Archives : Water Use in Central Oregon

Madras farmer, Phil Fine, tells us why the river is important to him

January 28th, 2014

Madras farmer, Phil Fine

Talk a little bit about your farming operation. I am a third generation Madras area farmer who has taken over the family farm and has expanded the acreage as opportunity has allowed.
We grow carrot seed, garlic seed, grass seed, alfalfa hay, grain hay and both spring and fall wheat, all of which is irrigated.

Why is the Deschutes River important to you? Why do you care?  I grew up on this river. We farm quite a bit of ground that borders the Deschutes canyon. I have a shop full of fishing rods, so the river is important on several levels. I need the water for irrigation, and I love the recreation and wildlife it supports. It is also our legacy to make it better than how we found it. Most of us did not cause the problem, but we can improve it, and help mitigate our influence. Once again, take a look at your life, if there was no river would you be here? I know I probably wouldn’t, and honestly most others wouldn’t either. I believe the river is the lifeblood of Central Oregon–that is how important it is.

Why are you a part of the Deschutes Water Planning Initiative process to restore flows in the Upper Deschutes? Without irrigation we could not survive here, it is our livelihood, and in being so, makes any decisions on the Deschutes very important to our operation. I think it is great that we have such a broad base of stakeholders in this process and I guess I am trying to make sure agriculture is represented. I sit on the board of directors for North Unit Irrigation District, as well as being in commercial agriculture so it is a natural fit.

You don’t have to be involved in the flow restoration process, why do you choose to? WHY be involved? I say why not? The Deschutes River is a precious resource for all of us and it is going to take all of us to preserve it. The river influences so many lives in Central Oregon that most people don’t even realize the extent of its grasp on day to day life. Tourism, agriculture, lifestyle, land values, employment, and general commerce to name a few. The Deschutes River and its tributaries are why we are all here in one way or another. There is a deep affection for the river and people have very strong opinions about how it should be managed. So you have two people adamantly voicing their opinion about the river, both just as passionate, but from different ends of the spectrum. Who has the right? Both do. Who is right? Both can be, but there are laws governing the water and where or what can be done with it. This is where the opportunity lies, in educating and participating, to get everybody to come to a broader understanding of the problems and opportunities involved in this process.

How long have you been farming? I personally have been farming on my own for17 years, but grew up helping out where ever I could. Whether I wanted to or not. About half the acres we have now were from when my grandfather started in 1947.

What do you do to use water as efficiently as possible? Most of our ground is irrigated with sprinklers–predominately wheel lines–and the little bit of flood irrigation we have runs into pump back collection ponds which allows us to reuse the run off. We have also invested in a couple of drip irrigation systems which allow us to target root zones more efficiently in our carrot production. As funding and time allows, the systems are being upgraded for efficiency as well. The biggest things are the sprinkler systems and our ponds which allow us to maximize our efficiency. Water is life around here.

In your view, what is the best possible outcome of [the flow restoration process] for the Deschutes Basin? I would like us, the stakeholders, to be more involved in the management of the river. I think there is plenty of water most years, but it is a change in how we manage it that is needed. Cooperation and creative use of the storage and natural flow could make a huge difference in what the river could be. They need to let us be creative and work together by moving water around and best utilizing it when and where it is needed most.

What value do you see in this process? Cooperation and understanding are two of the biggest things that can be accomplished in this process. Everybody needs to understand how the system works and why it is managed the way it is. Once you have that, then a discussion can be had with an understanding of why we have to do some things and can’t do others. The system has certain designs in it that are purpose built and can’t be discounted, but they can be modified or even changed with the right plan. It is getting everyone’s ideas out there and finding ways to improve what we are doing. The potential is there.