitoring for toxic algal blooms and efforts to mitigate hazardous materials spills. 

EWEB is also celebrating the retirement of long-time EWEB staffer Karl Morgenstern, who began building the Source Water Protection Program in 2001. Morgenstern has brought innumerable benefits to the McKenzie River, earning EWEB national recognition for the innovation and results he pioneered in Source Water Protection.  

“One of the beautiful things about the way Karl has really led partnerships is he's been very quick to say, ‘Let's do the best with what we have here … (But) let's grow the pie of resources for all of us working collaboratively,’” Joe Moll, Executive Director of the McKenzie River Trust. “And that's just been a joy. He’s been a great mentor to me in that. And I think that for those of us who've worked with him over the years across the board, that's the legacy that he leaves for sure, and it's something that continues on.” 

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Holiday Farm Fire Customer Resources
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Information about utility services, resources and support options for customers impacted by the Holiday Farm Fire.

McKenzie Watershed Landowner Programs
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Are you a landowner in the McKenzie Watershed?  Check out our assistance programs and incentives.

Fire Recovery & Watershed Restoration
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EWEB is heavily involved in protecting drinking water in the aftermath of the Holiday Farm Fire.

Drinking Water Source Protection Plan
Drinking Water Source Protection Plan

Drinking Water Source Protection Plan

Learn about our 10-year strategic plan for our Drinking Water Source Protection Program.

Holiday Farm Fire Rebuild Assistance
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McKenzie Rebuilds is an online resource center for homeowners and landowners recovering from the Holiday Farm Fire. This site shares information about financial assistance, clean up, watershed protection, and other resources.