Guest Article: Oregon is Failing Warm Springs

GUEST ARTICLE: MARSHALL PIOTROWSKI – SUNRISE MOVEMENT PDX

The Warm Springs Reservation has suffered through a water crisis for many years now. Repeated boil orders due to a lack of sufficient water pressure, an out-of-control COVID-19 outbreak, and the loss of millions of dollars of promised lottery funds leaves the Confederated Tribes in a vulnerable, yet familiar position. The reservation is being punished with fines from the EPA for being out of compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act, and many of its residents are under a Level 2 Evacuation order.

The water crisis stems from decades of broken promises from state and federal government agencies to replace the outdated water infrastructures on the reservation. Why doesn’t Oregon treat this crisis as an opportunity to create hundreds of good, union jobs, while providing thousands of people with consistently safe drinking water?

The Oregon Legislature could and should invest adequate resources into this dire situation. We must set an example for how to respond to environmental crises in the future not only by solving them, but by using them to create good-paying jobs for the folks who actually build the infrastructure we need. Especially under the current mass unemployment crisis, what is stopping Oregon from turning this into the win-win situation it could be? Is our future burning too?

Communities across the West have suffered immensely heavy losses these past weeks amid 2020’s record fire season. Many communities have also been breathing toxic smoke for more than a week, all in the middle of a deadly respiratory pandemic and an economic crisis. In Oregon we knew this fire season would be bad back in May when the season was declared a month earlier than usual. With that fear now fully realized, the people who were already at higher risk of dying from COVID-19 are also the most vulnerable to our hazardous air. This includes those with underlying health conditions, the elderly, and essential workers, especially firefighters.

Climate change and the mismanagement of our forests drive the conditions which made this crisis possible. Decades of fire suppression tactics have ironically left our forests with massive amounts of fuel to burn, and declines in summer rains in the West and increasing summer temperatures have changed the makeup of our forests in ways that will continue to make fire seasons worse. Environmental causes of build-ups of dead fuel include rising drought-induced tree mortality and pine-beetle infestations from our warmer winters. Additionally, these fires release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, contributing to the climate feedback-loop.

Unless we in the West build up a network of good paying jobs to create fire/smoke safety infrastructure, clean energy infrastructures to combat climate change, and a plan to take better care of our firefighters and our most vulnerable, we will be taken off-guard by these growing fire seasons every summer.

To find out more about Sunrise Movement PDX, visit sunrisepdx.org.

“We are youth climate activists who organize actions from letter writing to phone banking to sit-ins. We create art such as banners, signs, posters, and digital designs. We train and teach each other; we share learnings, tools, and ideas. We fight in solidarity with our fellow Oregonians facing racial injustice, support struggles for workers’ rights, and collaborate with movements for liberation and justice.”