Irrigator Water Shortages: Who is to Blame?

As reported by The Bulletin on August 28th, Lone Pine Irrigation District is the latest local district to run out of water to deliver to their patrons.  This is terrible news, no one wants to see farmers losing their livelihoods.  Water is a complicated topic in Central Oregon with many factors contributing to the shortage. Unfortunately, rather than addressing the real issues, Terry Smith, chairman of the board for LPID, places the blame on the Endangered Species Act.

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Thornburgh Approval Granted

Yesterday our county commissioners gave approval for some construction to begin at Thornburgh Resort. I would anticipate continued legal challenges and there will be more approvals required as development continues, but it is clear that our county government is supportive of adding another massive golf community, including lakes for water skiing, to Central Oregon. I understand that we are going to continue to grow but without a significant change in the way that growth is managed we are going to run out of water. It has already happened in other west coast communities and we are not immune.

Thornburgh Resort Moving Forward

Yesterday the Deschutes County Commission voted to continue moving forward with the approval of the proposed Thornburgh Resort near Eagle Crest. A final decision on the first golf course is still a couple of weeks away, but their comments seemed to indicate that final approval will be granted. I continue to be concerned with the amount of water that Thornburgh will use, its impact on our aquifer, and the corresponding reduction in surface water (our rivers and streams). Three golf courses, artificial lakes, lodging, and housing will use a lot of water. Below is the email I sent to our commissioners earlier today.

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Deschutes Groundwater Mitigation 101 and Thornburgh

Surface water (rivers & streams) in the Deschutes Basin has been fully allocated since the early 1900s, primarily to irrigators.  To accommodate for continued growth, groundwater pumping became the primary source of new water supplies.  In the 1990s studies showed that this pumping was impacting surface water.  In the Deschutes Basin, snowmelt in the Cascades seeps through porous volcanic rock, slowly replenishing the aquifer.  As the aquifer overfills it releases the water via springs, which create our local lakes and rivers.  Variability in snowpack and pumping impacts the aquifer and therefore stream flow.

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Email to Deschutes County Commissioners re: Thornburgh

Recently, I have spent far too many hours researching the proposed Thornburgh Resort.  This project is a great example of how confusing and illogical planning laws and regulations can be.  For example, did you know that when you pump water out of an aquifer that you only “mitigate” for a portion of it?  Or that the mitigation water may or may not actually be measured?  I could go on.  Arguing and litigating about these issues is why it can take over a decade to reach decisions.  (For an example of just how convoluted it is, see this legal summary of the various court cases that have been brought against the project.) Rather than wade into that thicket, I decided to take a different approach in my comments to Deschutes County Commissioners on the Thornburgh project.  Here is the email that I sent today.

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KTVZ Story on Thornburgh (Corrected)

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Yesterday I was interviewed for a story on the proposed Thornburgh Resort, an experience I always find frustrating. We spent 20 minutes discussing local water issues relating to the resort and the reporter picked something that I guess was a good sound bite, but a minor element of what I was trying to convey to her: the fact that we are dramatically overusing water. In any event, raising the profile of this issue is a good thing and I am thankful it is being covered.

Note: I state in the interview that 9+ CFS of water was for the first phase of development only.  In fact, 9.28 CFS is for the entire development.  I sincerely regret the error, although it does not change my position on the matter.

Thornburgh: Growth vs Water Security (Corrected)

Since 2005 there has been an effort to develop a new destination golf resort just southwest of Eagle Crest Resort near Redmond.  The proposed Thornburgh Resort will include multiple golf courses, lakes, temporary lodging, and detached housing.  It is controversial, with multiple appeals and lawsuits, including one that will soon be heard by the Oregon Supreme Court.  The developer continues to push forward, however, and last Wednesday, June 17th, was the initial public hearing by the Deschutes County Board of Commissioners on the Site Plan Review for Phase A golf course development.  You can watch video of the hearing here, it starts at about 3:34:00 and continues for approximately 3 hours.  I watched it live and was fascinated with the tension between growth and development with land use laws, water availability, affordable housing, etc.

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