April 30, 2009 - Landmark Water Sale Near Sisters Could Help Steelhead

April 30, 2009
April 30, 2009 - Landmark Water Sale Near Sisters Could Help Steelhead

Landmark Water Sale Near Sisters Could Help Steelhead


Bend, OR April 30, 2009 12:34 a.m.

A Sisters-area development group Wednesday announced it would sell 63 acres of "pioneer" water rights to a central Oregon water conservation group.

The deal will restore a small, but significant, amount of water to Whychus Creek – a tributary to the Deschutes River.

Central Oregon correspondent Ethan Lindsey reports on the landmark deal.

The Deschutes River Conservancy, and its local partners, paid more than $400,000 for senior water rights that date back to the 1880s.

That date is significant because, according to Oregon water law, the owners of that water get first-dibs on what to do with it.

And instead of using the water on farmland or golf courses – the water will now be left in the stream.

That could help the reintroduction of steelhead – and keep water in Whychus Creek during the summer, when it used to run dry.

Bill Willits is one of the developers who sold the water rights – his family owns one of the largest hotels in Sisters.

He says he’s doing this, partly, for the fish. He remembers one day where he had bicycled way up in the mountains.

Bill Willits: “We look downstream and see this silver object in the water that has migrated and climbed thousands of feet to spawn.”

He hopes this deal will help reestablish the fish on Whychus Creek, near Sisters.

Willits and the Lazy Z Meadows development group say they don’t need the water for a planned R-V park development.

So, encouraged by the city of Sisters, the developers say a sale made sense.

Tod Heisler is the executive director of the Deschutes River Conservancy.

He says there were other factors at play.

Tod Heisler: “It was definitely a situation in which the down economy certainly didn’t hurt us.”

In other words, developers did the math, and realized that selling could mean more cash than any possible future developments.

Portland General Electric and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs paid the bulk of the money, brokered through the Deschutes conservation group.

But the Deschutes River Conservancy and the developers said the deal was about much more than money.

© 2009 OPB

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