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Fires Cause Ongoing Challenges For Water Systems

Oregon Water Utility Council

This fall’s wildfires in Oregon have caused ongoing challenges for municipal water systems.

Water managers outlined those issues during a hearing Tuesday of the Oregon House Interim Committee on Water. Some infrastructure was damaged by the flames themselves, although work to repair and replace equipment began before the fires were completely contained. 

But the long-term impact to watersheds is an ongoing concern. Josh Seeds of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality said increased sediment run-off in burn zones could cause long-term headaches that will increase expenses.

“It’s going to take a lot more staff time to manage the changes to water quality," he said. "A lot of these systems can kind of run on auto-pilot normally, and they won’t be able to.”

Water managers will also on the lookout for increased harmful algae blooms next summer. Reduced shade along river banks could lead to higher water temperatures, which allows algae to grow more rapidly.

According to a report from a task force made up of representatives from Oregon DEQ, the Oregon Department of Forestry, and the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, the public water systems at highest risk for negative impacts following the 2020 wildfires are:





Panther Creek Water District (Otis)





Chris Lehman has been reporting on Oregon issues since 2006. He joined the KLCC news department in December 2018 and became News Director in March 2023. Chris was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and graduated from Temple University with a degree in journalism. His public broadcasting career includes stops in Louisiana and Illinois. Chris has filed for national programs including “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”
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