By John Barkley of the Department of Natural Resources
While the western United States is alit with mega forest fires exacerbated by extreme drought and record-setting high temperatures, water resources are precariously evaporating and dwindling, threatening our environment and economy.
Over one million acres are on fire; some close to home in our aboriginal lands that can have devastating impacts on water quantity and quality, and our first foods, such as roots, huckleberries and salmon.
Oregon has issued its own drought declaration and is curtail watering of public lands and parks.
On the Umatilla Indian Reservation, we rely 100% on clean, cold and pure groundwater, some of which is 25,000 years old. Once we ‘mine’ this water, it is irreplaceable. Fortunately, we don’t realize any immediate impact to our groundwater, but we must take action and develop plans now to preserve and protect water for our current needs and for future generations.
Conservation is the first step to counter any diminishment of our water resources. We must use water efficiently and conserve every drop to protect this finite resource.
Climate change is, and has been, upon us. Pumping spent fossil fuels and other carbon emissions creates perilous conditions by diminishing our protective ozone shield and allowing in more ultra violet rays. Our record 118 degree temperature in July serves notice that our actions are decreasing snow packs, melting glaciers and upsetting our regular cycle of precipitation. Ocean levels are expected to rise as a result as well.
Our window of winter is shortening as we are experiencing mild winters and early Spring runoff. This year the melt was gradual to replenish our streams, springs and groundwater. Last year the runoff from the Blue Mountains resulted in flooding with just over 11,000 cfs of flow.
We must be more conscience of how we use water and how much. Watering lawns does not mean watering streets and when you water your lawn is key, too.
Members of the Tribal Water Commission is monitoring these developments and reviewing mitigating measures such as using recycled water for landscaping and ensuring we minimize detrimental impacts to groundwater.
We also anticipate provisions in our water rights settlement to include means to address and manage climate change impacts that are proving devastating to the Klamath basin, California and the Colorado River basin. Our fishery resources are seriously affected and require protection.
This summer may foretell what we can expect in the future. We can do our part by conserving water to the fullest extent possible, and being mindful how we manage ‘chu’ush’ for our future needs.
John Barkley is the Chairman of the Tribal Water Commission which he has served on for 28 years.