WaterWatch Newsletter – Spring 2009
In This Issue
1. Stream of Consciousness
2. Free the Rogue Campaign Takes a Big Leap Forward
3. Free the Rogue Campaign: A call to support by honoring Gordon Taylor
4. Protecting the Metolius River From New Development Threats
5. Stand Up for the Siletz River!
6. The 2009 Legislative Session -Searching for Money
7. Fighting for Ancient Fish in a Remote Corner of Oregon
8. Save The Date!
9. A Special Thank You to Friends of the Sandy River
10. Thank You to Our Grantors
As we begin, perhaps, to take fitful steps towards an economic recovery, hoping that we have seen the bottom, but not entirely sure, many of you might ask – Why rivers? Why balanced water policy? Why WaterWatch? Why now? As we work our way through these challenging times, I will be blunt – WaterWatch needs your financial support. We need your support now more than ever. We at WaterWatch have nothing to sell but our ability to protect and restore healthy rivers – for fish, for wildlife and for the people who depend on healthy rivers. But, the answer to these questions is not because WaterWatch needs your financial support, though it does. The answers to these questions are more important than that. Again, why healthy rivers? Why balanced water policy? Why now?
Here are my answers. I hope they resemble the answers you might give: For families, for children and for the moments you share with your child or grandchild when he or she catches a fish, takes the oars in hand, learns to skip a rock, identifies an ouzel or becomes connected with the outdoors and a river. For our physical and mental well being. For happiness, for meaning in our lives as we ride what Thomas McGuane has called this “careening dustball” through space. For a legacy, so that we leave Oregon’s natural heritage reasonably intact for future generations, and for sustainability, so that this generation does not take so much that there is not enough for future generations.
For stewardship, for your conservation ethic, because you care deeply about healthy rivers and balanced water policies for Oregon. For fish. For healthy, connected and complex aquatic habitat. For species that deserve a fighting chance to live and fulfill their life cycles. For the West. For leadership, to make Oregon the leading state in the West for streamflow protection and restoration. For action in the face of climate change, to ensure Oregon recognizes that water will be the delivery mechanism of the impacts of climate change and actually takes action to adapt to that reality. For today, so that we can all thrive in a great state that is defined by great rivers rather than soldier on in an impoverished landscape defined more by what has been lost than by what remains.
For the rule of law rather than the rule of capture. For accountability, to protect the public interest in water, to enforce water laws and to increase compliance with those laws. For responsibility – mine, yours and ours – as we collectively decide how to face Oregon’s water future, a future that includes water for agriculture, industry, cities AND rivers. And for the economy, for the thousands and thousands of river related jobs in Oregon, so that people who depend on healthy rivers can continue to be employed and we can all benefit accordingly. In Oregon, healthy rivers mean jobs and economic activity, particularly for rural areas of the state hit hardest by the recession.
We at WaterWatch know that you hold these values close and that you value healthy rivers. Times have been difficult in our state. But, healthy rivers are not optional or a luxury that can wait until next year. With your financial support, WaterWatch can continue to provide the unmatched advocacy for healthy rivers, balanced water policies and the streamflows that you value across Oregon. Thank you for your support.
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On April 7th another key milestone in the ongoing restoration of the Rogue River was reached when cofferdam construction commenced around the northern six bays of Savage Rapids Dam. Cofferdam construction was completed 3 weeks later. The contractor now has until mid-September to remove the northern six bays, after which the cofferdam will be removed and the Rogue will run free through the breach. Another cofferdam will then be placed around the south side of the dam and dam demolition will be complete by December.
The project represents one of the largest dam removals ever undertaken in the United States and is expected to increase Rogue River salmon runs by over 22% annually. For years, the dam has impeded passage of significant portions of five runs of salmon and steelhead. After a twenty-one year battle led by WaterWatch, this will be the last year. Plan to help WaterWatch celebrate this October. Details for the event will be out soon.
With the removal of Savage Rapids Dam this year, and the removal of the Gold Hill Diversion Dam last year, the only mainstem dam between Lost Creek Dam and the ocean will be Gold Ray Dam. This dam is an obsolete non-functioning hydro dam owned by Jackson County. A sediment study is now taking place to determine the quantity and make-up of the sediment behind the dam with funds that WaterWatch helped to obtain. WaterWatch also assisted Jackson County with two grant requests to further the process to remove Gold Ray Dam. One request was for $5 million in stimulus funds to complete the environmental review and engineering for dam removal and to remove the dam next year. If successful the Rogue may soon run free for 157 miles.
Memorial Donations to be Matched
Gordon Taylor was a devoted river enthusiast. His love and respect for Oregon’s rivers was known by all of his many friends who were lucky enough to have known him. He was a long-time member of the Lower Columbia Canoe Club and organized many trips with members, shared his incredible experience of boats and rivers and inspired many to share his passion.
Gordon’s last trip was on the Rogue River, September 29, 2008. While rafting, Gordon had a heart attack and despite the courageous attempts of his friends who came to his rescue, he died on the banks of the Rogue River.
An anonymous donor has offered to match up to $1,500 for donations made to WaterWatch in Gordon’s honor. If you would like to participate in this very generous matching offer you can do so by making a contribution. Be sure to indicate “Gordon Taylor Memorial.”
You can learn more about Gordon and the Lower Columbia Canoe Club by visiting their website.
The Metolius River and its majestic headwaters are currently threatened by two large-scale destination resort proposals. One, a 3,500 unit two golf course proposal would be sited atop Green Ridge to the river’s immediate east. The second, a smaller resort of roughly 600 acres, would sit in the basin itself about 2 miles upslope from the headwaters. Small but important streams in the area would be affected as well. The Metolius is widely loved by Oregonians and others. In Salem, hearings on bills to protect the Metolius have been standing room only. People from all walks of life have testified that the Metolius must be protected. Protection comes in many forms.
Most visibly, groups such as Central Oregon Landwatch are pushing to pass legislation to designate the area as a State Area of Critical Environmental Concern, which will significantly reduce destination resort development. Behind the scenes, WaterWatch and others are watching dogging all new water right applications for these resorts.
In January, WaterWatch filed an administrative appeal to the largest development proposed thus far – the so called “Ponderosa” destination resort. Initially envisioned as a resort for up to 9000 people, as of January this number had been scaled down to 7500. While there are numerous land use issues presented by a development of this size in this location, WaterWatch has focused on water issues. To support the resort and associated golf courses, ponds and the like the resort applied for almost 10 cubic feet per second of groundwater, enough water for a small city.
In the Deschutes Basin, nearly all surface water is spoken for. Thus, new developments must rely on groundwater. Under the Scenic Waterway Act, new groundwater withdrawals in the Deschutes Basin must mitigate their impacts on protected streamflows, including streamflows on the Metolius. However, there is no mitigation water to be had in the Metolius River basin.
Ever creative, the Water Resources Department skirted this and other problems by attempting to allow the resort to mitigate for its impacts by placing mitigation water in the Deschutes River. Unfortunately, the underlying groundwater review told the real story. While the Deschutes would feel some effect from pumping groundwater for the resort, the Metolius River and Wychus Creek would feel most of the effect. WaterWatch and five other entities filed formal appeals. State and federal agencies also registered their concerns. In the wake of these appeals, and as opportunities for development in the Metolius became more uncertain as the session unfolded, Ponderosa Land and Cattle put the water right application on hold. Now it is up to the Legislature to do the right thing and protect the Metolius.
5. Stand Up for the Siletz River! Polk Co. Attempting to Move Forward with Valsetz Reservoir and Dam Proposal
Polk County is proposing to dam the South Fork of the Siletz River in Oregon’s Coast Mountains, creating a large on-stream, above ground reservoir near the former Valsetz mill townsite. The headwaters of the Siletz River sit in one of the rainiest parts of the Coast Range. The Siletz supports numerous native fish species, including spring and fall chinook, fall coho, summer and winter steelhead, chum salmon, and sea run cutthroat trout. In addition to being renowned in the fishing community, the Siletz River is appreciated for its remnants of old growth forest. Dam boosters argue that the reservoir is needed to serve growing Polk and Lincoln Counties, but the size of the proposed reservoir dwarfs even the most aggressive water demand estimates and ignores ongoing attempts to develop large amounts of water from sources in the Willamette Basin by many area water developers.
WaterWatch is closely monitoring the status of this proposed project. Although the project faces many regulatory hurdles due to potential fish impacts and other issues, the Oregon Water Resources Department recently awarded over $100,000 in funding for Polk County to conduct a feasibility study. In addition to raising concerns about fish impacts and water quantity and quality issues, WaterWatch is working to ensure transparency as project boosters attempt to move forward with the dam proposal. In particular, an accurate and defensible accounting of existing water supply and projected demand must be conducted, as well as an inventory of water conservation opportunities in any community that proposes to use water from the Siletz. According to the Water Resources Department, the proposed Valsetz Reservoir would store approximately 195,000 acre-feet of water. Yet, estimates of new water demand from both Polk and Lincoln Counties through the year 2050 are a mere fraction of this amount.
WaterWatch advocates conservation of existing supply as the first and most cost effective means of meeting new water demands, if any. Any proposal for new storage must also square with current efforts by project boosters and beneficiaries to develop other water sources in the proposed project service area. Given the significant impacts to fish and the river from the proposed project and the lack of demonstrated need for the water, this project deserves close scrutiny. WaterWatch encourages members and stakeholders to contribute to the public debate surrounding the Valsetz Reservoir and Dam Proposal. Stay tuned for Action Alerts on this proposal.
The pundits in Salem have a saying this session: “Oregon educates, medicates and incarcerates.” Anything else that requires money faces a difficult path in the 2009 Oregon Legislature. WaterWatch’s 2009 legislative work has been dominated by dreary revenue forecasts and shortfalls in the General Fund. Bills with any fiscal impact were dead on arrival or modified to eliminate any funding requirements. If there is any silver lining to this challenge, it is the attention legislators are focusing on agency budgets. In the water world, the focus has been on the Water Resources Department’s (WRD) budget. Like other agencies, the WRD was asked to develop a proposal to reduce its reliance on the General fund by 30%. Because WRD is 70% reliant on the General Fund (due, in part, to inadequate fees for the services WRD provides) a 30% cut would reduce WRD staff by forty-five positions (out of a current total of 141.6). If implemented, these cuts would devastate the WRD’s already diminished ability to manage our state’s water resources.
There are over 85,000 existing water rights in Oregon. Many more rights are applied for each year. These rights place huge demands on Oregon’s rivers and aquifers and require a complicated system of enforcement and administration. This system places an ever-increasing burden on the state’s water resource agencies and increases the need for greater planning and improved water management to meet current and future water needs. WRD needs more staff, not less.
Given likely cuts, WaterWatch has been advocating for three things: One, retain those positions that are necessary to manage already existing water rights and to develop the scientific information necessary to manage Oregon’s surface and groundwaters. Two, WaterWatch is calling for new sources of revenue to support key WRD capacities. We have also offered up a partial solution to the budget shortfall in the form of SB 740. SB 740 calls for a modest water right “administration” fee of $100 per year. This could result in $8.5 million a year, earmarked for the WRD and its management functions.
Three, for transactional work, WaterWatch is advocating for fees that begin to cover the agency’s costs on the transactions it performs, as well as increased use of reimbursement authority (essentially, pay for services rendered). Currently, the WRD only collects 30% of what it costs to process water right applications and to complete other water transactions. Increasing this low rate of reimbursement would help retain critical capacities at the WRD. SB 740, combined with increased application fees, would reduce the agency’s reliance on the General Fund and preserve some of the critical expertise and capacity that is currently on the chopping block. Please join us in urging the legislature to adopt these reforms.
Flowing out of the Trout Creek Mountains toward the Alvord Desert in the far southeastern corner of the state is a small but important creek that goes by the name of Whitehorse. This small stream is a stronghold for the Lahontan cutthroat trout, a fish listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. Due to loss of habitat and hybridization with other trout species, the Lahontan cutthroat exists in a small fraction of its former range.
WaterWatch has spent more than a decade working to protect this unique, fragile stream and its trout. Over a decade ago, WaterWatch prevented Oregon from approving new uses of water that would have eliminated summer streamflows on Whitehorse Creek. Later, WaterWatch stopped Oregon from approving four new reservoirs on Whitehorse Creek. An adjacent ranch went ahead and built the reservoirs (but did not fill them) despite lacking approval from the Water Resources Department or the Division of State Lands. Then, the ranch attempted to fill the reservoirs using a temporary license to use water from Whitehorse Creek. WaterWatch objected and the state denied the temporary license. Now the ranch is attempting to use part of its existing irrigation water to fill the reservoirs. WaterWatch is fighting this proposal as well. This project demonstrates an unfortunate truism in water development – bad projects never die. With your support, WaterWatch will continue to advocate for Whitehorse Creek and other ecologically important streams across Oregon. We will keep members updated as this matter progresses.
The 7th annual WaterWatch dinner and auction, A Celebration of Oregon Rivers, will be held Saturday, November 7th in Portland. This is the largest member event of the year and will be held at Ambridge Event Center’s new facility just two blocks away from the convention center. More than 200 WaterWatch members gather for an evening of great Oregon wines, excellent food, live music and to support our important programs protecting Oregon rivers. Auction items will include weekend getaways to beach houses, cabins, resorts as well as guided fishing trips, gear, clothing, artwork, wines and much, much more! We’ll be posting sneak previews as we get closer, so be sure to check our website for more details!
A donation of $2,800 from Friends of the Sandy River was recently made in memory of Randy Castile, “Our friend and kayaking partner. He loved the feel and the flow of the Sandy River like no other.”
We would like to thank all of you who continue to support our important mission! We also would like to thank the many foundations and family funds that have supported WaterWatch of Oregon in the past year:
Anonymous Foundations (2)
The Boyer Family Foundation
The Bullitt Foundation
The Burning Foundation
The Conservation Alliance
Earth Share of Oregon
The Flintridge Foundation
The George Gund Foundation
The Gracie Charitable Foundation
The Harder Foundation
The Jubitz Family Foundation
The Lazar Foundation
New Belgium Brewing
The Penney Family Fund