Study to help shape future of Deschutes River

March 25, 2018
Study to help shape future of Deschutes River

Another open house Tuesday evening in Madras

By: Jacob Larsen

BEND, Ore. - The Deschutes River is a vital part of life here in Central Oregon.

From recreational activities to agricultural benefits to environmental impacts, the water that flows through the river sustains life.

A study is being done to determine just how best to conserve the river, and now organizations are coming together to protect it.

The $1.5 million study of the river has been going on for over two years.

The idea behind the study is to take into account and try to balance the needs of agricultural irrigators, the environment and the community.

Craig Horrell, general manager of the Central Oregon Irrigation District, said Monday it's important to have all concerned parties at the table to discuss the future of the Deschutes River.

"What we are trying to do is find where we can be more efficient in irrigation, and be more efficient to put water back into the river," Horrell said. "What we are looking for is any and every method to help our water shortages."

So far, the study has revealed some tools and information for stakeholders to utilize in order to keep as much water in the river as possible.

An open house was held Monday afternoon in Sunriver for the public to review the findings.

Those involved in the study say they have found ways to help conserve water that will have a positive impact on irrigation districts, the environment and the communities surrounding the Deschutes.

Mike Relf, a project manager with the fedeal Bureau of Reclamation, attributes that to people who are able to come together for a common cause.

"What we have seen in a lot of locations, historically, is that when water needs compete with each other, it's hard to really productively reach solutions," Relf said. "And in this case, with all the different stakeholders trying to work together and find a way to meet everyone's needs, that's a better way forward."

Many local farmers depend on the river for its water, and animals and fish depend on the river to stay alive.

That’s where the the Deschutes River Conservancy comes in, working to make sure there is enough water to go around for all users.

Kate Fitzpatrick is the program director for the organization, and she is encouraged by what the study has shown so far. She hopes that an open dialogue regarding the concerns of the river will continue.

“Everybody wants to see it improve, everybody from farmers in Jefferson County to environmentalists in Bend. So I think there has been a frustration that, ‘Oh we’re studying it! We’re working together, be patient,’" Fitzpatrick said. "I think people want to see some action. We’re seeing that happen.”

The study is expected to wrap up this year, and Fitzpatrick is hopeful that after the open houses, the public will be able to be more involved in the process and decision-making on water conservation issues.

Another open house takes place Tuesday evening in Madras at 5:30 p.m. at the Inn at Cross Keys Station.

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An aerial view of a body of water.