We All Have a Part to Play in Making a More Resilient Deschutes Basin


(Graphic | Courtesy of Deschutes River Conservancy)

This year is (again) a wake-up call for how we use and manage water in the Deschutes Basin. Central Oregon, as well as much of Oregon, is headed into another year of extreme drought. Drought has been already declared or requested in seven Oregon counties, continuing a three-year trend. Four of the five large reservoirs in the basin are at their lowest levels ever. Last year, natural flow (from springs and snowmelt) was considered extremely low, but this year rivers and streams have dropped another 15 percent. Lower streamflows and higher water temperatures will impact habitat conditions for fish and wildlife. Irrigation districts will face cutbacks, even senior irrigators. North Unit Irrigation District farmers, junior water users in Jefferson County, have been allotted a quarter of what they would receive in an average year. With large parts of their farmland lying dry and fallow, farmers will be struggling to stay viable.

While the water shortage and associated climate situation is bleak, we have two things working for us. Solutions and collaboration.


Irrigation districts are piping leaking distribution canals and permanently restoring the water savings instream. On-farm conservation programs are funded and available, generating additional water savings to help farmers and the river. Water is being leased instream; bolstering flows this summer. And a pilot water bank program is compensating senior irrigators who are willing to forego watering to share with junior irrigators, while in turn restoring instream flows. This pilot program won’t solve all the problems this year, but it is an example of innovation that provides a foundation to build on in future years.


We envision, and are working towards, a water management system that more fluidly allows water users to choose to use less water when they can to help other farmers and the river. It is the proven history of collaboration in the basin that will make this possible. By focusing our energies on partnerships and solutions, even in heated years like this, we will achieve results faster. Increased state and federal funding opportunities will reward basins like ours that have solutions and partnerships in place. It is happening already. We need to accelerate the pace and scale.

Everyone cares about water. And everyone needs to rise to the challenge. Support the solutions at-hand. Support the partners doing this work. Get educated about water through a new community resource site launching this month called Raise the Deschutes (raisethedeschutes.org) to raise water awareness and understanding in the basin. We need all the help we can get to support increasing the pace and scale of work so that we can be a national model of how communities face challenges together to create a durable future for rivers and people.

Deschutes River Conservancy (DRC) has been dedicated to restoring streamflow and improving water quality in the Deschutes River Basin for over 25 years. Attend RiverFeast on May 20 to support the DRC’s mission.



About Author

Kate Fitzpatrick, Executive Director — Deschutes River Conservancy

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