Restoring the Deschutes River: Getting Beyond Blame

“Who hears the fishes when they cry?” Those haunting words were penned by Henry David Thoreau almost 200 years ago, a reaction to the declining salmon runs he witnessed on the East Coast. Those fish long lost have been referred to as “ghost fishes.” We do not intuitively know what used to be. We suffer from ecological amnesia, accepting what we see today as normal. A hundred years after the Deschutes River was dammed and diverted in order to irrigate arid lands, how do we know what we’ve lost? Thoreau’s piercing question echoes through time. A number of years ago, the reality of my own front-yard river hit home for me. The Deschutes, our beautiful river, once teemed with fish and other wildlife. In little more than a century, it has been transformed from a flourishing ecosystem to a highly altered, managed system with greatly diminished habitat for native fish … Read more

Finding Common Ground for Farmers, Food and Fish

In today’s acrimonious political climate, it’s rare to read stories about public and private entities working together for the common good — particularly when it comes to the environment and limited natural resources. This is one of those stories. In 2015, Hood River-based Farmers Conservation Alliance, with support from Energy Trust of Oregon, developed the Irrigation Modernization Program to help irrigation districts and the farmers they serve revolutionize their water delivery systems. The goal? Improve conservation efforts and keep more water flowing for farmers, food and fish. In Central Oregon and throughout the western U.S., aging agricultural infrastructure, an expanding population, persistent droughts and declining fish populations are stressing scarce water resources. Farmers rely on irrigation to grow food. But the centuries-old dams and canals that capture and convey this water from rivers to farms can be inefficient — anywhere from 30 to 70 percent may be lost to seepage … Read more