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This Is No Drop in the Beer Barrel 

The Deschutes Brewery announced that it is buying a billion gallons of water per year to help stream flows in the Deschutes.

Bend has become famous for two things: beer and the Deschutes River. So it's fitting that Bend's biggest brewery - which also takes its own name from the river - has decided to make a significant contribution to the river's health.

Last week the Deschutes Brewery and the Deschutes River Conservancy, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting and improving the river, announced that the brewery is buying a billion gallons of water a year to improve stream flows in the Middle Deschutes.

This doesn't mean the brewery is going to buy trillions of bottles of Evian and pour them into the Deschutes. Instead it will donate $25,000 a year to buy irrigation water rights from landowners who no longer need them.

As development has eaten up more Central Oregon farmland over the decades, agriculture needs less irrigation water. But under Oregon's "use it or lose it" water laws, property owners have to use their allotment of water or forfeit their right to it, even if they're not growing crops. Leasing their water rights means the water can stay in the river.

Breweries slurp up a lot of water - about four gallons for every gallon of beer they produce - but the Deschutes Brewery's donation represents 14 times as much water as the brewery and its suppliers use per year. It also is the biggest such donation the Deschutes River Conservancy has received so far.

The billion gallons is expected to increase the flow in the Middle Deschutes - which during irrigation season historically became little more than a dribble - by nine cubic feet per second. That will bring the summer flow up to 160 cfs. While that's still far from the DRC's eventual goal of 205 cfs, what the brewery has done is far from trivial.

"This is not an insignificant investment," said DRC Director Tod Heisler. "They [the brewery] in fact did something very big."

Raising the flow to 160 cfs will produce "measureable and visible results" in terms of better conditions for fish and other wildlife in and around the Middle Deschutes, according to DRC spokesperson Bea Armstrong. It also will make it possible to float the river in sections where formerly even a kayak couldn't go. And making the river more attractive to anglers, rafters and other users will boost recreation and tourism.

Best of all, Deschutes Brewery founder and CEO Gary Fish says he sees the donation as a "long-term commitment," not a one-shot deal. "Funding has always been up and down" for the DRC program, said Steve Johnson, manager of the Central Oregon Irrigation District, so the brewery's commitment is "a very positive thing. It stabilizes that program."

Here's hoping other local businesses - including other breweries - will follow Deschutes Brewery's lead and contribute toward the DRC's worthy effort. (Those potentially interested in doing so should contact Gen Hubert at gen@deschutesriver.org.)

Meanwhile, we're conferring the GLASS SLIPPER on Gary Fish and the Deschutes Brewery for taking the lead in restoring a resource that's the heart and soul of Central Oregon - not to mention an indispensable ingredient for all that good beer.

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