One doesn't need to look far to see the effects the extreme drought is having on our region. With irrigation water scarce, farmers around Madras have this year let their fields go unplanted. The Three Sisters are looking pitifully bald as the glaciers retreat. Fish and wildlife officials across the West—from Idaho to Montana to Oregon—are limiting fishing harvests as they watch rivers warm up due to drought. These issues are affecting livelihoods.
That stands in stark contrast to the efforts of several groups in Bend and Redmond right now, who still believe that pushing for projects that use excess water in the name of more tourism and recreation is a fight worth having. You'll see it in the efforts of a few unhappy homeowners who are crying "save our golf course!" over at River's Edge, where the owners of the land announced this year that they'd forego the links and build more much-needed homes instead.
And right now, the Deschutes County Board of Commissioners is wading through a host of public comments regarding the more than decade-long effort to build a new resort community, Thornburgh Resort, which is planned to include several ponds and multiple golf courses. After county commissioners approved the project in 2018, conservation groups appealed, and the Oregon State Land Use Board of Appeals told the County to give the case a second look. The millions of gallons of water that the resort will draw from the aquifer below it will negatively affect the Deschutes River and Whychus Creek, according to Central Oregon LandWatch. The other issue: the resort also needs to prove it has enough "mitigation water" to counter the effects it will have on fish and wildlife. The resort's organizers have not been transparent about where that mitigation water is coming from, LandWatch argues, and thus we can't know whether fish and wildlife are actually going to be protected, and if the water is still available, given the current shortage.
In a time when water issues are becoming ever more critical and we're seeing continued fish populations threatened, it's important to consider what the public good is as these projects try to gain approval. With water resources evaporating, individuals or small-group wants cannot be prioritized over the collective good. We are living in a time when each of us is confronted with the choice to prioritize the collective good over our individual "liberty," and in that, all too many are failing to see the bigger picture. The current pandemic will one day subside—but the issues that will come from raising the temperatures of our rivers and draining our aquifers in the name of tourism will impact our lives for much longer.
The water concerns around the resort near Redmond were an issue when they were raised over a decade ago, and those issues have only grown more acute. The public had the ability to comment on the issue through this week, and right now, Deschutes County commissioners are deciding the resort's fate. In the interest of those generations in the future who may still want to farm or raise a family here, we hope the commissioners will put the region's basic needs first. This is not the last time that water use will come up before the people of this region, and it's up to each of us to preserve and protect our existing resources.