EUGENE, Ore. -- Water quality in Eugene remains high, even after the Holiday Farm Fire burned along our main source of drinking water last September.
A new report from the Eugene Water and Electric Board said the water quality in Eugene is among the best in the nation and meets all federal standards.
Data for the report was gathered in 2020, including from September during the peak of fire activity. Wildfires increase erosion, which can send debris and ash into nearby rivers, like the McKenzie River. The McKenzie watershed provides drinking water for around 200,000 people in Eugene, EWEB said.
In recent storms, EWEB has recorded an increase in metals and bacteria in the river coming from the burned and eroded landscape. So far, treatment plants have been handling the uptick well.
But EWEB spokesperson Joe Harwood said damage to the watershed could pose problems down the line. That’s why EWEB is working with several community partners on watershed recovery and protection projects.
“We need to remind people that the McKenzie River is our sole source of water. We need to do whatever we can as a community to not only protect it, but to help restore it to mitigate some of the impacts of the fire,” Harwood said.
EWEB commissioners also approved a $3 fee for the next five years to help fund those efforts.
“We're going to use that money to address the immediate drinking water risks, such as erosion from the heavily burned areas, as well as some longer-term resiliency investments,” Harwood said.
For those rebuilding homes along the McKenzie, EWEB is also offering incentives to build in smarter ways that are friendlier on the watershed. That includes encouraging landowners to build further back from the river’s edge and replace older septic tanks so they don’t leak into the river.
You can read the full water quality report here.