Goal: protecting Deschutes River wildlife, irrigation

March 14, 2018
Goal: protecting Deschutes River wildlife, irrigation

Common ground found on E. Oregon river raises hope

By: Jacob Larsen

BEND, Ore. - Making sure the Deschutes River can be a sustainable resource for the Central Oregon community is something that has become increasingly important for communities and the environment.

The Deschutes River has seen many changes over the years, and now, organizations are coming together to ensure that it can be sustainable in the future.

One of the biggest problems is making sure that fish populations are able to survive in the Deschutes and other rivers across the Deschutes Basin.

Gail Snyder, executive director of the Coalition for the Deschutes, said Wednesday she is hopeful all stakeholders in the river will be able to come together to create a sustainable future.

"There are a lot of barriers, a lot of challenges to implementing these various tools for conserving water. And that is what we are working for," Snyder said. "We are working to overcome those barriers for the benefit of the river and for the benefit of irrigated agriculture, for farmers and fish."

Snyder said the conservancy is looking at other watersheds around the state to see how successful policies helpful to keep water in those river.

The Lostine River in the Columbia River Basin is being looked at as a comparison for the Deschutes.

In that area, conservationists and farmers were able to work together to find common ground.

Kate Fitzpatrick, program director for the Deschutes River Conservancy, said she is hopeful all interested stakeholders will be able to come together and find that common ground.

"And the tricky part is we have a whole community of farmers and ranchers down in Madras and Culver who really depend on the storage in Wickiup Reservoir," Fitzpatrick said. "So part of the solution is making sure they receive reliable water. And once that happens, they can restore the water flow in the Upper Deschutes."

Conservation groups want to see the flow of the Upper Deschutes restored to its more natural state, in order to allow for native fish species to thrive in the river, as well as make sure irrigation districts are able to get enough water to farmers.

According to one expert, the fish population numbers will most likely never be back to where they once were, but they should be able to create a sustainable environment for the fish to thrive.

"If we restore the river, those fish populations will come back," Snyder said. "Rivers are resilient, and we've got these populations hanging on. If we give them the opportunity, they will come back, and the river will flourish again."

Snyder said she is hopeful that some decision on how to manage the river can be found between irrigation districts and the conservation groups.

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