By Emily Cureton Cook | July 25, 2023 | Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB)
State regulators have rejected creating new groundwater rights for a controversial destination resort under construction in Central Oregon.
The proposed Thornburgh resort is seeking wells for a development near Redmond, in an area where declining groundwater levels have long raised ecological concerns and caused hardships for residents.
On Tuesday, the Oregon Water Resources Department decided the resort’s planned water use will “impair or adversely affect the public welfare, safety, and health,” and is not “within the capacity of the resource.”
Thornburgh developer Kameron DeLashmutt disputed those conclusions in a written statement sent to OPB, citing experts hired by his company.
“The issue is not whether there is water available as the science is conclusive on that, rather how do we steward its use responsibly,” he said.
The application denied this week “has no current impact on our planning and progress,” he said, calling it a backup request among “a multi-faceted water plan.”
DeLashmutt’s other applications for water are tied up in lengthy court battles. State officials have said he does not have valid claims to use water as those fights play out, something the developer has defied in past interviews.
The permit rejected by the state this week sought to pump up to 1,460 acre-feet per year, which translates to more than a million gallons per day. DeLashmutt has until Sept. 8 to legally challenge the denial.
A private attorney opposing the resort’s various applications for water, Karl Anuta, called the state’s decision “a good step forward.”
“Hopefully this will draw attention to the fact that the resort is attempting to construct itself without adequate water supply,” said Anuta, who also serves on the board of the environmental group WaterWatch of Oregon.
DeLashmutt’s plans for a golf course resort and luxury neighborhood go back decades. In recent years, he has responded to roadblocks by forging ahead with construction and promising conservation measures will benefit fish and wildlife.
In April, Deschutes County officials signed off on these plans despite pushback from state wildlife managers and tribes with treaty rights in the Deschutes Basin.
The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and other opponents of the development are currently appealing the county’s land use approval with Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals.
This story originally appeared on Oregon Public Broadcasting on July 25, 2022.