Tumalo Creek is a cherished natural resource in Central Oregon. The headwaters springs are a wonderland of scattered seeps and springs that become a full-blown creek. The majestic Tumalo Falls is one of the most photographed and visited sites in the area. The creek is the heart of Shevlin Park. Mountain bikers, runners and hikers all use the creek's trails.
Tumalo Creek is also a vital part of the ecosystem. It is the sole tributary to the Middle Deschutes for more than a 60-mile stretch of that river. It provides cold water that is critical to the health of the Middle Deschutes native redband trout.
Unfortunately, Tumalo Creek's history over the past 100 years has been one of degradation through dewatering for irrigation and municipal uses.
Fortunately, for the past decade or so there has been a kind of social compact involving irrigation districts, the tribes, conservation groups and local governments where all have agreed that getting more water back into Central Oregon's creeks and rivers is a shared objective. Irrigation districts have been piping canals and returning some of the water to the creeks, and local governments like Sisters are switching from surface water to groundwater.
The Central Oregon Conservation Network initiated the campaign to increase flows in Tumalo Creek because the creek's progress has lagged behind that of other Central Oregon waterways. Not counting the variable amounts of water rights temporarily “leased” instream, Whychus Creek has achieved 25 cfs in flows or nearly 75 percent of the minimum target flow of 33 cfs set by ODFW. In contrast, only about 8 cfs of Tumalo Creek has been achieved toward the target flow of 32 cfs, or 25 percent. Progress has been slow for Tumalo Creek — from 2005 to the end of 2012, less than 3 cfs has been permanently protected. During the same time frame 19 cfs was protected in Whychus Creek and 70 cfs in the Deschutes River. Also, now the city of Bend plans to take more water from Tumalo Creek.
A July 14 editorial in The Bulletin is critical of the COCN's campaign, accusing it of not being “careful with the facts.” Despite the accusation, the editorial later admits that the Network's statements are “not factually incorrect.” It turns out that the editorial is actually critical of what it says are “omissions.”
One such alleged “omission” is that Tumalo Irrigation District takes more water out of the creek than does the city of Bend. We discussed that with The Bulletin's reporter when he called, but what we said about TID did not get into the July 12 article, “Campaign supports higher flow.” That is not the Network's omission. At its informational meeting (that COCN announced in its press release but which The Bulletin did not attend), the Network addressed the important role of TID and supporting TID projects that viably restore the creek's flows.
The second alleged “omission” asserted by the editorial is that the city “is not going to take more water from Bridge Creek than it can now, 18.2 cubic feet per second.” Though such use of Tumalo Creek water will be more than double the current use, the editorial excuses the increase by saying “that would be because Bend's population will grow.”
But just because an irrigation district or local government “can” take more Tumalo Creek water does not mean they should take more water from Tumalo Creek. That is particularly the case when groundwater and conservation are viable alternatives. Using more water runs counter to the social compact to get more flows back in Central Oregon's creeks and rivers. We need more of Tumalo Creek's cold, clear water kept instream and that is why the Central Oregon Conservation Network adopted that goal as a priority.