It’s almost been a year since my last post on the monster that won’t die: Thornburgh Resort. Things have been progressing behind the scenes in the legal system, however, and it has resurfaced in a way that we citizens can again have input. Central Oregon Land Watch has done an excellent job covering the latest developments. I encourage you to read their post, and some of my old ones as well (use the link on the right), and perhaps submit comments (see the COLW site for how to do that). I was on the Zoom call for the hearing last week and the Hearings Officer was very narrowly focused on a specific issue, but an outpouring of public comment can’t hurt. For what it’s worth, below are my comments submitted last Wednesday in response to the hearing the prior evening.
I was an attendee at last night’s Remand Hearing and was disappointed in the testimony on a few points and the lack of testimony on others. I submit the following comments for consideration by the Hearings Officer.
Groundwater source and point of appropriation are separate but interrelated concepts. For example, the source could be from a well, a creek, a spring, or an irrigation district. The point of appropriation is precisely where the water is diverted from the source. This distinction is critically important for fish habitat. Local, native fish need water with specific quality characteristics (temperature, pollution, turbidity, dissolved oxygen, etc.). If the source of the water is an irrigation district then the precise location where the water is delivered determines the water characteristics. Water from the end of a lateral canal, for example, will likely exceed temperature and other standards. Water taken from a well has the aquifer as the source, but will have a specific zone of impact based on the point of appropriation (the location of the well). All of these were considered when Thornburgh was given approval and specific sources and points of appropriation were determined.
During testimony, Thornburgh stated that Big Falls Ranch is currently using their Deep Canyon Creek surface water rights as mitigation water for new groundwater wells on Big Falls Ranch. They claimed that as a result, Deep Canyon Creek is currently providing a source of high quality water to the Middle Deschutes River. They then asserted that this provides the mitigation that Thornburgh needs. This is not true. The same water cannot be used as mitigation for two different groundwater withdrawals. If Deep Canyon Creek is flowing into the Deschutes as mitigation for groundwater withdrawals on Big Falls Ranch then another source of equally high quality water at or near the same location must be provided by Thornburgh.
It is important to understand the concepts of “paper water” and “wet water”. A water right is “paper water”. A water right gives the holder the right to beneficially use a specified amount of water from a specified source. There may or may not be actual “wet water” available to meet that “paper water” right, however, based on the seniority of the right and amount of available flow. 2 CFS cannot be diverted from a creek if there is only 1 CFS actually in the creek, regardless of the paper water right. At the hearing, Thornburgh claimed that they had obtained significant amounts of mitigation water from Big Falls Ranch using Deep Canyon Creek. They may have paper rights that large, but I am certain there is no corresponding wet water.
In July 2020, I had an email exchange with Jeremy Giffin, local OWRD watermaster, where he confirmed that Deep Canyon Creek has never been measured by OWRD for flow but that he believes it does not have 2.3 CFS which would be required for the 836 AF in the settlement agreement with ODFW. This is important as ODFW signed the settlement agreement with the understanding that the 836 AF would be actual wet water. (This is according to a conversation I had in 2020 with Brett Hodgson, ODFW Deschutes District Fish Biologist, now retired.)
On a related note, the Upper Deschutes Basin has unusual hydrology. As determined by the US Geological Survey, there is essentially zero local surface runoff from rain or snow melt, it all seeps into extremely porous volcanic rock. Every once of local surface water comes out of the ground as a spring which may feed into a stream or river. This is a direct and measurable hydrologic connection. Correspondingly, any reduction in groundwater from pumping a well reduces the flow of a spring in the zone of impact. This is the scientific basis for the Deschutes Basin Groundwater Mitigation Program. Using this knowledge, we can be certain that new groundwater pumping at Big Falls Ranch will reduce flows in the spring that creates Deep Canyon Creek, which is on the ranch. If the wet water in the creek was already less than the paper water rights, it will be even more so now.
Thornburg Resort must prove that they have secured high quality wet water in sufficient quantities to continue forward with development.
Thank you for your time,