Category : Giving Back to the River You Love
We all know that rivers need water. Here, in the Deschutes Basin, we are fortunate to have an abundant supply of water from an extraordinary spring-fed river, but today the use of that water is a topic of intense discussion. The current use of Deschutes River water is based on a system set up over a century ago to provide water for agriculture. Public demands for water have expanded since then to include growing cities, recreation and ecological health. We must now find a way to sustain century-old irrigated agriculture while providing for important new economic uses of water as well.
Every winter, irrigation districts store water in Wickiup, Crane Prairie and Crescent Lake Reservoirs for irrigation during the following summer. This stored water augments natural summer flow in the Deschutes River primarily to support Jefferson County farmers, holders of junior water rights, every year. The stored water also provides important insurance for other local irrigators in years of drought. While this water allocation allowed for the successful establishment of agriculture during the 20th century, it did not fully account for the associated ecological impacts to the river.
In many years, the flows coming out of Wickiup Reservoir decrease by over 98% from summer to winter, from as much as 1,800 cubic feet per second (cfs) in the summer to as low as 20 cfs in the winter. You only need to take a walk along the Deschutes River upstream from Bend after mid-October to see first-hand the effects these reduced flows have on the river’s floodplains, stream banks, vegetation and fish habitat.
Assessments of public opinion in recent years indicate that maintaining a healthy river while meeting the water needs of farmers and cities is now a high priority for Central Oregonians. We need new creative water management strategies to meet this challenge.
In response, basin partners are looking into new ways to meet water needs for rivers, agriculture and communities over the next 50 years. While much progress has been made through aggressive conservation efforts by irrigation districts to restore flows in Whychus Creek, Tumalo Creek, Middle Deschutes, and the Lower Crooked Rivers, progress in the Upper Deschutes lags behind and will require a greater effort. To that effect, a $1.5 million Basin Study is underway to provide needed information on restoration options. The collaborative Basin Study Work Group involves all of the diverse, and sometimes conflicting, water interests in the Deschutes Basin voluntarily working toward a modern water management plan.
The Basin Study coincides with a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) started in 2008 by the irrigation districts and City of Prineville to address the impact of water management on fish and wildlife.
In 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Oregon spotted frog as a threatened species under the Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). A number of factors have contributed to the decline of the species throughout its range over the past 50 years. In the Upper Deschutes Basin, the altered flow regime has been identified as one of those contributing factors. This puts additional pressure on water users and resource planners to find alternatives to the current allocation of Deschutes River water.
Impatient with the timeline of the HCP process, two environmental groups recently filed 60-day notices of intent to sue the Bureau of Reclamation for violation of the ESA with respect to the Oregon spotted frog. In addition, one of the notices named the irrigation districts that manage the seasonal storage of water in the reservoirs. These potential lawsuits cite the need for immediate actions as well as longer-term solutions.
The pending litigation against the two member groups of the Basin Study Work Group places challenges on the collaborative process. Finding the most cost-effective short-term solutions to flow issues while evaluating longer-term, more expensive flow restoration solutions is the core mission of the Basin Study. Possible legal actions have the potential to constrain the open brainstorming that is central to developing creative and collaborative water management solutions.
Despite these challenges, we will continue to work together with our partners to stay the course with collaborative planning under the Basin Study. Ultimately, these efforts will show us the best way to restore a healthy river and meet the needs of the the fish, wildlife and communities that depend upon it.
Rimrock Ranch is a gorgeous 1,120 acre property situated along Whychus Creek near Sisters. When owners Gayle and Bob Baker moved to the ranch nearly two decades ago, they fell in love with the wild nature of the property. In order to protect the area from future sub-division, Gayle and Bob worked with the Deschutes Land Trust to establish a conservation easement for the entire ranch.
“Whychus Creek is the life of the ranch,” said Gayle. “Nature is life here, and we need to protect and enhance it wherever and whenever possible.”
Everyone who lives in Central Oregon has a stake in the Deschutes River and tributaries like Whychus. Some depend on the rivers and streams for their livelihoods, some for recreation – and nearly every ecosystem in the region depends upon them, too.
This is why landowners, communities, agricultural, recreational and other interests are working together to find long-term solutions that address both human and environmental needs.
Gayle believes the collaborative approach is essential. “The Deschutes Basin can regain its beauty of wildness, recreation, wildlife and vegetation only through the efforts of all,” she said. “The economic, spiritual and living values need to be taught to everyone.”
Whychus Creek itself has benefited greatly from flow and habitat restoration projects over the past decade. The Deschutes River Conservancy and our partners – the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, the Deschutes Land Trust, the US Forest Service and Three Sisters Irrigation District – have worked together to restore healthier conditions for salmon and steelhead in the creek while maintaining local water rights for agriculture.
Avion Water customers can make an easy contribution to the Deschutes River Conservancy through our Blue Water Program. Avion customers can opt in to make a monthly contribution by filling out the Blue Water form coming out in their August billing.
Every dollar you donate through the Blue Water program goes directly to the DRC to support streamflow restoration on the Deschutes River during the summer irrigation season when flows are critically low. Just $1.00 per month can put 46,550 gallons of water back in the River!
The third session in the Deschutes Brewery’s Deschutes River Recordings series presents Laura Gibson with a spiritual cliffside take on “Down by The Riverside.” The pairing dovetails nicely with the themes explored in her latest album La Grande. The video’s eclectic makeup teases at La Grande’s lush explorations of vocal layers, organ, vibraphone, synthesizer, marimba, even marching drum. Simple solo finger-picking set momentarily aside, Gibson has arrived at a conflux of old-time and avant garde all her own.
Eric D. Johnson sings “Ballad of Easy Rider” on the banks of the Deschutes River. The first in a series of Deschutes River Recordings produced by the Deschutes Brewery.
Here at Deschutes River Conservancy, we are lucky to have the outstanding support of many companies in our community. On the heels of pledging to restore one billion gallons of water to the river for the next few years, Deschutes Brewery has come up with a creative way to provide the DRC with additional support and it is called “Deschutes River Recordings”.
Here’s how Deschutes River Recordings was born:
- The brewery issued a call to its fans – otherwise called “advisory board members” – to choose songs with a river theme through an online voting process.
- Next, the brewery teamed up with indie artists to record the selected songs. The musicians traveled to Central Oregon and recorded the music “streamside high-wire: live, unadorned, far from a studio safety net”, resulting in a completely unique sound blending acoustic tunes with the sounds of nature.
- A partnership with popular music site, pitchfork.com, was formed and implemented to help promote the new recordings.
- Fans can download the songs for free, but are able to make a donation if they desire. Proceeds from downloads of this new music benefit the Deschutes River Conservancy, which is working to preserve streamflows and health of the river in Central Oregon.
The first music video in the Deschutes River Recordings lineup was released today, 9/12. It features artist Eric D Johnson of the popular Chicago-and-then-Oregon-based band The Fruit Bats. He’s belting it out on the banks of the Deschutes River with a little help from a keyboard, some rushing rapids and a squirrel or two. Here’s the direct link.
We are so excited about this project and it truly represents a community collaboration to help support our important mission. We hope fans of the brewery, indie music and the river all go online to download this one-of-a-kind music and make a donation to the DRC.
We are looking for 6 volunteers to help pull weeds and and to learn about river restoration with a project tour.
Dates: Two events on Friday, September 7th and 14th. Chose one or both.
Time: 9 am until about noon.
Location: Meet at the Deschutes River Conservancy’s office on 700 NW Hill Street in downtown Bend.
Requirement: Please bring your own gloves. These are required!
Volunteer Perks: Helping to restore streamflow in Whychus Creek AND a free lunch!
Contact: Gen Hubert at 541.382.4077 x16 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Why weeds? In our ongoing efforts to restore streamflow to Whychus Creek in Sisters, the Deschutes River Conservancy recently transferred 0.97 cfs of senior water rights back instream. This is the equivalent of 627 thousand gallons of water per day pouring back into Whychus Creek, which is important habitat for steelhead trout! As a part of our agreement to transfer this water, we are providing assistance to control weeds and establish native plants in the affected pastures.
Ready to volunteer? Start your day on Friday learning about the project first hand with a brief tour of the project site and then do your part to help restore Whychus Creek by pulling out this invasive species (see wanted poster below). PLEASE REMEMBER TO BRING GLOVES!
The Deschutes Brewery has partnered with the Deschutes River Conservancy (DRC) to annually restore 1 billion gallons of water to the Deschutes River beginning this summer. Yearly contributions to the DRC’s water leasing program will allow the Brewery to offset more than 14 times their total water requirements, including their bottling facility, brew pubs, supply chain, hops growers and grain growers!
“We’ve always been avid supporters of the DRC and its mission,” said Michael LaLonde, chief operating officer for Deschutes Brewery and a board member of the DRC. “By creating this new partnership, we are able to give back to the river in a significant way, preserving the lifeline of the Central Oregon region.”
Significant is right. The Deschutes Brewery’s contribution is the largest private local donation for the Deschutes River leasing program, making up nearly 7% of the restored flows to the Middle Deschutes. Historically, this section of the river has suffered from low streamflows and degraded habitat. With the Deschutes Brewery’s contribution, the DRC is even closer to meeting our streamflow goal, which benefits not only fish and wildlife, but our whole community!