News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Lynn Lounsbury’s water legacy

Lynn Lounsbury knows water. How it flows, percolates, rises, and falls. During his long career managing water systems, taking care of Central Oregon’s precious resource has been his highest priority.

Since moving to Sisters in 1978, he’s managed water utilities for Black Butte Ranch (1978-2010), Indian Meadow Water Company (1988-2020), and Tollgate (1993-2022). He’s retiring from his duties with Tollgate at the end of this month. Looking back over decades of water and sewage management, he credits his success with training, an ability to find solutions to tough challenges, and a desire to keep learning.

Navigating the establishment of water rights, a process that can take more than a decade, served both his clients and the environment. His role also required orchestrating well-drilling and overseeing the construction of water systems for thousands of homes. His goal was to ensure Sisters Country’s pristine water, both above-ground and in aquifers, remained healthy.

His first job in Central Oregon began at Black Butte Ranch (BBR) through an internship program at Linn Benton Community College (LBCC). On the second day of his BBR internship, he was offered a full-time job. When Lounsbury’s boss left, he was promoted to the manager of the BBR utilities department for water and sewer. “There were four of us in the department. I’d just finished training at Linn Benton. I was responsible for operating the BBR sewage treatment plant. The water on the Ranch was so good you didn’t have to treat it, just test it often,” he said, in the home he shares with his wife, Linda.

At first, Lounsbury saw his position at BBR as a means to an end. The epic experiences he had working on a forestry crew as a seasonal employee from 1962 to 1976 in Yellowstone National Park, remained a strong force drawing him back to the region. He says that Yellowstone holds many powerful and meaningful memories. He worked for Yellowstone eight months of the year, then went to school for a semester in the off-season. It took a while, but he finally graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University.

After graduation from BYU, it became clear it was close to impossible to land a permanent job with the National Park Service in Yellowstone.

“The last year I was in Yellowstone, one of my neighbors happened to be an instructor at LBCC in the water and wastewater program. At that time, they were just getting wastewater treatment plants in Yellowstone. My idea was to go to school in Oregon at Linn Benton and learn the operation of a sewage treatment plant and water systems, thinking once I got that background, I’d get hired at Yellowstone,” he said.

But in the end, Central Oregon’s beauty, rivers, and Cascade Range slowly shifted his plans until he decided to remain an Oregonian.

There was a lot of work to be done on the Sisters Country water systems he managed. A common denominator on all three projects was the necessity for acquiring water rights.

“When a utility starts to develop, they need water rights to get water out of the ground or use surface water,” he said.

When he started working with the Indian Meadow Water Company, they didn’t have a water right permit yet.

“There’s a three-stage process to get a water right,” he said.” First you have to have an application number with the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD). During the second phase OWRD will issue a permit to start drilling wells and put in a piping system. You are given three years to get it developed. The third step gets you a certificate of water rights.

“My biggest accomplishment on all three of the systems was obtaining water rights. That is often a 10-year or more process,” he said.

Water sports like white water rafting and fly-fishing have been integral to Lounsbury’s active lifestyle. One of his favorite places to float is the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.

“A friend and I did a 200-mile trip. We went down and hit the Main Salmon and then went another ninety miles on that,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any place better than the Middle Fork if you’re into rafting, because of the number of rapids and isolation. It’s over one hundred miles of nothing but wilderness.”

After years of independently navigating whitewater, Lounsbury’s ready to let someone else do some of the work.

“Now, I go on organized trips but take my own boat. It’s the way I like to do it,” he said.

This June he and Linda are taking one last trip on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.

“I’ve decided not to take my own boat on that trip; I’m just getting too old for that stuff. We haven’t done that trip since 2014, so we’re doing it one last time; it’s kind of a bucket list thing for us,” he said, with Linda in full agreement.

A rafting highlight for Lounsbury was when he joined nine people for a Colorado River trip.

“John Pierce, a local contractor from Sisters, organizes those trips,” he said. “You can’t believe the preparation it takes to do these floats. The highlight of my whitewater rafting was rowing the Grand Canyon in my own boat.”

Lounsbury loves to fly-fish.

“One of my favorite things is floating the Deschutes River on three-day trips,” he said. “I’ve had drift boats and I’ve had catarafts, which are air-inflated boats. The Crooked River is my favorite fishing place.”

Although Lounsbury’s work in Central Oregon may be unknown to some, the Indian Meadow Water Company, and the homeowners he’s supported for over 30 years, wanted to create a lasting acknowledgment of his contributions. They installed a plaque honoring him because he was responsible for building a new reservoir and booster pump station. The new facility is named after him. With his usual modesty he didn’t want any fuss about it.

“That’s not a big deal,” he said.

Whether he was avoiding grizzly bears or packing in on horses for field work in remote corners of Yellowstone, running whitewater on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, or clearing pipes overwhelmed by roots, Lounsbury always did his best. His legacy of excellence will remain for years to come.


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