North Santiam Watershed: The Value of Our Water “Building a Case”

North San­ti­am: Build­ing “the busi­ness case” for invest­ing in projects that pro­mote water­shed resiliency

Goal: To engage busi­ness lead­ers and stake­hold­ers in the Willamette Valley/North San­ti­am Water­shed to make ‘the busi­ness case’ for invest­ing in projects that pro­mote water­shed resiliency.

Dura­tion:  Sep­tem­ber 2017 through April 2018
Loca­tion: Mar­i­on and Linn Coun­ty – North San­ti­am Basin and the com­mu­ni­ties depen­dent on its water resources.

Project Sum­ma­ry:
A North San­ti­am Water­shed Col­lab­o­ra­tive Plan­ning ini­tia­tive start­ed in 2009 when the City of Salem and the North San­ti­am Water­shed Coun­cil (NSWC) asked Ore­gon Con­sen­sus to con­duct a neu­tral assess­ment of the poten­tial for col­lab­o­ra­tion relat­ing to water man­age­ment in the North San­ti­am Basin. The assess­ment con­sist­ed of inter­views with par­ties rep­re­sent­ing a range of per­spec­tives on issues and con­cerns relat­ed to water man­age­ment.  Since 2009, the City of Salem and the NSWC have been hold­ing an annu­al basin sum­mit to assess and dis­cuss crit­i­cal water­shed issues that could impact the water­shed ecosys­tem and the peo­ple who depend on it. To date, top­ics cov­ered include the fol­low­ing: water­shed data man­age­ment, emer­gency spill response, flood­ing, drought, and water­shed scale planning.

In April 2013, stake­hold­ers were asked a series of ques­tions to iden­ti­fy what the group want­ed to focus on mov­ing for­ward. One ques­tion was what is your high­est pri­or­i­ty for the North San­ti­am basin efforts? Of the pos­si­ble respons­es, “drought emer­gency” received the most votes. In response to this input, the NSWC col­lab­o­rat­ed with the San­ti­am Water Con­trol Dis­trict and oth­er local water­shed part­ners dur­ing the fall of 2015 to cre­ate a Drought Con­tin­gency Plan for the North San­ti­am Riv­er Basin.

Fund­ed by a grant from the U.S. Bureau of Recla­ma­tion to help fund drought plan­ning efforts, eleven part­ners agreed to assist the San­ti­am Water Con­trol Dis­trict with meet­ing the 50/50 cost share grant oblig­a­tions, includ­ing:  City of Salem, City of Stay­ton, Stay­ton Fire, Linn SWCD, Mar­i­on Coun­ty, Mar­i­on SWCD, NORPAC Foods, Inc., North San­ti­am Water­shed Coun­cil, Ore­gon Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture, Ore­gon Depart­ment of Envi­ron­men­tal Qual­i­ty and Ore­gon Depart­ment of Forestry. Grant funds were used to con­tract GSI Water Solu­tions and sub­con­trac­tor David Evans and Asso­ciates to help devel­op this much-need­ed plan. A local stake­hold­er task force was formed in the win­ter of 2016 to help guide the devel­op­ment of a water­shed scale plan. As required by the BOR grant, the Plan tries to answer the fol­low­ing three questions:

  1. How will we rec­og­nize the next drought in the ear­ly stages?
  2. How will drought affect us?
  3. How can we pro­tect our­selves from the next drought?

To answer these ques­tions, the irri­ga­tion dis­trict and its part­ners cre­at­ed a task force charged with devel­op­ing a North San­ti­am Basin Drought Con­tin­gency Plan in 2016.  The goal of this Plan is to build long-term resilien­cy to drought in order to min­i­mize impacts to the com­mu­ni­ties, local economies, and the crit­i­cal nat­ur­al resources with­in the water­shed. Link to North San­ti­am Drought Con­tin­gency Plan

After iden­ti­fy­ing the water­shed assets vul­ner­a­ble to drought, the task force devel­oped a list of poten­tial mit­i­ga­tion actions that could help reduce risks and impacts before drought. How­ev­er, miss­ing from the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty assess­ment is the crit­i­cal infor­ma­tion that cap­tures the eco­nom­ic data, in par­tic­u­lar relat­ed to the indus­tries depen­dent on the water resource of the basin both in and sur­round­ing the watershed.

To devel­op a com­pre­hen­sive water­shed resilien­cy plan, data on direct eco­nom­ic impacts of droughts on the region’s econ­o­my (agri­cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion, oth­er water-depen­dent man­u­fac­tur­ing, and recre­ation-based busi­ness­es), com­mu­ni­ties (con­tin­ued growth and eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment), and water­sheds (habi­tats, species, and ecosys­tem ser­vices) is need­ed. With­out this infor­ma­tion, it will be dif­fi­cult (if not impos­si­ble) to gar­ner the con­sen­sus nec­es­sary to pro­pose, finance and build infra­struc­ture projects that will lead to greater resilien­cy through­out the Willamette Riv­er Basin.

ECONorth­west recent­ly com­plet­ed a study of the ‘water sto­ry’ in a por­tion of the Yaki­ma Basin.[1]  Led by researcher Ed Mac­Mul­lan, water­shed stake­hold­ers con­tributed data cap­tur­ing the eco­log­i­cal, recre­ation­al, and eco­nom­ic val­ues asso­ci­at­ed with water use in this region.  The process of col­lect­ing, eval­u­at­ing, and syn­the­siz­ing those data also involved reg­u­lar out­reach to state and fed­er­al offi­cials, water-depen­dent busi­ness­es includ­ing agri­cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion and pro­cess­ing, man­u­fac­tur­ing, recre­ation and ser­vices, as well as Trib­al rep­re­sen­ta­tives, and inter­ests groups focused on fish­ery and relat­ed topics.

The North San­ti­am project will deploy Ed Mac­Mul­lan to con­duct a sim­i­lar study of the full water sto­ry in the North San­ti­am Water­shed.  Work­ing close­ly with NSWC Coor­di­na­tor Rebec­ca McCoun, OBCCI con­sul­tant John Aud­ley and Ed Mac­Mul­lan will work togeth­er to do the following:

1) Col­lect eco­nom­ic and recre­ation­al data that cap­tures the untold sto­ry of eco­nom­ic and recre­ation­al activ­i­ty through­out the watershed.

2) Col­lect rel­e­vant data from oth­er water basins that can help describe water sig­nif­i­cance and eco­nom­ic val­ues in the Willamette Valley/North San­ti­am Watershed.

3) Inte­grate the eco­log­i­cal data already col­lect­ed by the Part­ners of the North San­ti­am and from oth­er land man­agers in the basin to pro­duce a uni­fied sto­ry of water in the water­shed.  By doing so we will help grow con­sen­sus among water­shed stake­hold­ers for steps that will pro­mote greater resilien­cy through­out the basin.


  • Novem­ber 17, 2017: Project kick-off meet­ing with water­shed stakeholders
  • Novem­ber 2017-Decem­ber 2018: Ed Mac­Mul­lan will aggre­gate eco­log­i­cal, recre­ation­al, and eco­nom­ic val­ue data to por­tray the water sto­ry in the subbasin
  • Decem­ber: Along with our oth­er water infra­struc­ture projects, the North San­ti­am Water­shed project will be part of our focus on rur­al infra­struc­ture invest­ments dur­ing the Ore­gon Busi­ness Lead­er­ship Sum­mit on Mon­day, Decem­ber 4, 2017.
  • Feb­ru­ary: We will recon­vene the stake­hold­ers to review a draft assess­ment doc­u­ment and pro­vide feedback.
  • April 2018: We will present our find­ings at the Annu­al North San­ti­am Basin Summit.

Why the Ore­gon Busi­ness Coun­cil Char­i­ta­ble Insti­tute?
Three years ago, OBC launched the Rur­al Eco­nom­ic Vital­i­ty Project (REV) designed to bet­ter con­nect pri­or­i­ties set by the Lead­er­ship Sum­mit and Busi­ness Plan to those artic­u­lat­ed by our rur­al busi­ness lead­ers. Water resilien­cy touch­es all aspects of eco­nom­ic, com­mu­ni­ty, and water­shed health in this region.  Invest­ing in Oregon’s rur­al infra­struc­ture to help grow rur­al economies and empow­er rur­al com­mu­ni­ties to play a larg­er role in shap­ing the poli­cies and pro­grams that affect their lives is one of the high­est pri­or­i­ties stem­ming from this work.

For many years, OBC has made invest­ing in water infra­struc­ture a high pri­or­i­ty for its work in rur­al areas of the State. Their ini­tial focus on the need to invest in water infra­struc­ture in the Umatil­la basin led to the cre­ation of a state water infra­struc­ture-fund­ing pro­gram (SB 839).  The Umatil­la water stor­age project has not yet been built, in part because the agri­cul­tur­al water users in the region feel that “the busi­ness case for invest­ing in water infra­struc­ture” has not yet been suc­cess­ful­ly made.

Giv­en OBC’s his­tor­i­cal inter­est in water infra­struc­ture, it made sense to empha­size water as they con­tin­ue to grow the REV project by pri­or­i­tiz­ing infra­struc­ture.  One of their goals for 2017 is to iden­ti­fy three basins where mak­ing the busi­ness case for invest­ing in spe­cif­ic water infra­struc­ture projects would help local stake­hold­ers real­ize their goals (i.e. the evi­dence of our suc­cess lies in whether or not dis­crete infra­struc­ture projects actu­al­ly get built).  Giv­en the impor­tance of this Basin and Water­shed to the over­all health of Oregon’s econ­o­my, and the sup­port to engage they have heard from our busi­ness lead­ers, they hope to make the North San­ti­am Water­shed project one of our three areas of focus for 2017–2018.

Project part­ners include:

  • North San­ti­am Water­shed Coun­cil: NSWC will be one of two key part­ners.  The OBCCI efforts to make the busi­ness case will be coor­di­nat­ed close­ly with their over­all project leadership.
  • North San­ti­am Water­shed Stake­hold­ers con­tribut­ing to the fund­ing of the project include: Mar­i­on Soil & Water Con­ser­va­tion Dis­trict, Mar­i­on Coun­ty and the City of Salem. Togeth­er they are con­tribut­ing $20,000 in cash match toward the eco­nom­ic assessment
  • Ed Mac­Mul­lan, ECONorth­west: OBCCI will con­tract Ed to serve as our tech­ni­cal storyteller
  • John Aud­ley: will coor­di­nate busi­ness com­mu­ni­ty involve­ment in the project.  To keep project costs down, he will assume respon­si­bil­i­ty for data col­lec­tion and busi­ness out­reach coor­di­na­tion. To the extent that oth­er NSWC mem­bers wish, John can also serve as a liai­son to fed­er­al and state gov­ern­ment and elect­ed officials.
  • The Ford Fam­i­ly Foun­da­tion: TFFF is the prin­ci­pal sup­port­er of OBCCI rur­al eco­nom­ic out­reach.  TFFF funds allow OBCCI to cov­er the cost of John Audley’s role as project lead, enabling OBCCI to invest the major­i­ty of our MMT grant request to pay for most of ECONorthwest’s time and skills.
  • Mey­er Memo­r­i­al Trust Grant has grant­ed the Ore­gon Busi­ness Coun­cil Char­i­ta­ble Insti­tute $30,000 to fund the eco­nom­ic analy­sis work ECONorth­west will be conducting.


  1. Tell the North San­ti­am Riv­er Basin “water story.”
  2. The North San­ti­am Water­shed project will be part of our annu­al Busi­ness Sum­mit, offer­ing an oppor­tu­ni­ty to edu­cate up to 1500 busi­ness and oth­er lead­ers about the pri­or­i­ties set by Willamette Val­ley basin water stakeholders
  3. The process of writ­ing the sto­ry will be close­ly coor­di­nat­ed with out­reach to state and fed­er­al elect­ed officials
  4. Pos­si­ble spe­cif­ic projects depend in large mea­sure on the con­sen­sus of the group. To date, their ideas include the fol­low­ing projects:
    1. Improve­ments to irri­ga­tion automa­tion and effi­cien­cy, improve­ments to the City of Salem’s drink­ing water trans­mis­sion lines and improv­ing the North San­ti­am Canyon Waste Water infra­struc­ture. The analy­sis will look at these projects when look­ing at the cost ben­e­fit analy­sis of action vers­es no action.
    2. Estab­lish­ment of a San­ti­am Basin Fund: A Fund would sup­port a range of water-relat­ed projects impor­tant to local stakeholders.

Project Bud­get:
Total Project Bud­get:   $70,000
ECONorth­west Con­sul­tant (Ed Mac­Mul­lan) $50,000
John Aud­ley Con­sult­ing (John Aud­ley) $20,000

[1] Yaki­ma Basin Analy­sis: