The larger the issue, the longer it takes… Upper Deschutes River

Don’t read this – it’s complicated and it will require you to slow down and be thorough when you read it. It’s probably my fault due to my writing style, but you can always ask me any questions via email/text/comment. Hopefully some of you will comment on it and/or get a kick out of it.

So here’s the thing… Some aspects of conservation and advocacy for our favorite hunting, camping, hiking, surfing, fishing, and recreating spots are easy. We pay our fees, pack our trash, then go forward and live our lives with the memories and resources we take from it. Are we doing a bad thing? Nope.

Being a just a lone user and just taking care of our individual impact, and most of us are this way – there’s nothing wrong with that. However, this doesn’t give us a chance to help create change, and doesn’t make our argument any stronger when things aren’t going our way. In fact, when we are a lone user and then start complaining about policy or legislative changes which affect our ability to enjoy our favorite places – we have only ourselves to blame.

There was plenty of opportunity leading up to those changes where we could have gotten engaged and used our voice (by combining it with others) to influence the legislator or governing agency who just took away something from us. We blew it – so we have to suck it up and quit bitching. Or even better, if we just pay attention to those issues by signing up for a couple newsletters to help shed light on those situations – we might also find those newsletters have a means to submit (and often request) YOUR COMMENTS on those issues. These comments are either directed to the body who wrote the newsletter, or, directed to the agency or legislator proposing the changes.

By the same token – even those like me who actively participate in the processes can fall into a bad cycle. We figure since we’ve been afforded the opportunity to be heard and offered space at the table, that somehow we have become an expert in the matter. The problem with that is there is literally NOBODY who’s truly an expert in ALL aspects of conservation and advocacy. I am clearly no exception to this observation.

The issues are rarely simple, and require a working knowledge of not just the environment – but often an understanding of broad economic implications across a wide range of industries, an understanding of legislative policies/rules (both in place and proposed), socio-economic impacts to a diverse community of stakeholders/citizens, and lastly the patience to work with people whose bias may prevent them from widening their view in an effort to build or strengthen bonds which create a balanced movement forward toward solutions.

There are no simple answers, and there are no simple statements that will create change – so be willing to do some hard work, become educated in the issues, and learn compassion which fosters a willingness to compromise at some level for all concerned parties. Then have the dedication to the cause and the willingness to ride it all the way to the end of the road.

Today at a meeting with about 50 people and at least 20 agency/stakeholder groups being represented – a ton of analytical and modeling work was presented that will help to influence policy and actual on the ground work for the future of the Upper Deschutes River. While I pride myself on having a great capacity for comprehension through the education of listening and reading as much as I can, that does not mean I am an expert. What it does mean is that I am willing to be there, and participate in the long, hard work it will take to realize a better future for it.

If fact, I have observed many times the professionals providing data with an issue – actively ask for input and if there are any questions, met with a glazed look and open mouth as the grey matter in the room gets pushed too hard and too fast to adequately form a cogent question. I have done this myself on many an occasion. Therefore the questions don’t get asked right away, but the processing which occurs afterward may be too late to address that request for input at the time. I see this in myself, and I have seen it in others.

Don’t fret, we can still ask our questions – and we will always be encouraged to do so.

The underlying issue facing the Upper Deschutes Basin are not simple. As I noted above, there are so many moving parts with local municipalities, State and Federal Agencies, non-profit organizations, businesses, and citizens – that just keeping track of them (and discovering what their motivation is) has taken me a lot of years. That notwithstanding, the issue is fundamentally about having enough water for every one and every thing. Thus I will repeat – this is a big problem and will take a long time to reach a solution.

With that being said, I am truly encouraged by the sheer volume of willing and responsive people who are working on this issue.

There is no way each side will get exactly what they want out of it, but, I am feeling more and more confident that the issue will reach a balance to ensure every one and every thing will get the water they need to continue into the future. Does that mean I can sit back and just let it move on without any input or questions? Nope.

In today’s meeting I heard many things that concerned me.

In talking about who actually loses when we can’t reach flow numbers in any given year (drought, low snow-pack, global warming, etc.) – it was clear that the in-stream water will suffer that loss and not those who are taking the water through their “rights”. That is due to our wonky western water law structure, and that can of worms is not something I will get into on this post. Since it is a matter of re-defining what the beneficial use of water is defined as, and who has the first right to it – it would require a behavioral change our society will not easily (or quickly) embrace. Additionally, it was made clear that a fundamental aspect of some economic forethought was not given a place within the algorithms used to generate the basic cost analysis for the modeling and proposed scenarios.

Now I’m not saying that forethought needs to be a major part of the analytical – but it should be fairly represented to provide a more pragmatic view. After all, we are talking about spending hundreds of millions of dollars over time spans that reach decades into the future. What a mile of pipe might cost today, will not be what it costs tomorrow, next month, next year, or ten years from now when it may be needed. There are a lot of costs that contribute to this, and if you use a simplified method of measuring the rate of inflation over the past 100 years then averaged it – you end up at about 3.65% per year.

So what does that mean? Well, for projecting potential cost that involves performing work which can span up to 20 years to complete – you end up with a number that becomes something to consider. For an example, I will take one of the scenarios and apply some math to it. While this does not give an actual, quantifiable dollar amount – it is still something to consider. In this scenario, it will cost 500 million over 20 years at current market cost.

Again, this is not a real budget forecast and should not be used in any way to influence you. This is just me trying to simplify it, and since I do not have a crystal ball and tell you the inflation rate over each of the next 20 years, nor the potential costs of materials since they are so dependent market supply and demand – just humor me. I was able to voice my concern and it was written on a big sheet of paper that hopefully gets added to the mix of other comments.

With compounding the average inflation annually, and if we base year one as having the availability of 5% of funds allocated to start work  – this effort may eventually grow in cost from the 500 million to nearly 750 million over the lifespan of the project plan. To me, this helps illustrate the state of conservation efforts I have witnessed in my life within the framework I have observed financially.

What I mean is to show here is, even when a projected project cost is put out there – inevitably whoever is doing the work (even if they have the proposed total available) will continue to need funding to complete the project life cycle. Therefore, our continued support for it becomes a burden for us all to share. Even when I/we loose faith in the people doing the work because all we ever hear is they need more money, we must trust the process. Our devotion to these places and the people doing the work will be tested over and over again to see it succeed. And we must be committed to that success.

I will continue to go to all of you and ask for that help to support the issues I am devoting my time to, and hopefully you ask me why. When I have the opportunity to give you my answer, I think you will see that I am doing this not just for myself – I am doing it because I believe I can help, and I believe it is worth doing for the future generations who will find inspiration in the places I have come to love.

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