Audits in the News: Economic development and water resources

Audits in the News: Economic development and water resources

We here in the audits division are proud that the work we do makes a difference. Our work attracts the attention of the legislature, statewide news sources, and even local media outlets. Local media coverage of our audits is just another way we communicate with the people of Oregon about the work that we’re doing on their behalf to make government better. This is part of an ongoing series of posts rounding up recent instances in which the Oregon Audits Division makes a cameo in the local news.

The work of the Oregon Audits Division continues to be highlighted in the media, with reporters helping to explain and clarify audit findings of complex government topics. This time around, one audit team examined Business Oregon, the state’s primary economic development agency, and identified ways the agency could improve the evaluation and transparency of various incentives and loan programs. Another team pointed out how the Oregon Water Resources Department could benefit from long-term planning, an enhanced focus on groundwater protection, and better data collection and analysis.

You can read the entire Business Oregon audit here and the Oregon Water Resources Department audit here.

Willamette Week – New Audit Finds State’s Economic Development Agency Gives Lots of Goodies But Fails to Measure Results

Read the story here.

“Oregon Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins today released her audits division’s look at Business Oregon, the state’s economic development agency. Business Oregon seeks to recruit and retain businesses and help existing operations grow through a variety of grants, loans and tax breaks. The agency will hand out $680 million in the 2015-17 budget cycle, with the biggest chunk of that going to property tax breaks for Intel’s research and manufacturing facilities in Washington County.”

Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) – Audit: More Transparency Needed For Oregon’s Economic Incentives

Read the story here.

“Oregon’s agency devoted to economic development should provide more transparency about how its incentives are being used. That’s one of the findings of an audit of Business Oregon released Monday by the Oregon Secretary of State’s office.”

The Register-Guard – Audit highlights problems with Oregon’s tax and cash incentive programs for businesses

Read the story here.

“Oregon should work to ensure better return on investment and transparency in the $340 million a year in tax breaks and cash incentives it provides to businesses, a new audit from the Secretary of State’s office concludes. The audit, released Monday, examines Business Oregon, the state’s economic development agency, and the incentives it provides directly to private companies. Those sweeteners — including forgivable and low-interest loans, tax credits, and direct cash assistance — total $72.5 million a year.”

Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) – Audit Finds Problems At Oregon’s Water Resources Department

Read the story here.

“The agency in charge of managing Oregon’s water resources is being stretched to the limit. That’s one of the findings in a new audit from the Oregon Secretary of State’s office.”

The Bend Bulletin – State audit: Focus more on sustaining water

Read the story here.

“The Oregon Water Resources Department could better balance water rights with actions to restore streamflows, according to a new state audit. The agency also lacks the resources and strategic planning needed to guard against over-use and contamination of existing water supplies, the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office said. The office’s audit, released Thursday, called for the department to focus more on protecting groundwater, collecting data and planning long-term to prioritize efforts and resources.”

Portland Tribune – Audit faults water resources dept. data collection, analysis

Read the story here.

“An audit released Thursday by the Secretary of State’s Office calls on the state’s Water Resources Department to improve its long-term planning and management of Oregon’s water supply. The department is responsible for allocating water rights, enforcing the state’s water laws and other aspects of water management. It’s overseen by a citizen commission.”

Audits in the News Featured

Oregon Water Resources Department: Enhancing Sustainability Efforts and Agency Planning Needed to Better Address Oregon’s Water Supply Needs

Executive Summary

Oregon is facing growing pressures and concerns related to its water supply. The Water Resources Department (WRD), charged with managing the state’s water resources, could better balance water rights issuance and management with actions to sustain current and future water needs. The agency can also enhance its focus on groundwater protection, data collection and analysis, and workload and staffing. A long-term agency plan would help WRD strategically focus and prioritize the agency’s efforts and align them with available resources.

Read full report here.

Better balance needed to ensure water sustainability

owrd_logo_color_smwebParts of the state are experiencing regular and large scale water supply availability issues. There are indications that this trend will continue, intensify, and spread. Many water sources in the state have been fully allocated, and groundwater levels are decreasing in several areas. By 2050, Oregon could be faced with a need for an additional 424 billion gallons of water per year to meet irrigation needs and municipal and industrial demand. Though Oregon is known as a rainy place, there is a limited amount of consumable water available for meeting all existing needs and new uses.

While issuing water rights has always been a key responsibility for WRD, actions to restore and protect stream flows and watersheds for long-term sustainability have received less attention. Related programs are limited in number and in participation. The demands that are putting pressure on Oregon’s water supply are likely to continue to grow, which raises the need for action to ensure the ongoing sustainability of our water.

Groundwater protection needs more focus

Groundwater usage is increasing, and a large and growing number of wells go uninspected. Poor well construction may result in higher levels of groundwater contamination or wasted water. Contaminated groundwater would harm the overall groundwater supply. WRD has few well inspectors to inspect all wells in the state. For those wells that are inspected, WRD staff have noted an increase in well drilling deficiencies at a time when well construction has also increased. This could be due in part to minimal requirements to become licensed as a well driller in Oregon. Also, WRD could better coordinate with other agencies to address well risks, such as water contamination and public safety concerns, for the overall health of groundwater resources.

Data challenges hinder efforts to manage and conserve water

WRD collects a lot of information on surface water and some on groundwater. However, given the size of Oregon and its complex geology and aquifer systems, many areas of the state have not had detailed groundwater and surface water investigations. Not all water users are required to report their use, and as such, the amount of water being used in the state can only be estimated. Also, some of the data collected has not been entered into databases and analyzed, so the agency is not able to use it for water management decisions.

Increasing demands and other limitations impede monitoring and regulating water

Dry creek bed in Central Oregon

Dry creek bed in Central Oregon

Growing and changing demands coupled with a limited number of field staff impact WRD’s capacity to effectively monitor and regulate Oregon’s water supply. Field staff coverage overall has steadily declined and there have been some extended gaps in time where positions were vacant. Field staff have to cover a vast geographic region and associated workload. This, along with limited external support, impedes the agency’s ability to protect water and the rights of users, and to curb illegal water use. WRD should regularly assess field staff workload to ensure it aligns to resources and that staff time is dedicated to critical responsibilities.

Long-term agency plan needed to help focus efforts on future water sustainability

While the Integrated Water Resources Strategy provides a long-term multi-agency plan for managing water resources in Oregon, WRD needs an agency plan to strategically focus and prioritize its efforts, and align them with available resources, to better meet its mission. This would help WRD balance its efforts to ensure both consumptive and environmental water demands can be met now and into the future, and address areas needing increased focus, such as groundwater protection, data collection and analysis, and workload and staffing issues. Priority-based planning can help clarify and direct agency efforts that are vital to protecting Oregon’s water supply.


This audit recommends ways WRD can build on its efforts to help address the current and future sustainability of the state’s water supply. Our detailed recommendations for agency management are included on Page 26. They include recommendations for further integrating sustainability considerations into water management decisions, helping to ensure water laws and rules meet current and future needs, enhancing well regulation and groundwater protection efforts, strategically collecting and analyzing information, aligning staff workload with mission critical priorities and resources, and developing an agency long-term plan.

Agency Response

The agency generally agrees with our findings and recommendations. The full agency response can be found at the end of the report.

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