Across Deschutes County, wells are running dry amidst the worst drought in 1200 years and residents are rightfully worried over our region’s ability to grow. The good news is that, despite reduced snow pack and lower reservoir levels, there remains plenty of water to sustain healthy rivers, cities, and farms, but only if we ensure our water is not wasted.
To be clear: lack of water is not a barrier to new housing within our cities. All new municipal development requires water use be mitigated to protect streamflows. Depending on how it is measured, municipal water use accounts for 2% of water rights in the Deschutes basin, and all cities in Central Oregon combined use a mere 7% of water diverted from the river.
Water is a public good largely regulated by state and federal agencies and managed by irrigation districts. State legislators can and should make water reform a priority, but the ability of county governments to intervene in water issues is limited. However, the county does have one powerful tool at its disposal to protect our water: Land use regulation. For too long, our county commissioners have stood passively by while our aquifer is drained, reducing streamflows in the Deschutes river and imperiling the survival of farms across the region.
Going forward, Deschutes County commissioners and the planning commissioners they appoint must demand developers of destination resorts demonstrate a viable plan to mitigate ground water usage and not merely accept assurances at face value. The Thornburgh Resort near Cline Butte is expected to use up to 6 million gallons of water per day, more than 50 times what the average Bend water customer uses in an entire year.
Maintaining our quality of life in Deschutes County with a growing population and a changing climate requires good stewardship. That means we must stop wasting water through inefficient irrigation practices and rural development and instead implement good policy to protect our rivers, streams, lakes, and aquifers. Oliver is a conservation champion proudly endorsed by the non-partisan Oregon League of Conservation Voters.
Interested in learning more about water issues and how we can manage water in Central Oregon?
Deschutes County Planning Commissioner Water Resource Discussion Panel (Read Informed Angler author Yancy Lind’s response here.)