We live in a desert. Water is precious. That much should be agreed upon.
Fortunately, we have a newly formed Central Oregon Conservation Network (COCN), a dream team collection of area environmental organizations, which is watchdogging how the region and regional agencies manage this resource—and, more keenly, what infrastructure is being planned and installed to manage this resource. The most recent battleground over this issue is the city of Bend's nearly $70 million Surface Water Improvement Project (SWIP).
COCN—which includes Central Oregon Landwatch, Oregon Natural Desert Association, 1,000 Friends of Oregon and Trout Unlimited—provides a reasoned and knowledgeable environmental voice, and knows more than a few buckets full of information about local water issues. So, yes, we consider it not only polite, but wise, to listen when it says that saving Tumalo Creek is its top priority. Yet last week The Bulletin slapped together an editorial criticizing Central Oregon Conservation Network for its efforts, misleadingly headlining the editorial with the accusation that COCN is "going up Tumalo Creek without facts."
Here's a glass slipper to the new environmental collective, given in the hope it will allow the group to wade delicately into the creek, plug the holes in existing conservation plans and provide checks and balances to those who insist on charging ahead with expensive, shortsighted plans.
In the most basic terms, COCN's goal is to limit how much water is drawn from the creek and to keep as much cold water as possible flowing into the Middle Deschutes. Doing so is essential for healthy fish habitat and for maintaining the scenic and recreational opportunities provided by Tumalo Creek and Tumalo Falls.
Currently, though, Bend's SWIP is not operating with these goals in mind—most pressingly, the city is pushing for permits and allowances that will allow it to pull a dangerously large volume of water from Tumalo Creek.
Prioritizing healthy in-stream flows has long been a communitywide goal, supported by such varied groups as the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, the Deschutes River Conservancy and even, at times, the city itself. So it's odd that the city is now so keen to pull heavily from this precious resource. The source of Bend's drinking water is far from any sort of state of emergency, so why the rush?
By replacing the existing pipe with a new, larger 30-inch pipe, as planned, the city will be able to boost its consumption from 2 billion gallons per year to more than 4 billion gallons. That's more than enough to make for visible changes in the flows over Tumalo Falls. Fish will suffer, and decades-long efforts to mitigate rising temperatures in the Deschutes will be compromised.
COCN proposes that the city pull back and reassess. Doing so could save ratepayers thousands of dollars and prevent even more water from being diverted from Tumalo Creek. There are other options for drinking water, like an increased reliance on wells, that won't drain the creek, or the wallets of ratepayers. We are fortunate to have the newly formed conservation group to advise and watchdog water usage plans. It deserves our attention, not derision.