Our rivers are critically important to Central Oregon's economy and quality of life. From the aqua blue springs of the Metolius River to the essential Deschutes River and its tributaries, Central Oregon LandWatch has been working to protect and restore our rivers and springs for more than thirty years.
Saving the Deschutes River
Can you imagine Central Oregon without the Deschutes River? It is the life-blood of this watershed. People, farms, fish and wildlife – all depend on the river.
From water for drinking and for crops, to fish, birds, and wildlife habitat, to outdoor recreation and our economy, the river supports us. Our lives and livelihoods depend on a healthy river.
Once considered a model for river health, today the Deschutes is in trouble. Diversions, dams, and population growth have all taken a toll. While significant strides have been made to protect this important waterway, the pressures of development and continued wasteful practices impede progress.
Even though the Upper Deschutes is a Wild and Scenic River, it is managed as a conduit for irrigation water. In the summer months, almost all of the river's water is diverted for irrigation, leaving the Middle Deschutes too warm to support healthy fisheries. In the winter, the Upper Deschutes is reduced to a trickle, resulting in annual fish kills.
A new study commissioned by Central Oregon LandWatch finds that when it comes to allocating water from the Upper Deschutes River for irrigation purposes, less is more. Findings indicate that the current system encourages inefficient use of water by senior water rights holders and very efficient use of water by junior water rights holders, resulting in higher crop yields and economic value on farms that have implemented practices to improve water use efficiency.
Going to Court for Tumalo Creek
Tumalo Creek provides a peaceful refuge, outdoor recreation opportunities and crystal-clear cold water to the Middle Deschutes River. Although it is known as one of Central Oregon’s iconic gems, the creek is threatened by an oversized water project that LandWatch has opposed from the start. The City of Bend has built a huge pipe and plans to double the amount of water taken from the Creek, changing its natural flow, affecting fish habitat, and threatening Tumalo Falls’ thundering roar. With ample groundwater sources to provide cold, clean drinking water, this expensive and unnecessary project has already cost taxpayers millions and could forever alter this local treasure.
The opposition to this plan spans political and ideological differences. Seven former mayors, developers, conservationists and residents have all spoken out against it. LandWatch was successful in stopping an even larger planned diversion from the Creek by the City, but Tumalo Creek is still at risk. Our current efforts in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals are to stop the city from withdrawing water when flows drop below what scientists say are minimum instream flow needs of the Creek and to force the Forest Service to take climate change into account when it issues permits for water withdrawals.
Banner Photo Courtesy of Kim Elton