1) What does the Lane County Watershed Bill of Rights Do?
This bill is a rights of nature initiative that provides legal protection for nature via giving rights to our watersheds.
a) Secure legal rights for all watersheds within Lane County to exist, flourish, and naturally evolve including sustainable recharge, sufficient flows to protect native fish, and clean water unpolluted by corporate or governmental activities;
b) Secure residents’ rights to accessible, clean, and affordable domestic drinking water free of harmful contamination;
c) Prohibit corporations and government from violating these stated rights;
d) Secure the right of residents to enforce these rights against corporations, government, or other business entities engaging in activities that violate these rights;
e) Establish liability for damages to the watershed in proportion to the cost of restoration, and establish penalties for continuing violations in proportion to the cost of restoration;
f) Provide protection and compensation for employees for reporting violations to the rights secured.
2) What is a Watershed?
“Watershed” means the water and land area that drains rain, snow, and groundwater into a single outlet, such as rivers, creeks, lakes, wetlands, aquifers and oceans. A watershed may be only a few acres as in small ponds or hundreds of square miles as in rivers. All watersheds can be divided into smaller sub-watersheds.
3) What are Rights of Nature?
Rights of Nature laws are designed to reflect our 21st Century understanding of life on Earth – we are part of nature, interconnected with it and we depend upon it. We don’t have a right to own it and we don’t have a right to destroy it. The living world has a right to exist, thrive and evolve – and our legal system needs to be transformed to respect this reality. By recognizing the rights of watersheds, human activities will have to change to become more sustainable. We will have to be supportive of regenerative life on every level within all Lane County watersheds. The survival of life on the planet depends on we humans recognizing rights of nature! We humans are the only ones with a “legal system”, and how our legal system protects nature matters in our own human survival. We humans are absolutely dependent on nature for our life and our existence!
4) Do Rights of Nature laws stop all human activities and development?
No, they don’t. But we do need to rethink some of our activities and limit our most destructive practices – and industrial societies need to rethink our attitude towards what we can demand from our finite planet. Recognizing Rights of Nature does not stop human activities. It instead places them in the context of a healthy relationship where the survival of the natural world we depend on for our own existence is not threatened by our activities.
5) Why shouldn’t I trust the State to protect our watersheds?
Oregon's state government is largely under the influence of big campaign money. Corporate interests dominate the legislature and it's willingness to protect our watersheds. The timber industry is the largest source of watershed degradation in the state. Efforts to improve their logging practices to decrease watershed damage are continually rebuffed by the legislature. This watershed bill of rights is based in promoting local democracy and our right on a local level to protect our watersheds when the state legislature won't. It affirms our right to protect nature's right to flourish, regenerate and naturally evolve in Lane County.
6) Why do we need this? Isn't Lane County's water some of the purest in the nation? Just look at the McKenzie River.
Actually, Lane County watersheds have lots of problems, but are not adequately monitored in order to know how bad it actually is. The much touted McKenzie River is being progressively degraded, visually showing problems like algae blooms and oil slicks. It now even has mercury contamination and other signs of serious problems and current regulations and protections are largely unenforced. Most other Lane County rivers are even worse off. Additionally, many rural Lane County residents do not have clean sources of drinking water that aren't contaminated with sediments, nitrates, pesticides and other toxins.
7) Isn't it kind of crazy to grant legal rights to nature? Aren't our laws supposed to be about people and protecting people's rights?
For one thing, our laws currently do not adequately provide enough protection for nature to ensure our survival. Nature needs to have rights in itself in order for us to be sustainable and survive. Corporations and wealthy investors have more rights than the rest of us in our legal system. Corporations are considered “persons” under current law and have all the rights of us human “persons”, plus extra rights. Investors also have more rights under our laws than the rest of us, due to current legalities giving their privileged property special status and advantages. Within the context of this corrupted legal system, giving nature and our watersheds legal rights is not “crazy”, but instead is sane survival. Lets change this corrupt legal system and grant legal rights to nature!
8) Do we need the State and Federal Governments to change the laws, or can we create these laws through local democracy?
In our current Oregon political climate, we can’t wait on political leaders who have consistently failed to protect our watersheds to finally do something effective. Climate change is coming upon us swiftly, as witnessed by decreasing rain and snow-pack, and longer droughts. Our so called “leaders” have failed to address it locally and regionally. We can do our part, and our local efforts do matter. We need to use peaceful, democratic and effective means – such as new local laws – to assert community rights and nature's rights that counter the dominance of corporate/ wealth profiteering interests at all levels. Our re-claiming democracy needs to start at the local level, where we have the most influence, and where we can more effectively counter those who favor treating us as a resource colony to extract wealth off of, and favor profits over people.
9) Is Rights of Nature actually enacted anywhere? Is it really possible to enact laws recognizing rights of plants, animals, rivers and ecosystems?
Yes it is. Our community rights efforts are part of a growing worldwide effort to establish laws that protect nature. These laws can protect rivers, watersheds, individual species or broader ecosystems. For example: a) municipalities in the U.S., including Pittsburgh, Toledo, and Santa Monica, have recently passed Rights of Nature laws to help protect human and non-human communities. b) Ecuador, Bolivia and Mexico City now protect Rights of Nature in their constitutions. c) New Zealand treaty agreements have declared a river, national park, and sacred mountain as legal entities with “all the rights of a legal person.” and d) the White Earth Band of Ojibwe in Minnesota which adopted the Rights of Manoomin (wild rice) law in December 2018 to help protect it from polluted water.