Last year the Oregon Water Futures Project, in partnership with Unite Oregon, the Chinook Indian Nation, and other organizations, conducted a series of water-focused conversations with Native, Black, Latinx, and migrant communities around the state to learn about their cultural connections to water and their concerns when it comes to water education, access, and advocacy. And earlier this week OWF released a report of their findings from those conversations to Oregon policy- and decision-makers.
The report listed numerous findings including a lack of trust driven by information and communication gaps between state agencies, utility companies, and communities (especially in low-income and rural areas), how housing types impact water resources, and how many communities felt unprepared for emergencies, like COVID-19, and natural disasters like last year’s wildfires.
While the events of last year forced OFW to pivot from in-person gatherings in rural communities to Zoom meetings, COVID-19 and the wildfires also changed the conversation to focus on access to water in the face of emergencies.
“We were able to have that conversation, which I don't think we would have necessarily had before the pandemic, of how crucial it is to think about access to clean drinking water and clean water to wash people's hands in bathrooms, in workspaces, at home, for public health and how that impacted, specifically, migrant workers and farm workers,” Alaí Reyes-Santos, lead author of the Oregon Water Futures Report, says. “And then the wildfire season had us include questions about emergency preparedness and response ... and I think that people were terrified.”
In this week’s episode of Footnotes, we spoke with Reyes-Santos about the Oregon Water Futures Project Report, how COVID and the wildfires of 2020 shaped the report and its findings, and the steps we can take now to help bring underrepresented communities into our conversations about water.
Every Friday we break down our most important stories with the writers, contributors, and editors who crafted them. Hosted by Portland Monthly digital editor Gabriel Granillo, Footnotes provides clarity on complex stories with intimate and informative interviews.
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