Restoring the River Through Leasing

Next time you’re walking along the Deschutes River north of Bend, casting a fly at Sawyer Park or paddling some sweet whitewater downstream from the Riverhouse, stop for a second and notice the water. It wasn’t that long ago that during the peak of summer, flows dropped so low that the river nearly ran dry.

The Deschutes River has been overallocated for 100 years. This means that there are more water rights that can be diverted than there is natural flow in the river to fulfill them. Decades ago, water managers made an informal agreement that they would leave 30 cubic feet per second (CFS) of water to avoid completely dewatering the river.

Over the past 25 years, the DRC has been working with local irrigation districts and individual landowners to restore water back instream. Through this work, flows have risen from 30 CFS up to 130 in the peak of summer. This is a significant increase and almost halfway to the goal of 250 CFS set by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Flows are lower in the spring and fall, following the availability of the water right. While much of these restored flows are the result of piping leaking canals, about one fifth (20%) of these flows come from water rights leasing.

Irrigation district patrons who are not planning to use their water may be eligible to lease their water instream for a period of one year or up to 5 years. They retain their water right and allow their water to benefit the river. Annually, the DRC leasing program works with an average of 250 water rights holders around the basin to lease and protect critical flows in our rivers and streams.

If you’re interested in learning more about the DRC’s leasing program, you can find additional resources online.