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Wildfire Watershed Recovery Effort Underway

October 16, 2020

Workers removing burned hazardous debris away from the riverbank

For nearly a century 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, we're working to protect the safety and security of this treasured resource and our community's sole source of drinking water.

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.

EWEB is working in partnership with watershed researchers, forest management agencies, landowners and local non-profits to identify threats to our water supply and public health resulting from the Holiday Farm Fire, prioritize watershed restoration activities and help with long-term community recovery.

One of the most urgent priorities is preventing hazardous debris and toxic ash from getting into the river and threatening water quality. Approximately 150 properties have been identified as a high priority for early actions based on proximity to the river and location within the burn area. For these high priority properties, EWEB is offering free post-fire hazardous material stabilization, which involves pulling debris away from the riverbank, staging it in a safe location above the high-water mark, and installing erosion control measures between burned structures and the river as an added precaution.

In addition to hazardous material stabilization, we are working with our Pure Water Partners to offer free site assessments for all properties along the McKenzie River that have been affected by the Holiday Farm Fire. Landowners will receive recommendations and support with tree removal, replanting and other erosion control measures to mitigate runoff of ash and soil which can elevate turbidity, nutrients, and organic carbon levels downstream.

"The security of our water supply is tied to the health of the entire McKenzie watershed," said Water Resources & Quality Assurance Supervisor Karl Morgenstern. "Wildfire damage has the potential to degrade water quality, increase treatment costs, and reduce the production capacity of EWEB's Hayden Bridge treatment plant for years to come if restoration efforts are not undertaken quickly in key areas."

Thanks to years of efforts to manage costs and operate more efficiently, EWEB has the financial headroom to get this critical work started immediately; cash reserves are healthy and can be used to fund short-term priority restoration projects.

At the Oct. 6, 2020 Board meeting, Commissioners approved reallocating $1 million of existing funds in order to address high priority risks associated with severely burned areas, which will include securing approximately 300,000 native seedlings and plant materials that can effectively treat about 200-300 acres of priority upland/riparian/floodplain impacted areas.

These early restoration efforts will be followed by more intensive work in priority upland, riparian, and floodplain areas as federal and other funding becomes available.

EWEB will undertake this work with the support and guidance of our customer-owners. 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.  

"All of us who rely on and benefit from the McKenzie River will have important roles in meeting the challenges ahead," said Karl. "Restoring the watershed and protecting our community's drinking water for generations to come will take shared stewardship, ownership and commitment."    

Learn more about wildfire recovery and watershed restoration.