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A Cascadian Public Trust Initiative

Here in Portland, we are lucky to enjoy an impressive array of natural endowments, from beautiful Forest Park to Oaks Bottom wildlife refuge to scenic Mount Hood. We have so many things that we take for granted that it never really occurs to us that we are one poor decision away from losing them.

Take, for example, our water supply. Visitors and newcomers are universally impressed with the clarity, taste, and simple pureness of our drinking water, and indeed, we have as pristine a source through Bull Run as exists anywhere. And we tend to assume that this quality of water will remain, simply by the fact that it always has.

This is far from reality. Currently, the quality of our water supply can be altered by as few as three City Commissioners. Recent events this year dramatically demonstrated that the will of the majority of the voters was in direct opposition to the actions of their elected Commissioners.

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Our reliance on healthy, pure water is far too great to be entrusted to individuals who may well have personal biases or agendas, or whose ideas may run counter to public desires. People as individuals err frequently, but direct vote by city residents at least gives a decision greater credibility.

The Cascadian Public Trust Initiative proposes that the water of Bull Run and within the City of Portland be placed in a public trust, which would maintain the quality of water to at least the current standards, for the benefit of the residents who use, and the ecosystems that rely on and support, clean water. As a ballot initiative, this would be an amendment to the City Charter; no changes would be allowed, and no additives permitted, without an affirmative vote of the public. The administration of the Water Bureau would be obligated to maintain the high water quality standards that we enjoy currently.

The beauty of this beast is that it limits the options to do harm by short-sighted decision-makers who may not be looking to the long-term impacts of their decision. It also takes special interests out of the formula. Yet still, everything relies on the will and the determination of an educated public.

The public trust concept does not lend itself to short-term tinkering. Water is our birthright, and the purity of it is far too important to be left to the politicos. And just because we have always enjoyed it does not guarantee that our future guardians will remain forever so enlightened. It only takes one action to ruin it forever.

Let us all do what we can to ensure that our future generations are able to enjoy the same quality of water that we do today.

 

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