What can we learn from the Land of Oz?

Two nonprofits have filed federal lawsuits under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) against the Bureau of Reclamation and Irrigation Districts to address habitat loss in the Upper Deschutes region, known for annual fish kills that have occurred for decades when the irrigation districts restrict flows to refill irrigation reservoirs upstream. Love them or hate them, the ESA lawsuits have the potential to shake things up. Sometimes disruption is a good thing; it can challenge the status quo and foster innovation. Sometimes disruption is a bad thing; it can produce a bunker mentality that discourages communication.

Whether this particular disruption will be good or bad remains unknown. The questions we would like to answer include, Will the status quo continue? Will taxpayers continue to restock the fish killed each year when the irrigators restrict flows? If the parties can’t agree on a solution, what will a federal judge impose? We don’t yet know these answers, but we would like to open up the dialogue for our community.

What we do know is that stakeholders on both sides are becoming more entrenched. These stakeholders are spearheading public relations campaigns to win the hearts and souls of their constituencies before all the facts and alternatives have been discussed. Spin won’t persuade a federal judge, nor will it foster innovation that could lead to a positive solution. We are being asked to in effect order our meals before seeing the menu of alternatives.

In an effort to expand and present a bipartisan and factual menu, the City Club of Central Oregon is hosting a unique water forum on Thursday, February 18, from 11:30am-1pm at the Riverhouse Convention Center. The keynote speaker will be from outside the basin, and will focus on concepts and solutions that have worked elsewhere. By Discussing foreign concepts, it is hoped, this relevant topic will be less threatening to all stakeholders and will encourage community leaders and members to emerge from their bunkers, re-engage, innovate and solve the problems that the Upper Deschutes has faced for more than 80 years.

The forum is entitled Water Management Lessons From Down Under: What can we learn from the Land of Oz?

It features keynote speaker, Brett Walton, a journalist for Circle of Blue, for whom he writes about agriculture, energy and the politics and economics of water throughout the world.

He will be joined by response panelists David Pilz and John DeVoe. Pilz has written extensively about the Australian experience and is a water law and policy analyst for Ecosystem Economics, a firm that specializes in developing water markets worldwide.

DeVoe is the executive director for WaterWatch of Oregon, a state-wide nonprofit whose mission is to protect and restore flows in our rivers and to sustain native fish, wildlife and people who depend on healthy rivers.

The panel will be moderated by Ryan Houston, the executive director of the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council.

To register online, visit City Club’s website at

William F. Buchanan,

(Photo above | Cascade Business News)


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