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Oregon AG Takes to Canoe on the Deschutes


Oregon Attorney General John Kroger was in Central Oregon for official business but he also had some fun while doing it. Kroger was seen paddling the Deschutes River but it was for a purpose.

It’s all part of a series of visits for the attorney general to important Oregon waterways. While he was on the Deschutes in Bend, he was looking at environmental projects that are restoring habitat along the river.

Kroger says while other groups fight over water use, Deschutes County has had people willing to work together. And that’s why the county is a model for not only the state, but nationwide.

Kroger said the main reason he came to look at the restoration projects is to look at it first-hand, to better understand it.

He said it wasn’t his first time in a canoe, he has done adventures on the Willamette and other rivers in Oregon.

Later Wednesday evening, Kroger took part in a town hall to discuss the importance of water quality for public health, for the economy and for the environment, and to discuss the Department of Justice’s Environmental Crimes Unit.

But first, he got a first-hand look at some of the restoration projects.

“Ordinarily what we have is a giant fight over the environment,” Kroger said. “We have environmental groups and government and farmers and ranchers, fighting over water and water use. And what has been happening here in Deschutes County is a real collaboration of people getting together and working for the common good.”

Kroger says the collaboration on the part of farmers and ranchers has had a tremendous impact.

“if we could bottle the collaborative spirit that is here and see it elsewhere it would be really helpful,” Kroger said.

Kroger says some of the projects he’s seen, such as the one on Whychus Creek in Sisters, are remarkable in terms of their scope.

“We are talking about reintroducing fish into the creeks that haven’t seen fish since the 19th century,” Kroger said. “And long-term, it’s going to be great for the environment and the economy.”

Kroger wasn’t alone on the river — on a warm summer day, thousands of people were floating the river. While Kroger says that’s a really good sign, there still are some big challenges for the Deschutes and those who care for it.

One challenge: Some parts of the river are too hot for the fish. Kroger advises continued to work on water temperature issues.

The other challenge: getting fish like steelhead back into the watershed. Because of dams and irrigation, the fish population ,particlularly in the upper parts of the Deschutes watershed, have been decimated, with even some places that have not seen fish since the 19th century.

“There are restoration projects, everything from fish ladders to restoring habitat, that can return fish to the whole Deschutes water system,” Kroger said. “That would be a great thing — frankly it would be great for fishermen.”

Kroger says he has tried to make environmental protection and enforcement a key part of his role as attorney general.

Kroger gave an example of clean water being a good economic advantage for the state. He stated that Intel, the giant chip manufacturer, decided to move to Oregon in the 1970s, and one of the reasons they came was a lot of clean, abundant water into the Tualatin River.

“Clean water is something that Oregon has,” Kroger said. “It’s in important resource, just like timber. Clean water is something we have in our long-term economic advantage.”

Kroger said that right now in Oregon, every major river is out of compliance for at least one pollutant, under federal standards. And for the Deschutes its the temperature problems that kill off fish.

Kroger says one thing he has seen in Portland is a very large increase in people’s water and sewer bills because of the need to get in compliance with the Clean Water Act (something Bend residents know all too well).

But on the other hand, one thing he would still like to see in Portland is more people actually getting into the Willamette River.

“If you go to Portland, there are very few people in the Willamette, and that?s because historically the Willamette really wasn?t taken care of,” Kroger said. “What we want is someday people in Portland to use the Willamette just as there are thousands of people on the Deschutes River today.”

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