When people think of Central Oregon, images of rushing rivers are often a part of the vision. But not so long ago, many of our streams didn't run all summer. If they did, it was more of a warm trickle that didn't do much for fish and other wildlife, much less give the image of cold, clean streams.
It was nearly 20 years ago, that I discovered my friend Bob had persuaded local irrigators to leave a little water in Tumalo Creek as part of a "gentlemen's agreement" to keep it flowing to its confluence with the Deschutes River. It wasn't a lot of water and it certainly wasn't permanent, but it was a magnificent gesture and one that caught my attention and sparked my imagination. At the time, I was a young attorney, managing the County's land and real estate interests, while my friend Bob worked down the hallway for the State of Oregon as the Deschutes Basin's Watermaster. Of course, as Watermaster, Bob's job was to help local farmers use those streams to transform desert and range into productive farmland, crops, and jobs. It was a job that Bob took quite seriously, while at the same time realizing that streams without water were difficult contradiction.
I was so drawn by the notion of leaving water in stream that it came up in numerous conversations with Bob whenever I could corner him. From our conversations, I learned of another "gentlemen's agreement" among local irrigators that kept water in part of the Deschutes River near Bend which otherwise might have dried up. Pleased as Bob was with these agreements, he was always quick to point out their temporary and quasi-official status. That is until the day I asked about purchasing a water right to equalize a County initiated land exchange and in turn keep Tumalo Creek permanently flowing. In response to my somewhat naive question, Bob explained that a new organization called the Oregon Water Trust had been recently formed and was in the business of purchasing senior water rights for in-stream flow. Bob went on to explain that rather than focus on Tumalo Creek, I should instead look toward Squaw Creek (now Whychus Creek), as it was once a mighty steelhead stream and might someday recover its fishery if passage was ever reestablished through the dams near Warm Springs.
Bob's advice was timely and strategic, as it both coincided with our founding of the Deschutes Land Trust and foresaw the herculean effort to re-establish passage through the dams. As a result of that advice, the County hired the Oregon Water Trust (OWT) to pursue water rights to re-water Squaw Creek, which grew into a partnership between OWT, the Land Trust and the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council. Eventually, OWT shifted it's focus out of the Deschutes Basin and water acquisitions fell to a home grown water trust, the Deschutes River Conservancy. Over the years, I often sought Bob out for his thoughts and advice, as his knowledge of the basin and its irrigators was nothing short of remarkable. Last week, Bob Main passed away and I lost a great friend. But more importantly, the basin lost an irreplaceable wealth of knowledge and one of its greatest advocates. Fortunately, Bob left his mark on Central Oregon in the form of healthier rivers, streams, and the wildlife that call them home. Bob, we'll miss you!
~ Brad Chalfant