River advocates, irrigation districts sign shared vision
Regional irrigation interests and environmental groups have agreed on a framework to work together with the interests of all involved parties to play a role.
The Coalition for the Deschutes, a nonprofit river-advocacy group based in Bend, and the Deschutes Basin Board of Control, comprising the eight irigation districts of Central Oregon, announced Aug. 7, that they have jointly developed and signed a memorandum titled: "A Shared Vision for the Deschutes: Working Together so Families, Farms, and Fish can Thrive."
To date, other organizations endorsing the "Shared Vision for the Deschutes" memorandum include the Deschutes River Conservancy, Trout Unlimited Deschutes Redbands, Sunriver Anglers, Oregon Environmental Council, and the Wild River Owners Association.
According to a release on the agreement, the "diverse set of stakeholders commit to working together as partners and embrace the goals of having: a healthy, restored Deschutes River; thriving farms and sustainable agriculture; and robust and vibrant communities."
The working relationship between irrigation and environmental groups was made all the more important in recent years as the spotted frog habitat, specifically around the Wickiup Reservoir, had inspired environmental efforts to reduce irrigation. The federal court implored irrigation and environmental groups to jointly seek a solution that would address watershed health while mainting vital irrigation service.
The strategic agreement announced Tuesday, aligns the shared interests of the parties to maintain irrigated agriculture in Central Oregon and restore the Upper Deschutes River to a healthy ecological condition.
"The Deschutes River is essential to all facets of our culture and economy. Farmers, recreationists, hunters and anglers, businesses, fish and wildlife, and the Central Oregon community all benefit from a healthy river and sustainable agriculture. The shared vision grew out of our work together, and recognizes that the fastest way to restore flows to the Upper Deschutes River is for us to work together," said Gail Snyder, executive director of the Coalition for the Deschutes.
"Irrigation districts have been doing conservation projects for many years and we are committed to helping improve conditions for the Upper Deschutes," said Mike Britton, DBBC chairman and general manager of Madras-based North Unit Irrigation District. "The districts are working toward modern, efficient irrigation systems that divert less water from streams and rivers and deliver more reliable water to farms."
Bobby Brunoe, Deschutes River Conservancy board chairman, said that the DRC board passed a resolution last year outlining how Central Oregon Irrigation District and North Unit Irrigation District will partner for the benefit of irrigated agriculture and the Deschutes River. He said, "We are encouraged by innovative problem-solving being undertaken by COID and NUID. As conservation occurs, water will be made available to NUID and they agree to protect an equal amount instream below Wickiup Reservoir."
Shaun Pigott, president of the Deschutes Redbands Chapter of Trout Unlimited, said, "The Shared Vision memo reflects the reality that there is enough water to meet the needs of fish, farms, and families if it is managed wisely and shared equitably."
The general manager of Central Oregon Irrigation District, Craig Horrell, said, "This is an exciting time in the Deschutes Basin, and we look forward to more organizations, businesses, and individuals being part of this initiative to conserve water and restore the Deschutes River."
Central Oregon irrigation districts have for years worked together to improve practices and reduce water waste. Since 2000, instream water flows have incrased nearly 80,000 acre feet in the Deschutes River and its tributaries, thanks to such collaboration and efforts.
"Collaborative solutions to regional problems are most effective when local leaders work together," said Karen Lewotsky, Rural Partnerships director with Oregon Environmental Council. "We are proud to support these shared goals and interests in providing clean and plentiful water to all those in Central Oregon, today and for the future."