SB 30: Protecting the Metolius Headwaters

By Ben Westlund of Tumalo, OR. State Senator Ben Westlund is the newest member of the Senate Democratic Caucus, having switched from Independent to Democrat last December. He represents Deschutes County.

Some say the mark of a good legislator is their ability to compromise. Far more valuable is knowing when to stand firm.

Last December, Jefferson County zoned two large areas of land in the Metolius Basin as possible locations for Destination Resorts. This is one of those issues on which I stand firm: Destination Resorts should not be placed in the Metolius Basin.

This is not a fight over some chunk of sagebrush or even Class A farm ground… this is the Metolius River Basin and her headwaters: as long on history as it is rich in national heritage… as is Oregon. The Metolius is not just a jewel in Jefferson County’s crown — it is a treasure for us all… an Oregon treasure.

Federally recognized with the Wild and Scenic River designation, the Metolius is known for its clear water, consistent temperature and natural beauty. The construction of resorts could change all that... forever.

The springs that feed the Metolius are fragile; resorts would draw on the aquifer that contributes to the river's flow and affect the headwaters. The very "destination" that the destination resorts want to build on could be irreparably damaged.

The new zoning that benefits two developers could potentially add thousands of new homes as close as three to five miles to the Metolius Headwaters, with thousands upon thousands more (and overnight accommodations) using the Metolius’ groundwater… to the tune of over 10 cubic feet per second for just one of the developments.

Why do we need Senate Bill 30? Because the zoning process used to map destination resorts is inadequate to protect the Metolius. Without any intervention, water that is drawn out of the local aquifer for these resorts would almost certainly stem the flow of springs in the affected area (most notably, the Metolius headwaters) and the flow downstream. Senate Bill 30 prohibits destination resorts within the Metolius River Basin.

Current zoning laws require large water users to mitigate their usage by placing the water they use back into the system (or allowing downstream water rights to remain unused). But that doesn’t work in this case because it is impractical to add water back to any headwater that springs from an aquifer – like the headwaters of the Metolius. Even with mitigation, the Metolius headwaters would not return to their original flow rate.

A workgroup has been meeting to try and find a compromise between those interested in preserving the area and the developers. While I believe that the negotiations took place in good faith, concerns about water usage and headwater flow were never answered to my satisfaction.

Tonight, the Senate Education and General Government Committee will meet to discuss SB 30 and hopefully pass out a version of the bill that fully protects the Metolius Headwaters… and that means no destination resorts.

It is my strong conviction we have an obligation to protect this unique place, preserving its natural beauty and heritage for generations to come. The Metolius should be a place that we should all be able to enjoy.

Since introducing this legislation, I have received over five hundred individual letters and accounts of why the Metolius needs to be protected. (And precisely five letters in opposition.) I encourage you to write a letter to your legislator today... sending the message that our natural heritage will not be bought or paved over.

Years ago, Paul McCartney penned these lines: "There are places I remember... some are gone, but some remain." The Metolius River and its surrounding lands is one of those places that must always "remain."

  • Erik (unverified)

    Great message Ben! This really is a unique place of tremendous importance and it deserves special protection against resort development.

    Stay strong


  • Doug Hancock (unverified)

    Thanks for the post! It helps get the word out about the need to protect the Basin, stop DRs in an environmentally sensitive jewell, and preserve this area for future generations.

  • Nunzie Gould (unverified)

    The time is now to support SB 30 and protect the Metolius River basin for future generations!

  • Jägermeister (unverified)

    I agree completely. I used to spend my summers as a child at Camp Sherman, and if Californians want to experience the beauty of the Metolius River they should stay there.

  • Office of Senator Westlund (unverified)

    Update from Senator Westlund's Office:

    Tonight, the Senate Committee on Education and General Government Chaired by Senator Vicki Walker weakened the protection of SB 30 by adding amendments that essentially nullified the bill.

    Senator Westlund took a strong stand for preserving the Metolius by voting against the amendments... and, because the bill had been amended, by voting against the bill.

    "Colleagues, every day when we sit at our desks on the floor of the Oregon State Senate, there are on those desks, engraved in brass, the names of 22 Senators that came before us. ...

    Like us, they labored long (mostly thankless) hours in profiled anonymity to keep Oregon... Oregon. And passed landmark legislation: the Mt. Hood Wilderness Act, the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, the Bottle Bill, the Columbia River Gorge Act, and the Oregon Beach Bill. ...

    Those legislators made difficult, controversial decisions, that at the time, I'm sure were second-guessed and questioned. What's important is that no one questions those acts today. ...

    Destination Resorts are prohibited three miles from farmland. For God's sake... for our children's sake... shouldn't we prohibit destination resorts within three miles of one of the most pristine and ecologically significant rivers in America?"

  • (Show?)

    Wow. The furniture and cubicle walls in the Office of Senator Westlund speak... A miracle!

    Seriously, a comment from the "Office of Senator Westlund" is as dumb as when you hear a TV reporter say, "The White House said today..." Buildings and furniture don't speak. People do.

    Use your name, and preface your comment with something like, "Speaking on behalf of Senator Westlund..."

    It's OK to be an actual human.

  • (Show?)

    But if you only saw how meager our cubicle walls were you wouldn't jest (the bright orange carpet certainly would have interesting tales to tell of its 25 year home).

    Sorry Kari, I was more interested in posting an update than protocol and your point is well taken.

    It was a two hour hearing of supporters testifying for strong protections, then followed by a twenty minute recess, followed by the introduction of a new amendment, that had not been distributed in advance with the other eight for some reason. Ben voted no with the statement above.

    The Oregonian is saying it is a "watered down" SB 30:

    Just after 9 p.m., Sen. Vicki Walker, D-Eugene, chairwoman of the Education and General Government Committee, introduced an amendment that stripped language forbidding resorts in or immediately around the basin. She substituted a requirement that resorts not have a "significant adverse impact" on natural resources there.

    The new legislation gives the county, who sited the resorts in the first place, the ability to site even more beyond the first two. We're just not sure what SB 30 is all about anymore, but it's unrecognizable as the bill we believed in and have been working for.

    That concessions were necessary was confusing considering we had the votes on the floor to pass the original.

  • Fred Heutte (unverified)

    Thanks Sen. Westlund and Stacey. If there is one thing I wish those of us on the west side would start to recognize, it is the looming crisis of groundwater in Oregon ... on all sides of the state.

  • Gus Frederick (unverified)

    Having sat through the hearing on SB30 last night, I was amazed and impressed with several observable facts:

    The sheer volume of testimony IN FAVOR of SB30 in it's un-amended version, or with Sen. Westlund's own amendment, (allowing resorts UP TO the boundary as opposed to 3 miles from). At one point Sen. Ben held up a thick stack of submitted testimony in favor of SB30 that must have been 8 inches think, contrasted to the FIVE (5) individual letters in opposition.

    The main "Ponderosa" resort would include about twice as many homes as Black Butte Ranch, yet consume nearly the same amount of water as Redmond, (no doubt to supply the TWO proposed golf courses).

    One of Sen. Walker's amendments actually included something along the lines of "...allow up to but not exceeding two golf courses..."

    Buy a condo in the forest so you can play golf.

    Walker, (who admitted she had never visited the area before her committee field trip) at one point even waxed eloquently about how water can be recycled by using the resort's gray water for the golf courses. In a place were the geology resembles basalt swiss cheese.

    Bloody incredible.

    Gus Frederick Silverton, OR

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    This looks like more evidence both parties are still in the pockets of the developers who apparently see a new gold rush in Oregon, but this time they don't have to dig mines to get to it. Just scrape the surface of the land and cover it with developments and suck the water out of the basins to keep the golf courses green for the affluent few. Consider these words from Sir Walter Scott with an emphasis on "land:" Breathes there a man (or woman) with soul so dead who never to himself (or herself) has said, "This is my own, my native land"?

  • (Show?)

    As Senator Westlud sez, this is not just any old developers vs. huggers dust up.

    This particular area is right next to the headwaters of the Metolius, which just bubbles up out of the ground and is then fed by additional springs downstream.

    A lot of the folks that live in Camp Sherman, are sitting on 99 year renewable Forest Service leases, as the US Forest Service realized a century back that this was a uniquely beautiful and fragile asset for Oregonians.


    One of the main guys pushing this thing on the developer side is the Mayor of Madras at the "other end" of Jefferson County. The area around Madras, being given over to agriculture and having virtually no Ponderosa forest, might as well be in another country. In fact the area around Black Butte and Green Ridge, is some of the last open floor Ponderosa Old Growth in Central Oregon. If he and his buddies get their way, there's a very real chance that the headwaters of the Metolius will be permanently damaged.


    Maybe Senator Walker and her developer buddies ought to get going on a McDonald's at Crater Lake or a Starbucks on the Summit of Mt. Hood.


    Leave the Headwaters alone!!!

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)

    Often I see things that I consider the "tip of the iceburg". The Metolius destination resorts is one of those.

    In the 1970's Senate Bill 100 prohibited "sage brush" subdivisions from ruining Central and Eastern Oregon. Now, with a name change to "Destination Resort" - here we go again.

    In Crook County, in the 1970's we had four sage brush subdivisions: Juniper Acres, Ochoco Land and Livestock, Riverside Ranch, and Ochoco West. Collectively, they have about 2,000 lots - and represent about 25 square miles. To this day far less than half of those lots have any improvements. Juniper Acres and Riverside Ranch ended up zoned farm use, with limitations on growth.

    Now, we have four "for sure" new destination resorts coming into the County, and talk of at least two others. The four "resorts" collectively will have well over 2,000 lots and represent about 8 square miles.

    In the 1970's Crook County had a population of about 10,000. Today, we are around 25,000 people. Apparently our sage brush setting with the Cascade Mountains visible across the plains of Deschutes County is so scenic we get to have visitors amounting to 10% or more of our population on a regular basis.

    There is nothing wrong per se with a tourist economy. It brings low service level wages. It consumes water and resources the decrease our ability to grow crops and raise cattle - especially those water hungry golf courses - but apparently our urban visitors are okay with this. But there are other changes that happen. The permanent residents of these resorts get to vote. Sitting in their islands of wealth, do they care about our schools, parks, and essential County services? No. They have the mentality of visitors, with no local connection to the community. Islands of wealth tend to create ghetto's of poverty close by.

    These resorts will bring money into the County, but life isn't just about money. Some think these resorts are great, but I question that.

  • Garyk (unverified)

    Coincidentally, tonight is the League of Conservation Voters annual dinner at the Convention Center.

    I wonder if Senator Walker (Eugene) will be there? I hope so. I want to ask her face to face why she's so willing to compromise away the Metolius. Would she do that to the McKenzie River?

    Perhaps those gathering tonight will ask themselves why so much of the conservation community has sat on the sidelines in this battle? Leaving it largely to tiny organizations like Central Oregon Landwatch.

    There's too much at stake to lose this fight.

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