April 30, 2009 - Bend Bulletin Water Agreement Will Ensure Whychus' Flow

Apr 30, 2009

April 30, 2009 - Bend Bulletin Water Agreement Will Ensure Whychus' Flow Water agreement will ensure Whychus’ flow

By Kate Ramsayer / The Bulletin

Published: April 30. 2009 4:00AM PST

Sisters developer Bill Willitts remembers summers when Whychus Creek would run dry before it got to town.

“When we first moved here (more than a decade ago), it was a trickle,” he said.

But on Wednesday afternoon, he and the other partners of Lazy Z Meadows LLC, officials with the Deschutes River Conservancy and others announced an agreement to sell some water rights that would make sure the creek will always have some water flowing in it.

The goal, Willitts said, is “to see Whychus Creek being brought back to a living habitat.”

More water in the creek means more water for steelhead, which biologists are working to bring back to the river, said Tod Heisler, the executive director of the Deschutes River Conservancy. But also, a healthy watershed is linked to a healthy community, he said, especially one like Sisters that promotes its quality of life.

In the deal described this week, Lazy Z Meadows’ partners sold their water rights to 63 acres of pasture land just east of Sisters, making certain between 1 and 2 cubic feet of water per second — or between 7.5 and 15 gallons of water per second — that otherwise would have been diverted for irrigation will now be left in the creek.

The water rights date to the 1880s, Heisler said. And having water rights that old means “the creek will always deliver water, whether you’re a farmer or you’re a fish,” he said.

The nonprofit has worked with irrigators and others for several years to make sure water flows in Whychus, Heisler said. Because of that work, the creek no longer runs dry.

But this new influx of water from the Sisters developers is a permanent transfer of water — most of the previous transfers are temporary leases or water savings, he said, because rights holders don’t want to completely give up their water.

“It’s a rare and endangered thing,” Heisler said.

The Deschutes River Conservancy arranged the water rights transfer, in which the developers received $6,800 per acre, or a total of $428,400.

Most of the funds for the water transfer came from the Pelton Round Butte fund, set up by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and Portland General Electric to improve fish habitat as they attempt to reintroduce salmon and steelhead runs in the Upper Deschutes basin.

Other funds came from Bonneville Power Administration’s Columbia Basin water transactions program, Heisler said.

Clay Penhollow, with the tribes, said Warm Springs officials are excited about projects such as this one, because water “drives everything else.”

And other partners with Lazy Z Meadows emphasized that the water rights transaction was a way to help improve the health of both the watershed and the community.

“I think we all take pride in the fact ... we’ll ideally contribute to fish swimming upstream,” Willitts said.

Kate Ramsayer can be reached at 541-617-7811 or kramsayer@bendbulletin.com.


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