By Stacey Detwiler, conservation director at Rogue Riverkeeper
Southwest Oregon’s Rogue is an iconic river, legendary for its whitewater, rugged wilderness, and salmon and steelhead runs. It’s home to some of the most biologically diverse and undeveloped lands in the country.
At 5,300 feet, the Rogue begins as a spring bubbling up from the volcanic hillside along the northwestern slope of Crater Lake in the Cascade mountain range. From its headwaters at Boundary Springs, the Rogue flows 215 miles to the Pacific Ocean at Gold Beach, Oregon.
Recreational boaters, anglers, and hikers flock to the Rogue to fish, swim, boat, and play in its clear, cold waters—waters that depend on snowmelt and rainfall. Salmon and steelhead, including coho salmon listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, also rely on cold, clean water in the Rogue to survive.
On the way to the ocean, the waters of the Rogue flow through national forests, industrial timberlands, cities, and farming and ranching lands. The health of the Rogue is threatened by polluted runoff from cities and agriculture, industrial pollution, harmful logging practices, overuse, and over-allocation. Limits on pollution discharged into the streams, ditches, and wetlands that flow into the Rogue under the Clean Water Act are critical to protecting a healthy river.
These threats are increased by a recent proposal by the Trump administration that would gut the Clean Water Act. The proposal would strip entire categories of waters from protections under the Clean Water Act, leaving them vulnerable to pollution.
The waters of the Rogue are connected, from small headwater streams that flow seasonally, or only with snowmelt or rainfall, to irrigation ditches that flow throughout the watershed, to wetlands that filter pollutants and store floodwaters. These vital waterways would lose protection under Trump’s Clean Water Act proposal, leaving the entire Rogue vulnerable to increased pollution.
The ephemeral streams, fed primarily by snow and rain, that would lose protections are an important source of cold, clean water, supporting habitat for salmon and steelhead. These waters also are an important source of drinking water. Across the Rogue watershed, 154,320 people in Jackson, Josephine, and Curry counties rely on small headwater streams that may flow seasonally or infrequently as a source of their drinking water. Statewide, nearly 45 percent of Oregonians rely on these waters for their drinking water.
Not only do our communities rely on small headwater streams, but southern Oregon is also home to vernal pool systems, which would be stripped of protections under the Trump proposal. Vernal pools are seasonal wetlands that fill up with rainwater during the winter and spring, but may be otherwise dry. The Agate Desert vernal pools in Jackson County are the only vernal pools in Oregon; they support unique species, such as the vernal pool fairy shrimp. Vernal pools help to store floodwaters, filter out pollutants, and provide habitat for migrating birds.
Many ditches would also lose Clean Water Act protections, which means they would be vulnerable to pollution. In the Bear Creek watershed alone, the most urbanized tributary to the Rogue, there are approximately 250 miles of irrigation ditches that run parallel to the creek. These ditches are intrinsically tied to the hydrology of the Rogue; removing Clean Water Act protections leaves the health of the river vulnerable to pollution.
Outside of the Rogue watershed, but no less important, are the iconic blue waters of Crater Lake. At 1,949 feet deep, it is the deepest lake in the United States and one of the cleanest in the world. Most of the water in Crater Lake comes directly from snowmelt or rainfall. The Trump proposal would remove protections from “isolated” lakes, such as Crater Lake, which don’t have direct connections to waters that are traditionally navigable.
You can help protect Crater Lake, Oregon’s drinking water, its unique vernal pools, and the agricultural ditches that eventually flow into the Rogue by submitting comments about the Trump administration’s proposal to gut the Clean Water Act and by telling the Environmental Protection Agency to stand up for iconic rivers like the Rogue. The proposed changes threaten the health of the river, salmon and steelhead, and our communities that rely upon the clean, cold waters of the Rogue. Act now to stand up for clean water. #SaveTheCleanWaterAct.
*Feature image: Floating the Wild & Scenic lower Rogue in the fall. Photo by Darren Campbell