Cascade Views Podcast

Kate Fitzpatrick - Protecting the Deschutes River Basin

September 01, 2022 Michael Sipe - Central Oregon Leadership Discussions
Cascade Views Podcast
Kate Fitzpatrick - Protecting the Deschutes River Basin
Show Notes Transcript

Kate Fitzpatrick is the Executive Director of the Deschutes River Conservancy. You can find out more about the Deschutes River Conservancy at

Kate assumed her position in 2021 after 16 years of experience at the organization managing and directing programs to collaboratively restore streamflow in the basin. She is skilled in water rights transactions, negotiation, collaboration, and innovative problem-solving around complex issues. Kate has a degree in geology from Colgate University and a graduate degree in environmental studies from the University of Oregon. She believes in both rivers and in the power of community to work together to find solutions to potentially divisive natural resource issues. 

Kate is joining us today to talk about the Upper Deschutes Basin and the water issues we are facing as well as what can be done to best conserve what we have.


Unknown Speaker  0:07  
We believe that the Deschutes is unique and that we can as a community, be a model for the West and how we can successfully manage water and avoid crisis. But we need everyone in Central Oregon. To care about water. We know that you care about water, and we need you to understand how it works and to be an active part of the solution. 

Narrator  0:28  
Welcome to cascade views a discussion with Central Oregon leaders. Your host is Michael SIPE, local business and community leader Best Selling Author of the Nevada principle in candidate for Oregon State Representative for House District 53, which encompasses southern Redman sisters tremolo in northern bend. The purpose of these discussions is to share the views and insights of local leaders from a variety of community sectors on a range of timely and important regional and state issues. With that, now, here's your host, Michael SIPE.

Michael Sipe  1:01  
Thanks for joining us on cascade views. This is Michael SIPE, and I'm excited to welcome Kate Fitzpatrick to the show today. Kate is the executive director of the Deschutes River Conservancy, you can find out more about the Deschutes River Conservancy at Deschutes Kate assumed her position in 2021 after 16 years of experience at the organization, managing and directing programs to collaboratively restore streamflow in the basin. She's skilled in water rights, transactions, negotiation, collaboration and innovation, problem solving around complex issues. She has a degree in geology from Colgate University and a graduate degree in environmental studies from the University of Oregon. She believes in both rivers and in the power of community to work together to find solutions to potentially divisive natural resource issues. Keeps joining us today to talk about the Upper Deschutes Basin and water issues are facing as well as what can be done to best conserve what we have. Hi, Kate.

Unknown Speaker  2:01  
Hi, Mike. Happy to be here today.

Michael Sipe  2:03  
Really glad to have this conversation. I've been looking forward to it for quite a while. First of all, tell us what the Deschutes River Conservancy does, and why you're passionate about what you do.

Unknown Speaker  2:13  
Yeah, Mike, thank you. The mission of the Deschutes River Conservancy is to restore streamflow and water quality in the Deschutes Basin. So I am passionate about water and grew up on lakes and Michigan. And I frankly just love being in it. I'm also fascinated by working with all the different interests around water to find common ground, because good water and good water stewardship is critical for all of us, no matter what our political stripes or interests are.

Michael Sipe  2:42  
And that's for sure, I think it will be really useful for you to expand a little bit on that because the organization's mission vision and maybe a couple of the key values really help people understand. And I think it's it's going to frame the remainder of our discussion. So could you dive in just a little bit more on that?

Unknown Speaker  3:01  
Yeah, our key values are at the heart of our work, Mike, we are a bit of a different kind of conservation group. And it's important to step back briefly and talk about our origins story. So we were formed by a somewhat unique coalition of the Confederated Tribes, the Warm Springs, who are the Warm Springs, Pasco and Paiute. tribes that have lived in use these waters since time immemorial, in partnership with Central Oregon Irrigation District, one of the largest irrigation districts in our basin and environmental interests, at the time in the 1990s. Were looking around and kind of recognizing that there was potential for water quality and water quality issues to create conflict in the future. And they were looking around at the end of the spotted owl crisis and seeing how that devastated some rural communities and wanted to wanted to work together proactively to avoid conflict. So they together formed the Deschutes River Conservancy as an entity that would implement projects on the ground to restore streamflow and water quality, but to do it through consensus and collaboration. So the consensus and collaboration is as important to us as our mission. We operate under a 15 person board of directors that represent the diverse interests around water, irrigation, and tribal, environmental, municipal. And again, we focus on collaboration and community building. We are also results oriented and really trying to get those projects in the ground. And we like to pride ourselves on our innovation continuing to move different solutions and strategies forward using voluntary market based mechanisms. So together we have restored significant stream flows to our waterways. Well in the process of doing that improving agricultural operations and helping support our communities.

Michael Sipe  4:46  
That really is a unique set of values particularly in with a topic that's so contentious as this and so that's one of the things that intrigues me about your organization. I think it's really laudable and and as you noted pretty unique, I think it would be useful to highlight the main waterways or segments of waterways that are the primary focus in the Deschutes River Basin.

Unknown Speaker  5:10  
Absolutely. So we work in the whole Deschutes Basin from the headwaters, which are a little lava lake to the south. Hopefully everybody knows the river runs south to north, it's about 226 miles to the mouth of the Columbia. So we work in the little basin, but the majority of our work is within what we call the Upper Deschutes Basin, which is upstream of the Pelton round Butte Dam Complex, or what you probably know is Lake deletion. And this includes the Deschutes River proper, largely from below wickiup dam to the city of Bend, which we consider the Upper Deschutes River and from the city of Bend to Lake relation, which we consider the middle Deschutes River, those those reaches both separate from streamflow issues. We also focus on why choose Creek near sisters, some of our Creek near bends and the crooked river which runs through Prineville, all of which face streamflow and water quality is.

Michael Sipe  6:01  
That's helpful. You know, we're talking about water. And it's a big issue I grew up in Arizona water was a big issue. I lived in California for a while water was a big issue. And now the last couple of decades I've been in Central Oregon and water is a big issue. So give us a little water history of the Deschutes River Basin. And I think for the purposes of this discussion, we're talking primarily about surface water streams, rivers, lakes, as opposed to groundwater, am I right?

Unknown Speaker  6:26  
Yeah, we care about both surface water and groundwater and they are connected in our basin. But really some of our biggest issues to date relate to major shortages in the surface water world, so surface water allocations for farmers, and the actual amount of water in the rivers. So let's talk mostly today about surface water. And so just some background, you have to know just a titch about water law to have a conversation and our state. And most states in the West, the state manages the water. And under Oregon water law, the public owns the water, it is useful to remember that indigenous people steward of the water long before the Oregon Public existed. And now under Oregon Public Water law the the public owns of water. But the Oregon Water Resources Department is that agency that manages water rights for the state. And so the state gave water rights away to use the water. And most of this action happened if you rewind the clock back in the late 1800s and the early 1900s In an effort to settle the West and literally to make the desert bloom. So you had the federal government giving away free lands in many cases, and you had the state giving away water rights to be able to settle that land and make it productive. So in doing so sort of unwittingly, the State gave out more water rights than there was actual water in the river in the summer months. And this happened all over the state. But in the Deschutes Basin. By 1905, there were more water rights given out than existed in the streams. Also important to note that there was no thought at the time given to the value of water in the actual rivers themselves. And so the river never had water rights until 1987. So the water rights system operates on a first in time first and right basis, which means those who got there first, get the water first. Those with older more senior water rights get served first in times of scarcity. So if you are swelling irrigation districts in Central Oregon, you have an 1895 water right you are good to go. If you are 1913 priority date, which is north unit Irrigation District up in Jefferson County, you almost never get your full amount of water from the river and particularly in a drought year. So in that case, the federal government actually came in again and built storage reservoirs to help shore up that reliability for the junior water users when the river couldn't meet their needs. Those system of reservoirs actually further altered the flow of rivers creating more challenges for fish and wildlife and river function. That is the backdrop of which we're operating now 100 plus years later.

Michael Sipe  9:21  
So what are a few of the problems that we're seeing now, as a consequence of that 100 year old water policy you are or maybe just in general that we're seeing?

Unknown Speaker  9:31  
Yeah, so we're seeing a system that's not working particularly well for rivers, or frankly, for many farmers right now in our basin, especially those with those junior water rights. We're also seeing more frequent and extreme drought conditions which are exacerbating existing water supply issues. Our water rights are managed by a system that's over 100 years old, and it's a rigid system of law and policy adheres to protecting senior water rights sorted at all. costs above all other concerns. And in addition, the system is not very nimble. And so it is hard to move water around to where it's needed even when using voluntary incentive based tools.

Michael Sipe  10:15  
So you've got some you're working on this hard and have been for a while, what are some of the key solutions that you're advocating for to help with those issues?

Unknown Speaker  10:26  
Yeah, Mike. And you know, above all, we're trying to cultivate a stewardship ethic around water across the board, whether you live in the city, or whether you're an irrigator, or whether you're someone who enjoys the river. From a from a pragmatic solution standpoint, we are lucky to have a lot of actual strategies that will help us solve the problem. And I would put these in two major buckets. One is large scale water conservation. And I can say more about that, and the other is creating more flexibility and moving water around. And that can fall into sort of the the water banking category. So I'll spend a minute on water conservation, because it's a really important piece of the puzzle here in Central Oregon. Important to know that our irrigation water is delivered through eight different irrigation districts by and large, and those districts deliver the water through about 700 miles of canals and laterals that sneak their way across Central Oregon. And if you think about central Oregon's history, we're a volcanic geology and we have very leaky porous rock. And so these canals were really blasted into volcanic rock and they lose an average, about half of the amount of water that you send down the canal into the ground. Well, that might be good for the aquifer, it's not good for the river where the water came from, where you had to take out twice as much water. And it's not great for the farmer who has a hard time getting their water, because so much is seeping into the ground. So one of the best solutions we have is actually going in and piping these leaking Irrigation District canals, we have restored significant amounts of water throughout the basin from piping over the last 20 years. And all of the irrigation districts have continued plans to pipe pretty aggressively over the next 20 to 30 years. So I would continue to expect to see canal piping projects happening and those projects actually restoring in stream flow to help out fish and wildlife. In addition to the large scale conservation, we are also investing in smaller conservation activities actually on farm. So for example, if you are a flood irrigator and you would like to upgrade to sprinkler irrigation, we have programs that can help cost share that for you so you can be more efficient with your water use. So really, we're trying to optimize the most efficient system we can to get that water onto the ground for farmers and not losing that along the way into the system. And I think I think we'll dive into the concept of water training water banking next unless you have any, any more.

Michael Sipe  13:08  
No, that's great. I was Yeah, I've heard this this phrase water trading. And you alluded to it, or you mentioned that the phrase water banking and enter to go to but yeah, tell us a little bit about this, how this water trading works. And maybe you could give us a little hypothetical example and illustrate it a little bit.

Unknown Speaker  13:27  
Yeah, so I know that the words water trading, water marketing, water banking, they could mean anything to any number of people. And I will try to define it clearly here on how we we think about using this tool in the Deschutes Basin, I will start with an existing program we have that is maybe the simplest version of water banking, and kind of go from there to the vision of where we're going with this. So we have a long standing program that's called our instream leasing program. And so if you go back to water rights, when you have a right to use water, you have to use it for what the state considers beneficial use and beneficial use this fairly broad, but generally in our basin, much of that is agriculture. In addition, in 1987, I mentioned the state added on in stream use as a legal beneficial use. And so you also have to use your water aid once every five years to keep it keep it legal keep it active. So if you're in a situation where you are holding water rights, and you actually don't want to put your water on the ground that season, whether you're following acres or rotating crops or just moved in and are trying to figure out your irrigation system, we have a long standing program where we will compensate you to lease your water in stream which means the water will stay in the river and it will be protected by the state from diversion by other users and so you are able to benefit the river you get compensated for it. And accounts as a year have been officially use that protects your rock water right for you into the future. That tool we we employ with every Irrigation District in the basin. And if you look at the Deschutes River below Ben's, you know, near Sawyer park right now, I would say a third of the water that you see in that river is the summary of lots of different little instream leases that we have in the basin. So it's a very effective tool. What we're trying to do now is build on tools like in stream leasing, to actually create multiple benefits for for multiple interests. So I mentioned that we have some, some farmers, Junior water rights holders up in Jefferson County, that have thriving agricultural community that are having a really hard time getting their water. And I also mentioned that we've got some storage reservoirs that are creating low flows in the winter that that irrigation districts relies on. So what we're trying to do now is actually incentivize senior water rights holders that may not want to use their water in a given year, let that water be picked up by junior water rights holders, in exchange for winter flow restoration in the following winter. So it's just a little bit more complicated of a way to move water. And we're trying to wrap that all up into what we're calling a water bank. And really, the vision for the basin wide water bank we're trying to create with all the partners was creating just an umbrella where we have the governance to undertake different strategies to move water around in a way that's locally controlled by all the partners. And that benefits all the users and is on a voluntary basis. So that's something that we're embarking upon now is really trying to expand the ability to flexibly move water around and take it from places where in a given year, maybe less needed and put it to a use that's, you know, needing that water more in that year in that moment.

Michael Sipe  17:03  
What a creative solution. This must keep you quite busy.

Unknown Speaker  17:09  
Busy, but you know, it's a good challenge and a lot of fun to put all the puzzle pieces together.

Michael Sipe  17:14  
I bet it is here. As we begin to wrap up here. I could ask you 1000 questions, but we need to kind of kind of put this in a in a bow. You've enjoyed significant success over the years at the conservancy. here just a little bit about some of the accomplishments over the years.

Unknown Speaker  17:34  
Thanks, Mike. Yeah, you know, one of our one of our sort of model reaches is why choose Creek out and your sisters were over the last 25 years, we've helped restore a creek that ran dry almost every summer through this city and sisters. And now you see a thriving creek that flows year round and supports reintroduce steelhead, and salmon, as well as native redband trout. And we did this with key partnerships with the irrigation district, the agencies and other conservation groups in the basin. So we're very proud of that. And we see that as a model. In addition, I mentioned that every every drop of water you see in the middle Deschutes the little band right now is from a project that we have done with irrigation districts weather water marketing and or water conservation. And this is a fourfold increase in flows. Similar story and someone low Creek. And I guess to wrap wrap that one of the things we are proudest of is keeping the community together. Conflict is so easy in water, and particularly in drought years or, or this year, which is the third year of extreme drought. And we just need to look south, you know, to Klamath County to see examples of this, we see conflict all around us. So the DRC sees ourselves as the bridge builders and glue that can really keep our community conversations going. And to keep the projects rolling, and to continue to push this innovation around water.

Michael Sipe  18:54  
So good hay in the last couple of minutes. Is there anything you'd like to say today about DRC that you'd really like us to know that we haven't covered?

Unknown Speaker  19:03  
Well, you know, I mean, really, all of you who are listening and about water, we believe that the Deschutes is unique, and that we can as a community, be a model for the West and how we can successfully manage water and avoid crisis. But we need everyone in Central Oregon to care about water, we know that you care about water, and we need you to understand how it works and to be an active part of the solution. So on that note, I'm just going to make a pitch for some of the ways that you can get involved. The DRC has launched what we're calling the raise the Deschutes seminar series, and it's an effort to recognize that water is complex that it should be available to everybody to understand. So we're diving into a different topic once a month for a year to give people the chance to really dive in. We've had two sessions already. They are all recorded. They are live streams and you can come in person, but you can catch up on the two that you missed. Our next one is September 12, that takes place at the open space studio on Second Street in Ben's, it is free to the public. So that's one way you can really start to raise your water IQ. And if you go to Ww w, that raise the Deschutes, that O RG E, we'll find out all the information you need to register for those. I would also make a plug for getting on the DRC website to learn more and get on our mailing list, we often provide a lot of information through those lists. And the last thing I should mention is we are part of leading what we call the Deschutes Basin Water collaborative. And that's a 46 member group that is working on accelerating the projects to solve the water problems, and is currently working on a basin wide comprehensive water management plan. So you can also find out about the Deschutes Basin Water Collaborative on our website and get involved with that if you want to take a deeper dive. Well,

Michael Sipe  21:02  
finally, as we, as we finish up here, how can we help? How can people get involved not just in learning about what's going on? Those are obviously awesome resources you mentioned, but how can we support the work that you're doing?

Unknown Speaker  21:14  
Yeah, support, support the groups that are doing that work, support the solutions. You know, piping is a tough one, because I understand that some folks don't want to lose their water feature. It's a really important solution for the basin. So talk to folks, I understand where they're coming from, but try to support projects like that, and continue to advocate that we all steward water and work towards being able to manage it, you know, flexibly enough to meet the coming demands of the future.

Michael Sipe  21:44  
It's been great having you on the show, I've learned a lot today. I think the the main takeaway that I have out of this is a little clearer understanding of the concept of water banking or water trading. I was really well spoken and really helpful to understand that. I very much appreciate your time and your message today.

Unknown Speaker  22:07  
Thank you, Mike, thank you so much for having water on your show.

Michael Sipe  22:10  
You bet. My guest for this show has been Kate Fitzpatrick, the executive director of Deschutes River Conservancy. You can find out more about the ERC at Deschutes Deschutes Thanks for tuning in.

Narrator  22:27  
Thanks for listening to cascade views with Michael SIPE. To find out more about Mike the upcoming election. The key issues he's focused on in his campaign to represent Central Oregon and Salem as a state representative. Visit www dot a voice for Central that's www dot a voice for Central You can get your own copy of Michael sites best selling book the Avada And finally, please vote in the upcoming election. Your Voice Matters