Rain pelts cities in western Oregon at up to 10 inches a month in the winter wet season. Yet each summer, 10 major rivers and streams, including the often-visited Deschutes, dwindle to trickles or dry out completely.
person isn't even aware this problem exists," says Reed Benson,
executive director of Portland-based WaterWatch, a citizen
WaterWatch's recent report,
Rivers Without Water: Oregon's Unnatural
Disaster, says the culprit is diversion of rivers. Of the
state's 70,000 water withdrawal permits, 80 percent are controlled
by irrigating farmers, many of whom don't measure how much water
they take from rivers and streams. Some withdrawal permits date
back to the turn of the century, the report notes, even though more
recent federal and state laws aim to keep water flowing in rivers.
"It's a poorly managed system," Benson says.
"There's no incentive to restore the rivers or conserve
But the state is taking steps to keep
water in rivers, says Paul Cleary, director of Oregon's Water
Resources Department. Oregon recently allocated $9 million of its
state lottery money to buy water rights, mostly to protect salmon.
Cleary adds that last year some 200 irrigators took advantage of
incentives to leave water in streams.
recommends more use of incentives, more regulation of irrigators
under existing laws, and new minimum-flow levels for endangered
But both Cleary and Benson agree that
solving the water problem is ultimately up to the people of Oregon.
"We have only 40 people on the ground and over 250,000 diversions
in the state," says Cleary. "We have to rely on the users'
willingness to regulate themselves and take advantage of the
Find the nine-page report on the Web
at www.waterwatch.org or write WaterWatch at 213 Ash St., Suite
208, Portland, OR 97201.