The Deschutes River: what is valued most downstream?

May 30, 2014
The Deschutes River: what is valued most downstream?

"Chuush" is the word you'll hear at the beginning and end of any ceremonial meal in Warm Springs. It means water in the Warm Springs language, Ichishkiin. Held in the highest regard by the Tribes, water is believed to be the first gift given by the Creator. Water is the giver of life.

The Warm Springs reservation is home to nearly five thousand tribal members and is downstream from the cities of Bend, Redmond, and Madras. Unlike their neighbors upstream who draw their drinking water from other sources, the water in Warm Springs comes from the Deschutes River.

Because water plays such an important role in tribal culture and life, it is no wonder that the water quality of the Deschutes River is of the utmost importance to the Tribes. To ensure this precious resource was protected, the Tribes worked with local water interests to form the Deschutes River Conservancy in 1996.

"We need to be respectful of these resources," said Deanie Johnson, a life-long Warm Springs resident. "We need to be able to make future generations understand why the river is so important." While much work has gone into restoring flows in the Deschutes River, tribal members like Deanie would like to see more attention paid to water quality -- a responsibility we all share.

"When you turn on the faucet in Warm Springs, you can smell the chlorine before the water pours out. It's really amplified here because our water comes straight from the Deschutes River and needs to be treated quite a bit before we can drink it. We need to be respectful of that water and I hope that the rest of the basin can be mindful that there are people living downstream from them."

Deanie Johnson is a Wasco tribal member living in Warm Springs along the Deschutes River. Water is the most important resource for the Warm Springs tribes, and Deanie was kind enough to spend some time with us to share her perspective.

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