It wasn’t until the next day, when I put on my "work hat" and began listening to Michelle Owen and Jake Jones, staff from Baker City, and Robert Macon and Kelby Witherspoon, staff from the U.S. Forest Service, describe the drinking water watershed that the connection was made in my head. Seems silly given that I was in Baker City as a member of the Drinking Water Providers Partnership. The partnership was formed to help restore and protect the health of watersheds which communities depend upon for drinking water while also benefiting aquatic and riparian ecosystems. One way we achieve this is through an annual grant program. Baker City applied for, and received, a grant to help purchase and install fencing in their ongoing effort to protect their drinking water source area. It’d seem obvious that I would consider water while drinking beer, but like most people, I often take clean water (and good beer) for granted.
Cryptosporidium is a parasite that can cause respiratory and gastrointestinal illness. It comes from human or animal sources and is not what anyone wants in their drinking water. To avoid this kind of problem, other cities that have unfiltered water systems err on the side of caution and have closed their watersheds to people and cows – both potential sources. Baker City, however, is trying to carefully balance the desires of its community, which includes: access for grazing, access for hunters and protections for the community’s pure water. By fencing high priority areas, the City hopes to keep cattle away from entering the more vulnerable areas.
When we finally reach our destination, we step out of the vehicles to see a neat line of fence on one side of the road and a wobbly, tilting, fence line on the other side. The new fence has traditional barbed wire lines stretched between posts while the bottom line is barb-free so smaller animals can move through. Fencing can solve some problems by keeping cattle out, but can cause other problems for wildlife. Since this is National Forest land, there are specific requirements that should be followed to minimize impacts to wildlife. Most of Baker City's watershed is not fenced, but in specific places, it can help keep cattle away from the community's drinking water.
My work often is focused on restoring public lands that are degraded. But I also work to protect valuable places where the ecosystem is functioning fairly well. Surveys show that Oregonians value clean drinking water so we work hard to ensure that water remains protected and clean.