Film, panel showcase Deschutes River

April 28, 2016
Film, panel showcase Deschutes River

Event encourages public participation

By Hilary Corrigan / The Bulletin

Scott Nelson completed his first film about the Deschutes River in 2012, a pretty little nine-minute version, set to music, that showcased the waterway’s beauty.

Nelson’s next version of the film in 2014 started exploring the river’s problems. His latest version — showing Monday at the Tower Theatre — zooms in a little closer on the challenges the river faces and the efforts by stakeholders to address them.

“I just hope this film can be a catalyst for change,” Nelson said on Tuesday, adding that such change needs to include “better management of the river flows and how we perceive that river.”

Nelson, who runs a video production company in Bend and has worked as a photographer and photojournalist, produced and funded his Deschutes documentary project. The approximately 20-minute film tells the tale of the waterway’s formation and history, along with the ways people have used it and how those uses have affected it. The film includes interviews with tribal, federal and state government representatives, such as a hydrologist and biologist, as well as a farmer, an author and a university instructor.

The Upper Deschutes has high water flows in the summer and low levels in the winter while water is stored in reservoirs for irrigation. The diversions and the extreme high and low flows lead to erosion of banks, less habitat for wildlife, too-warm water temperatures, stranding of aquatic life and various other problems, according to Nelson and the Deschutes River Conservancy.

“It’s a stark reality, to see a wild and scenic river with bleached white rocks and hardly a drop flowing,” Nelson said.

“I don’t want to blame the irrigators,” Nelson added. “It’s just how water has been managed for 100 years.”

The showing, hosted by the Deschutes River Conservancy, will include an audience question-and-answer session with a panel of representatives from organizations involved in addressing the river’s problems.

Tod Heisler, executive director of the conservancy, expects the film and panel discussion to help educate people about the river, its management and the complex issues connected to it.

Heisler noted the various interests of the panel, including the Deschutes Basin Board of Control, the U.S. Forest Service, the Coalition for the Deschutes and the Oregon Water Resources Department. He called the event a nice chance for the public to ask questions of those panelists and to hear of efforts underway, such as a basin working group made up of various organizations.

“If that solution had been easy, we would have solved it already,” Heisler added.

Possible options aim toward a conservation strategy, Heisler said.

“It’s a more efficient use of the resource that we have,” Heisler said of that goal. But how to do that, how quickly it can be done, how much it costs and who pays those costs are issues to address. For instance, a conservation strategy in the agricultural sector to improve leaking canals is an expensive one.

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation and the Deschutes Basin Study Work Group, made up of cities, irrigation districts, government agencies, and environmental and fishing groups, among other organizations, aim to complete a road map next year to help guide water management on the Deschutes.

Heisler and other panelists expect the film to help engage the public on those issues and efforts.

“We really need the public involved in planning water in Bend, Central Oregon and really throughout the West,” said Gail Snyder, co-founder and board president at the nonprofit Coalition for the Deschutes. “It’s a steep learning curve.”

Snyder contends that everyone wants to restore the river and maintain agriculture. She wants to see people communicate with their elected officials about investing in restoration work and working with irrigation districts so that they take less water. She noted that many in Bend see the river flow through the city and don’t realize the problems along the waterway.

“We’re not seeing those parts of the river,” Snyder noted, adding that she wants those attending the event to walk away saying, “I’m part of the community, this is our river, we all have a responsibility to care for it.”

She also wants people to learn about the effect of past decisions and to decide as a community about any changes and future plans.

Ryan Houston, executive director of Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, wants people to enjoy Nelson’s film.

“Incredible imagery and a wonderful story,” Houston said.

He noted that half of the event will involve an audience question-and-answer session with the panel.

“Please come with your questions,” Houston said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7812,

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