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New, six-part community event series, 'Your Watershed: Community Conversations,' scheduled to start Thursday, July 21 at Crooked River Elementary

A new, six-part community event series, Your Watershed: Community Conversations, begins this Thursday, July 21, at Crooked River Elementary. Each free bi-monthly event will cover an important topic affecting citizens of the Crooked River watershed through conversations with local experts in an open house, student fair format. Doors open at 5:30 p.m., and free snacks and refreshments will be available.

The first event in the series will focus on water: What's happening within the watershed and what local organizations and our neighbors are doing about it. More than 20 different organizations will be present for the event, including Ochoco Irrigation District, Oregon Water Resource Department, USGS and City of Prineville — to name a few. These folks will share strategies for adapting home, recreation and agriculture practices to conserve and use less water and will be ready to field citizen questions of curiosity and concern around the topic.

The Crooked River watershed is central to our lives here in Crook County. What's a watershed? Geographically, it's an area of land that is bound by ridges or hills and creates a basin in which water drains to a common point. More broadly, it's an interconnected system of land, water and air and the plant and animal species they support — including humans.

Our watershed spans ridge to ridge from the Ochoco Mountains in the north to the Hampton Buttes area along Highway 20 in the south, draining all these lands east of Bend and Redmond, up north into Lake Billy Chinook.

And although the Crooked River basin received double the average amount of rainfall this past June, very little of that rain has percolated into visible increases in our reservoirs or stream flows. Given three past years of statewide drought — with Crook County hardest hit in the state — our Oregon high desert sucked up every drop of rain like a parched sponge that had been dried out for years.

The current and ongoing lack of water is painfully visible as you travel through the watershed. Prineville Reservoir and Ochoco Reservoir both sit at less than 25% of capacity, and Prineville Reservoir is on pace for the lowest levels since it was built in 1961. Many of our rivers, creeks and springs are also running low and may be drying up in the coming months.

Recharging of the watershed must happen before water returns to our streams and reservoirs. At the upcoming Your Watershed event, we will explore ways to enable recharging for future watershed resilience, including watershed restoration, floodplain reconnection, juniper removal, beaver dam analogues and beaver recovery efforts. We'll also explore what we can do to adapt systems to better manage our own water consumption around the home and yard.

When it comes to water, we're all feeling the impact of the drought, and citizen knowledge and preparedness has never seemed more important. Get the facts from knowledgeable community leaders working in the water sector. This is our watershed, and our future depends on it.

Other upcoming sessions of the bi-monthly series will cover important topics affecting your Crooked River watershed, including fire, recreation, flora and fauna and more.

You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.

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