The Freshwater Trust testifies regarding bills to address legacy water problems

July 22, 2020

PORTLAND, OR, July 22, 2020 – Joe Whitworth, president of The Freshwater Trust (TFT), testified today before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power, advocating to leverage technology and finance in new ways to solve legacy water problems. Whitworth was joined by Aubrey Bettencourt, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science at the Department of the Interior, as well as Dan Keppen, Executive Director of the Family Farm Alliance.

TFT is a regional freshwater conservation and restoration nonprofit based in Portland, Oregon. The organization has projects and partners throughout Oregon, Idaho, California.

A set of five bills before the Committee direct additional funding for watershed restoration and ensure funding for multi-benefit watershed health projects goes to ones that are designed, implemented, and monitored to produce tangible outcomes for watersheds. The Water-Energy Technology Demonstration and Deployment Act, for instance, identifies the importance of data collection, modeling, and use of advanced data analytics for evaluating precipitation, runoff, and water resources at the regional level, as well as developing technology that improves management and infrastructure development. Another bill put forth includes funding to support voluntary transactions to enhance stream flow for fish and wildlife, water quality, and freshwater ecosystems in Western states.

“Solving our water problems on a meaningful timeframe requires that we accelerate restoration funding and focus it on producing the best environmental outcomes, for the least cost, driven by coordinated technology and analytics,” said Whitworth in his virtual testimony Wednesday.

TFT employs a “quantified conservation” approach to protecting and restoring rivers. The organization has more than three decades of working collaboratively with agencies, landowners, utilities and other partners, and using data and technology for ensuring the highest impact restoration and conservation actions are taken on an expedited basis.

Whitworth stated the ways in which restoration and conservation projects are currently funded are process-heavy, technical and lengthy. He cited need for technology to be employed to identify and target restoration actions that invest taxpayer dollars efficiently and get America on track toward providing fishable, swimmable, and drinkable water for all communities.

“The scale of this nation’s water problems remains daunting and progress has stalled,” he said, underlining the need for change. “After more than a generation of effort, more than half of America’s stream miles do not meet water quality standards.”

TFT currently uses tools that enable federal programs to efficiently identify and fund projects that provide the greatest benefits.

In one subwatershed of the Columbia River Basin, using publicly available data, federally approved model formulas, and advanced technology tools, TFT determined that of the nearly 4,100 agricultural fields in the watershed, only 1,500—less than half —would generate any significant environmental outcomes from restoration actions.

“By incorporating actionable insights into funding decisions at a basin scale, we can now understand actions, price tags, and outcomes in advance so that the most beneficial projects are funded on a coordinated and streamlined basis,” he said.

“Of the billions of dollars on the table today, we all could benefit from knowing what these will get us in terms of results.”

Whitworth added that the bills currently before Congress that ensure additional, tech-informed funding for restoration and conservation would have more than environmental benefits.

Existing rural restoration projects have shown to generate up to 40 jobs per $1 million spent, with an additional local economic multiplier of 2.5x as the wages are spent in those communities.

After testifying, Whitworth fielded questions from Committee members. TFT plans to continue to work with bill sponsors to develop the legislation currently proposed.

“The invitation to testify was an honor,” said Whitworth. “We know that ‘more of the same’ will not restore freshwater ecosystems at a pace and scale necessary. Bills like the ones proposed give society the best chance to recover listed species, ensure clean water for all uses, and make local economies more resilient.”

Read his full testimony here. 

The Freshwater Trust

TFT has more than 35 years of technology-driven, watershed-scale restoration expertise. Our policy and program work spans Oregon, Idaho, California, Washington, Colorado and Iowa. Beyond a broad array of project implementation roles, TFT has developed the analytics to identify the infrastructure, land management practices, and investments needed in targeted locations to meet outcome objectives. TFT designs watershed-scale restoration programs optimized based on these analytics, and enables landowners and regulated entities to build, measure, and track program outcomes.