10/20/2015 12:52:00 PM Everybody wins on Whychus Creek
Something remarkable has happened on Whychus Creek over the past two decades.
A stream that once ran dry in the summer now flows through Sisters even in the midst of drought. And this was done without harming farmers who depend on its waters for irrigation. In fact, they are getting more water than they might have expected under current conditions. And habitat for fish and wildlife is better than it has been since perhaps the early 1960s.
Diversion dams have been removed and those who diverted the water have benefitted from improved, more efficient irrigation systems. And now water from the creek is generating electrical power that goes into the local system.
This kind of win-win-win outcome doesn't just happen. It required bringing together a host of government agencies, non-profits, and private citizens. The agencies, organizations and individuals who all came to the table to restore Whychus Creek might ordinarily be expected to be at odds. But through many years of hammering out agreements that met a variety of needs, everyone could step away from the table with something they wanted - more water in the creek; more water on farms; habitat restoration and power generation.
The piping of miles of Three Sisters Irrigation District canals was not without controversy. Many people were reluctant to see open canals that had become defacto streams - with the attendant wildlife and aesthetic benefits - decommissioned. And some felt that the piping project was being imposed in a heavy-handed manner. There were some clashes that bore out the truth of the old saw that "whiskey's for drinking; water is for fighting over."
But piping was the right thing to do. For everybody. As the Central Oregon region faces continued drought, farmers are getting water who wouldn't be if the old open ditches had not been piped. And Whychus Creek is healthier than it has been in decades. Other irrigation districts across the state are looking to TSID to see how it's done. A revolution in irrigation started right her in Sisters Country.
TSID Manager Marc Thalacker and the board can be justly proud of their vision and efforts to make that happen.
And the rest of us can take heart from the example. Sometimes, with patience, persistence and vision, everybody gets a win.