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Water and geology
Learn how geology controls Oregon's most important natural resource

This essay is excerpted from the Winter/Spring, 2002 issue of Cascadia

Water is an unusual resource. It has some characteristics of renewable resources like forests and some of non-renewable resources like minerals. But finding, using and managing water resources, especially groundwater resources in arid parts of Oregon, can be a frustrating task – witness the evolving difficulties in the Klamath Basin this past year. In fact, seventeen counties had drought declarations in 2001, causing serious economic, social, and environmental problems across the state. The problems with our water supply are not going to go away and how we find and use water has become one of the most critical questions to the future of our state.

When geologists look at water, they see an entirely different picture that policies and politics don’t affect. They see rocks below the earth’s surface controlling the water – a natural system that stores and transmits water (groundwater) and connects it to rivers (surface water). They see the geology of an area controlling the behavior of water – in the streams, where groundwater is found, and in the interaction of these streams with groundwater. Geologist know that understanding an area’s geology is often critical for coordinated management of groundwater and surface water to help prevent the problems we’ve seen in the past year.

Who manages Oregon’s water is another question with no easy answer. Many state and local agencies are charged with looking after various parts of Oregon’s water supply. Although the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI) is not the lead state agency for water policy or water management, it has an important role to play because of its knowledge of the relationship between water and rocks. DOGAMI is the lead agency for geologic mapping in the state and is the source and coordinator of much of the geologic information needed to help craft successful groundwater and surface water strategies. This expertise from DOGAMI can contribute to cost-effective and innovative water management programs at both state and local levels. DOGAMI can also help forge strategic partnerships with federal, state and local stakeholders that bring benefits to all users.

Water problems – drought, flooding, pollution – will never go away, and the questions of how best to use this most critical of all natural resources will always be an ongoing challenge. But knowing how the natural system works that controls the water is a fundamental step in learning to manage the resource wisely. By concentrating in key areas with geologic mapping, and studying and coordinating information on stream geology, DOGAMI can bring a professional understanding and expertise to what can be a frustrating problem. The result is a well managed renewable natural resource for future generations.

Water related resources:

Groundwater can be essential for agricultural production. Understanding where to find it can be critical in managing this unusual natural resource.

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