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Tribes and Oregon government agencies strive to collaborate more on water policies

Native Americans gathering lamprey from waterfalls.
Meghan Kearney
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
In this photo from August 2012, regional Native Americans gather at Willamette Falls to harvest lamprey. Clean and sustainable waters are key to protecting species including lamprey, salmon, and other fish deemed culturally significant to tribes.

The nine federally-recognized tribes in Oregon and state agencies that regulate water are working towards a mutual partnership. This follows the release of a nearly 300-page report detailing tribes’ concerns and issues with water quality and access.

The Tribal Water Task Force’s report is the culmination of several government-to-government meetings enacted by then-Governor Kate Brown in 2022.

“The tribes have expressed frustration that when they have a matter of urgency that they want to talk to the state about, they’re not sure which agency they need to go to,” said Doug Woodcock, acting director for the Oregon Water Resources Department.

“So as a matter of efficiency, this education between us provides that avenue of, “Who is it that they ought to be talking to, around different issues?”

Examples include safe water habitat for salmon, a regular staple for many tribes, and clean and consistent water for communities. One tribe - the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs - has contended with water shutoffs and boil notices for years.

Woodcock told KLCC that later this year, the Tribal Water Task Force will explore forming a working group between tribes and agencies to improve communication.

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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