Merkley, Wyden Announce Deschutes River Conservancy Reauthorization Bill Passes Senate Committee

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden announced today that the Deschutes River Conservancy Reauthorization Act cleared a major hurdle by passing out of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

The critical legislation would reauthorize the Deschutes River Conservancy’s (DRC) eligibility to receive federal funding for water quality and conservation projects—efforts critical to the restoration of wildlife and reducing agricultural runoff in Central Oregon rivers. 

“The efforts of the Deschutes River Conservancy are critical to the quality of Oregon’s waterways, and their work goes hand-in-hand with the health of our environment,” said Merkley. “Reauthorizing the DRC’s ability to receive federal funding will directly impact the stability of our rivers and tributaries, and it’s great news that we cleared a key hurdle to making it to the President’s desk. I’ll keep at it until this legislation becomes law.”

“The Deschutes River Conservancy’s hard work to improve water conservation in Central Oregon has fully earned this reauthorization,” said Wyden, a senior member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “I’m gratified this bill has taken a big step by passing out of committee, and I’ll continue battling to get this legislation enacted into law for all the Oregonians who count on the region’s rivers and tributaries.”

Founded in 1996, DRC initially focused on grazing and timber issues impacting river health but has shifted to water management in recent years. Following its reauthorization in 2005, DRC was eligible to receive $2 million per year for the next 10 years. However, no allocations were made during this time period and the organization currently relies on private donations or funding from local government entities.

This marks the first time the Deschutes River Conservancy Reauthorization Act in its current form has passed out of the committee, bringing it closer than ever to becoming law.

Since its creation, the DRC has helped restore 250 cubic feet per second of water to parts of the Deschutes River and surrounding tributaries. Upcoming projects will include addressing water quality issues in the Crooked River. The reauthorization would renew the DRC’s eligibility to receive funding from the Bureau of Reclamation, and funds will be matched at 50 percent.

The Deschutes River Conservancy Reauthorization Act would:

  • Authorize up to $2 million in funding per year for 10 years; and
  • Amend the congressional charter to reflect changes made to the DRC’s mission and board of directors.

“We are greatly encouraged by the Senate Committee’s mark-up of the DRC Reauthorization Act,” Kate Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of the Deschutes River Conservancy, said. “This milestone is not just a testament to the regional significance of the Deschutes River, but also to the dedication to collaboration by our community and partners. This critical funding will help provide the resilience needed in the Deschutes River Basin for fish, farms and families into the future.”

“The DRC is a shining example of place-based decision-making with a strong record of success through collaboration,” said Chairman Jonathan W. Smith, Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs. “As an original founder of the organization, the Warm Springs Tribe strongly supports enactment of this legislation.”

“All of us appreciate Senators Merkley and Wyden’s leadership in advancing a reauthorization for the Deschutes River Conservancy,” Craig Horrell, President of Deschutes Basin Board of Control, said. “This legislation, once enacted into law, would enable the DRC to fulfill their mission to our community by supporting agriculture and the environment.”