“Central Oregonians file more objections to Thornburgh resort proposal, but some feel helpless”

That’s the title of a OPB story that ran last week. It’s worth reading. I find it unbelievable that, as stated in the story, the developers of the resort continue to characterize it as something that is environmentally friendly and will actually benefit wildlife. Even a cursory glance at the Thornburgh website will correct any thinking person of that notion. Equally baffling is that our county commissioners and at least one local water-oriented nonprofit have drank the Kool-Aid. (I had the Executive Director of a prominent local non-profit recently tell me that Thornburgh won’t be that bad since they’ll only use a small amount of the total available groundwater, completely ignoring ODFW’s position that Thornburgh will have a negative impact on fish & wildlife.)

Thornburgh update

It’s been a while since I wrote about Thornburgh Resort since it seems to be in an endless loop. Today was the latest Deschutes County Commission meeting where no decision was made after 3 hours of testimony. The specific topic of this meeting is really secondary to the ongoing theme. Lawyers and experts for the developer are in a never ending argument with lawyers and experts for Nunzie Gould, the woman who has been suing to stop Thornburgh for 15 years. Add in the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife who says that Thornburgh has not proved they are meeting their obligation for no net loss of water. The new development today was the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs now wants to get involved. I’m sure that other groups, most notably Central Oregon LandWatch, will soon put out a great description of the specific issues now being debated, but the bottom line is there is no end in sight. Regardless of what the County Commissioners decide in a month it will be appealed and the drama will go on. The good news is that there seems to be near universal public opposition to Thornburgh which has not always been the case. If you are a masochist you can watch a recording of the hearing here.

Thornburgh’s DSL land acquisition withdrawn

I’m sure that we will be hearing a lot more about this soon, but last Friday (July 29) Thornburgh notified the Department of State Lands that they were terminating their application to purchase land to add to the resort currently under construction. I doubt that this will make any real difference to the development and water use of the resort but it is good to see that public pressure is starting to make some impact on this water sucking monster that won’t go away. I wish our county commissioners would grow backbones and stop the continued approval of development permits for this massive water project that is already causing local wells to go dry. Kudos to Nunzie Gould and Central Oregon LandWatch for their continued leadership in the campaign against Thornburgh.

Race to the bottom: Thornburgh

Today OPB published the 3rd article in their “Race to the bottom” series about diminishing groundwater. “How Central Oregon groundwater sells to the highest bidders” is an excellent article that details the impacts of excessive groundwater withdrawals and the lengths to which the Thornburgh Resort is going to secure water. I highly recommend reading it. It is jaw dropping how our politicians and agencies are failing us. The article does not mention our country government, but it is guilty too.

A Serious Body Blow to Thornburgh?

In an extremely surprising but welcome move, last January ODFW sent this letter to Deschutes County regarding Thornburgh. Yesterday, I was pleasantly shocked to learn that after many requests over many years, ODFW has weighed in on the topic of Thornburgh’s use of water. Read the letter yourself, but the bottom line is that they do not believe that Thornhurgh has proven they have adequate cold water to properly mitigate the damage their pumping will do to the Middle Deschutes. Of course, this has been a primary objection many of us have made for some time. Now the question is, what will Deschutes County do with this information? The law says that Thornburgh cannot pump water without ODFW approving the mitigation but the County has not let that get in the way in the past.

Department of State Lands to Sell Property to Thornburgh?

Central Oregon LandWatch is asking for public comments on the next significant development at the proposed Thornburgh Resort near Eagle Crest. You can read all the details here including ways to take action. In summary, Thornburgh wants to buy public lands that are in the proposed resort. Like so many others, I oppose this resort. It will use a massive amount of groundwater, impacting springs that feed local rivers and the fish and wildlife that depend on them. The resort is in the middle of important winter mule deer habitat. A popular hiking area will be closed to the public. Increased traffic and congestion will also accompany the resort. I believe that Thornburgh Resort will be detrimental to most Central Oregonians. Please make your voice heard on this important topic.

Even Wells Next to the Deschutes River

Like many in Central Oregon, I live in an unincorporated area and rely on a well for my water.  After hearing many reports of domestic wells failing, I recently had my water level measured.  It has dropped 22’ since it was drilled 16 years ago, a rate of approximately 1.4’ a year.  I live 2.4 miles east of the Deschutes River.  Friends who live directly adjacent to the river in Tumalo have seen their well drop 50’ in the past 36 years, also a rate of 1.4’ a year.  They now need to deepen their well at an approximate cost of $30,000.  It is incredible that a well a very short distance from the river is also being impacted and points to the widespread severity of groundwater declines.

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Thornburgh: They’re Back…

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.

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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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