Working to Protect Local Water Quality 

Contact: Lane County Land Management Division Associate Planner Keir Miller 541-682-4631,

County Employees are Working with the Department of Environmental Quality and Local Utilities to Develop a Proposed Water Quality Protection Zone



The McKenzie River is the sole source of drinking water for more than 250,000 people in the Eugene metropolitan area. Springfield residents get their drinking water from wells, some of which are recharged from the Upper Willamette River. Various land use activities can threaten the water quality of these rivers – and once a drinking water source is contaminated, it can be extremely difficult and expensive to clean up.


The Lane County Board of Commissioners directed the Land Management Division to explore opportunities to enhance County regulations related to the protection of drinking water this past November. Based on this direction, staff is currently working with a technical advisory committee to identify the boundaries of a potential surface water overlay zone and to craft possible ordinance language designed explicitly to protect drinking water source areas from land use related threats.


Protecting drinking water source areas from contamination is the most effective method to ensure an abundant supply of clean drinking water. Land development has been identified as a dominant threat to public water supplies and controlling land use through purchase, easements or ordinance are among the greatest challenges facing public water systems.


The majority of land within the drinking water source areas of Eugene and Springfield are outside city limits and within the regulatory control of Lane County. That’s why, since 2006, staff from the Eugene Water & Electric Board (EWEB) and the Springfield Utility Board (SUB), has been advocating that Lane County take a more proactive approach at dealing with threats to drinking water quality.


Land Management staff is examining ordinances in use by other jurisdictions as well as model ordinance language developed by the State Department of Environmental Quality and the Federal Environmental Protection Agency. At this time, specific measures to be included in the proposed ordinance have not been identified but the County is considering a range of possible ideas, including:



  • Restrictions on dwellings and septic systems placed in close proximity to critical water source areas.
  • Limitations on the amount and type of hazardous chemicals that may be stored in source areas.
  • A prohibition on known high-risk land uses such as landfills in close proximity to source areas.


Before the County can enact any new regulations it must notify all affected land owners of the specific measures being proposed and hold a public hearing process. The proposed ordinance would need to be reviewed by the Lane County Planning Commission and approved by the Board of Commissioners. The public hearing process is expected to begin sometime in September.


This project is just a component of a larger regional effort Lane County Government is participating in, which is focused on exploring water quality and scarcity issues. In 2009, leaders from local jurisdictions formed the Benton-Lane-Linn Water Resource Study Group. The group and its partners are focused on identifying opportunities and strategies to help ensure an abundant supply of clean water for the region into the future.






Amber Fossen

Public Information Officer

Lane County Government

125 E. Eighth Ave.

Eugene, Oregon 97401



541.359.9143 (cell)