Personal Essay: Integrating Regional Solutions to DEQ’s Mission

Earth Day 2022 has come and gone, but I still think about the iconic “Earth Rise” image. Because I am a geographer, I recognize the collective and sweeping focus and perspective on air, land and water all Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s employees share in our common mission. For me and my own niche, it is such a privilege to work alongside dedicated DEQ professionals, and through the variety of ways the Regional Solutions program compliments and extends our work.

I hope that this larger view of Oregon has a positive trajectory that further motivates us, just like the perspectives Earth Rise has created.

DEQ’s work leads to environmental benefits, both directly and indirectly. A simple example that’s easy to overlook is irrigation modernization, which is often funded by DEQ’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund. DEQ loans tens of millions of dollars every year for irrigation districts to pipe their water delivery systems. This work saves a considerable amount of water, some of which can be kept in stream to benefit fish and other aquatic uses. This means more water for farmers and growers, and more water for the river.

You can’t see the 10 easternmost Oregon counties I serve in the Earth Rise image, but it is a big piece of geography, nonetheless, comprised of four ecoregions, all of or portions of seven river basins, and plenty of space between small communities. Communities with the school, the 2-3 blocks of “Main Street USA,” the dedicated City Council and front-office staff who aspire to help citizens participate in the 21st-century economy. For DEQ, for me, this is the intersection — the environment that sustains us and the economy we need.

My Earth Rise-inspired hope is that what I do benefits Oregon’s environment in three main ways: to illuminate the intrinsic relationship between water and economy; to manage Oregon’s first chemical process mining project such that its impacts are actually and substantially environmentally benign; and how my regional cross-program communication and connection efforts enhances the protective work DEQ staff do.

Eastern Oregon wheatfiled

In the far Eastern Oregon counties agriculture is the economic king, and we use a lot of water to grow food for cows, to grow potatoes for French-fries and tater tots, onions, mint, barley and wheat (soft winter white!). At one economic level, this equation is about quantity. How much water do we need and how much can we get to grow our regional economies and sustain our communities. At another level, the equation is as much about the quality of water we have, water we use, and water we share.

Technology is enabling mining and mineral processing in ways not possible a generation ago. Globally, lessons learned about mineral extraction, processing and mine monitoring have fundamentally shaped the ways DEQ has responded to the gold and silver mine at Grassy Mountain in Malheur County. Consistent DEQ responses over the past years regarding potential groundwater quality impacts, management of processed ore disposal (tailings), and land use planning implications for wildlife and water quality are now playing out in application revisions that may be quite environmentally protective.

Grassy-Mountain in Malheur County, Oregon

Efficiency in agency operations, communication, and in service delivery are elements of my Regional Solutions work that energize me. I see the care and compassion program managers typically have for their staff, and how regulatory permittees are treated as customers

I am convinced that as climate change progresses and as high-quality water, air and land irrevocably become more appropriately valued as the resources they are, DEQ’s work will both inform sustainable environmental quality and community resiliency.

— Randy Jones, Regional Solutions Team

Published by Oregon Department of Environmental Quality

DEQ’s mission is to be a leader in restoring, maintaining and enhancing the quality of Oregon’s air, land and water.

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