Written by Peter Pearsall/ Photos by Erika Fitzpatrick

On June 26 the Oregon Legislature passed a landmark $530 million “Water Package” that includes funding for drinking water, wastewater, and groundwater infrastructure projects across the state, including Harney County. On August 27, the Willamette Partnership and State Representative Mark Owens hosted an in-person “Water Celebration” in Harney County, taking guests on a tour to see groundwater management in action at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and on Rep. Owens’ farm. The event drew more than 50 people and served as an Eastern Oregon component of an earlier, virtual celebration hosted by the Willamette Partnership.

“This [Water Package] comes from the collective effort of legislators across the state to secure what some are saying is historic funding for water management, resources and infrastructure in Oregon,” Rep. Owens said. “Water isn’t a partisan issue, and a big reason why this effort succeeded is because it had bipartisan support.”

The August 27 tour visited Malheur Refuge Headquarters, where Project Leader Jeff Mackay spoke to the group about how groundwater is managed across the Refuge to support ecosystem function and wildlife needs. The group then reconvened at Rep. Owens’ farm in Crane, just north of the Refuge.

“In the Harney Basin there is a big emphasis on how we creatively and collaboratively manage our water, which is a dwindling resource that is currently overallocated,” Rep. Owens said. “The Water Package has several provisions that deal directly with some of those issues we face here; we’re looking forward to building relationships with some of the newer partners of this effort to conserve and manage water across the state.”