Groups rally to save Tumalo Creek

July 12, 2013
Groups rally to save Tumalo Creek

Aims are not tied to litigation over Bend’s water project

By Dylan J. Darling

A coalition of conservation groups is calling for more water in Tumalo Creek.

The Central Oregon Conservation Network — which started this spring and has eight groups as members — has identified the creek running from the Cascades into Bend as its top priority, and is leading the Save Tumalo Creek campaign.

“Increasing flows in Tumalo Creek ... is essential to restoring fish habitat and preserving the scenic and recreational opportunities the creek provides," Darek Staab, project manager for Trout Unlimited’s Deschutes Chapter, said in a press release about the campaign.

Tumalo Creek is a main tributary to the Middle Deschutes River, hurtles over Tumalo Falls and passes through Shevlin Park. The City of Bend pulls drinking water from Bridge Creek, which leads into Tumalo Creek west of town. The Tumalo Irrigation District also relies on Tumalo Creek as one of its main water sources.

The city’s plan to replace two aging pipelines carrying water from Bridge Creek with one new pipeline drew a legal challenge last year. Central Oregon LandWatch, a Bend-based environmental nonprofit, led the legal fight, with one of its arguments that the city is preparing to increase its diversion from the creek. The city withdrew its application for a project permit with the U.S. Forest Service and the agency is currently finalizing a revised permit. An agency official has said the permit likely won’t be complete until mid-to-late September.

While Central Oregon LandWatch is part of the Central Oregon Conservation Network, Paul Dewey, the group’s executive director, said the Save Tumalo Creek Campaign isn’t focused on the city’s diversion or linked to the litigation. Through the educational campaign, he said the network wants people to realize that Tumalo Creek is more than a place to hike the falls or a part of Shevlin Park.

“I think the theme is going to be discovering Tumalo Creek," he said.

The creek has been a water source for more than a century and until about 15 years ago it would even go dry from all the draws. That started to change when the Tumalo Irrigation District began turning parts of its water delivery system from canals to pipes, said Kenneth Rieck, assistant manager for the Bend-based district.

“We’ve been working to improve and save Tumalo Creek for (more than) 15 years," Rieck said. “... Tumalo Creek always has water now."

The district has about 12 miles of canals, 7.5 miles of which are now piped, he said. Millions of dollars have been spent in the effort, with funds coming from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and the district itself. Piping makes the water delivery system more efficient, with less water seeping out the bottom or evaporating from the top. Rieck said the district intends to have the whole system piped someday.

Tumalo Irrigation District has a state water right to take as much as 200 cubic feet of water per second from Tumalo Creek, about 10 times the water right the city has for drinking water, said Kyle Gorman, region manager for the Oregon Water Resources Department. The district’s diversion is about 2.5 miles from where the creek enters the Middle Deschutes and the city’s intake is about a dozen miles from the river.

The focus on improving Tumalo Creek has been on the stretch between the irrigation diversion and the Middle Deschutes, Gorman said. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has set a summertime goal of flows just over 30 cubic feet per second. Flows now are about a third to two-thirds of that.

To reach the state’s goal for flows, the Deschutes River Conservancy, a Bend-based nonprofit, has been working with Tumalo Irrigation District to seek more funding for more piping projects. The group is not among the Central Oregon Conservation Network and won’t be out advocating like the network, said Tod Heisler, executive director for the Deschutes River Conservancy.

“It is just different approaches to getting the same goal," he said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7812,

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An aerial view of a body of water.