Out of the ashes – EWEB, DEQ join effort to rebuild after Holiday Farm Fire along McKenzie River

Photo provided by EWEB. This photo was taken in May 2021 on an EWEB Commissioners and local leaders tour of the damage of the Holiday Farm Fire. The Holiday Farm Fire destroyed more than 500 homes in the McKenzie River Valley, like this one pictured in May 2021. As the community continues to rebuild, EWEB and Oregon DEQ are eager to support people with funds to repair their septic systems damaged in the fire to alleviate their burdens and protect the water quality of the McKenzie River.

The 2020 Holiday Farm Fire east of Eugene burned 173,000 acres of the McKenzie Watershed, including 25 miles of river frontage. The fire destroyed more than 500 homes and many people are still rebuilding.

Since the fire, the Eugene Water & Electric Board (EWEB) has mobilized a comprehensive recovery plan, leveraging long-standing partnerships with organizations in the McKenzie Watershed to support the community and reduce water quality impacts to the McKenzie River – Eugene’s sole source of drinking water.

These “Pure Water Partners” collaborations include containing hazardous materials, removing fuels and invasive species, and planting over 500,000 trees to stimulate reforestation in riparian areas burned in the Holiday Farm Fire.

Now a new partnership will further stimulate recovery efforts for Holiday Farm Fire survivors and mitigate one of the largest water quality threats: failing septic systems damaged in the fire.

Thanks to a $1,592,000 grant from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s Onsite Septic Financial Aid Program, EWEB will be able to help folks replace or repair their damaged septic systems.

“Our friends and neighbors upriver have gone through so many challenges in their long journeys to recover from the fire,” said Nancy Toth, an EWEB Environmental Specialist who coordinates programs to help McKenzie River Valley residents take care of the watershed. “With this grant, EWEB and our partners are able to provide meaningful support and take one more large financial burden off their lists of concerns.”

Eligible grantees can receive up to $35,000 depending on the type of septic system and household income qualifications. EWEB is currently accepting applications and has already matched dozens to funds. 

“I’m in contact with HFF landowners daily, and the stress and complexity of their situation is evident in every conversation I have,” said Misty Merriam, EWEB’s Customer Program Coordinator who is administering the grant. “Now that grant funds are available there is renewed hope and relief for the community. I’m so grateful to be in a position to help those who have lost so much with funds that will go a long way in their recovery and to protect the McKenzie River!”

By Adam Spencer

About the Author

Adam Spencer (he/him)
Adam Spencer (he/him)

Eugene Water & Electric Board, Communications Specialist III

Adam is a communications specialist experienced in science, environmental and entrepreneurship communications. He has worked as a content strategist, documentary filmmaker, conservation scientist, study abroad professor and media instructor.

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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