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Deschutes Basin Water and Streams

The north fork of the Crooked River

The north fork of the Crooked River
(Oregon State Archives)

In the dry landscape of Central Oregon, people and animals have always been drawn to riparian zones. In the book Biography of a Place: Passages through a Central Oregon Meadow, Martin Winch tells the settlement history of the Deschutes Basin from the perspectives of the occupants of a riparian meadow near Sisters, Oregon. Native Americans, trappers and settlers are each drawn to Camp Polk Meadows, a place where the stream and riparian zone provide the resources they need to survive.

Our reliance on riparian zones means that these ecosystems are some of the most highly impacted areas of the Deschutes Basin. These areas have been altered by agriculture, development, water diversions, impoundments, and water withdrawals, and many areas have lost their native plant and animal communities. Some streams which once had perennial flow now go dry in summer months, and others are degraded by erosion, road crossing, bank revetments, and dams. Many stream segments in the Deschutes Basin appear on the 303(d) list, the list of stream segments declared "water quality limited" by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality under Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act.

In recent years there has been growing recognition of the ecological value of rivers and streams and widespread efforts to repair their condition. These actions include efforts to remove fish passage barriers and screen water diversions, increase instream flows, and improve channel and riparian habitat conditions.

Authored by Maria Wright, Institute of Natural Resources and Caitlin Bell, Staff, Oregon Explorer