A little more than a decade ago, 150 or so miles south by southwest from Bend, one of the most heated battles over water rights in contemporary American history exploded.
For years, ranchers and farmers in the Klamath Basin had squared off against environmentalists who believed that the rivers tumbling through the area should be equally reserved for Coho salmon and a couple of rare breeds of suckerfish there. It was a storyline borrowed from the '80s and '90s, when loggers pushed back against environmentalists who were using the Endangered Species Act to corral generation-old practices in that industry.
In 2001, that delicate balance fell off-kilter after a scorching hot summer. Quite simply, there wasn't enough water to go around for everyone. Farmers were siphoning water to hydrate their withered crops and, even then, tens of millions of dollars in revenue were being lost. Federal agents stepped in and shut down the Klamath River spill-offs. Undeterred, in a few dusty scenes borrowed from the Old West, farmers showed up with shotguns and cut through gates to open up floodgates. It was a problem with no solution.
As recently as last week, the federal government still had no remedy to restore water for all of the area's needs; when submitting a recommendation in early April to remove all four dams from the Klamath River, the Department of Interior also admitted that fish restoration efforts could cost upwards of $1 billion.
More broadly, water rights and water conservation, an often-overlooked and sloppy battlefront in the conservation movement, only continue to mount in urgency as an environmental problem worldwide. For our annual Green Issue, falling here on Earth Day, The Source is dedicating itself to examining a few of these issues, from Managing Editor Erin Foote Marlowe laying out 10 very pressing issues for the region (Dive in, page 9) and looking at what declining snowpack means for Central Oregon (Climate Change Hits Home, page 12), to writer James Williams explaining how overly simplified water rates fail to encourage conservation habits here in Bend (Use all you want, page 14).
Williams also gives an update on the local dam debate (Dam near done, page 7), and the Source gathers up several smartly made movies—both documentary and narratives—that profile this very real problem, including the eye-opening Thirst, which chronicles how water privatization in South America led to deadly street riots several years ago (Water on the Brain, page 32).
But, we didn't want to be washed away with despair—we provide many fun and helpful water conservation tips throughout this Green Issue. Source writer Brianna Brey also provides directions to our favorite summer swimming spots (Get wet, page 39) and profiles our favorite use of water in her roundup of breweries' springtime releases (Primary ingredient, page 29).
See, we're not completely wet blankets.