BEND, Ore. - (Update with comments from officials at meeting)
The Coalition for the Deschutes, which calls itself an advocate for the river, hosted a presentation Wednesday night for the Oregon Water Resources Department about issues facing the river and how it can become more healthy for fish, wildlife and those who enjoy it.
The goal was to educate the public about issues facing the river and have a conversation with the state agency about its update of its integrated water resources strategy.
"The state has been investing in local efforts across the state, even here in the Deschutes River Basin," said Alyssa Muchen, water resources strategy coordinator for the department. "There's several local partners that have been working together over the past several years on the Deschutes Basin study, and our department, through the integrated water resources strategy, is supporting that effort."
Some of the groups in the local coalition are the Deschutes River Conservancy, the Deschutes Basin Board of Control, representing area irrigation districts, and FANs of Deschutes Canyon, as well as the Deschutes Redbands chapter of Trout Unlimited and the Great Old Broads for Wilderness.
The presentation focused on Oregon's Integrated Water Resources Strategy, adopted for the first time in 2012 and now being revised. Last year, the Water Resources Department sought public feedback on the strategy, and staff were back in town to gather further public opinion, event organizers said.
Part of the strategy focuses on maintaining the river's natural health and balancing that with the area's irrigation and agriculture community.
"The Deschutes River is a very unhealthy river," said Gail Snyder, a Co-Founder of the Coalition for the Deschutes. "For the past 70 years, actually longer than that, the past 100 years, it has been ... managed for the purpose of irrigation."
These groups say the solution to this is to continue modernizing the irrigation system by piping leaky canals to make sure all the water is being used effectively and not simply lost in the ground. The Deschutes River Conservancy works closely with irrigation districts and the OWRD formed an advisory group last year with representatives from those districts.
Deschutes River Conservancy Executive Director Tod Heisler said the irrigation districts are very dedicated to modernizing and patching up their canals to generate in-stream flow.
"If your plumbing leaks, that's bad, you want to fix it, and we want to help them fix it," Heisler said. "When we fix that plumbing, their canals, then we are able to take the savings, the saved water, and put it back in stream."
The coalition said its mission "is to bring the wild back to our river so fish, wildlife and people can thrive." It notes that changes are already under way or coming, pointing to aging water infrastructure, a warmer climate and population growth.