Most of the water in the Deschutes River and the Little Deschutes River comes from snowmelt or filters through the volcanic aquifer before entering the river. The water entering these rivers stays relatively clean and pollutant free as it flows through their upper reaches. While increasing urbanization may affect water quality, most existing problems come from altered stream flow.
Reservoir operations and irrigation diversions alter flows in the Deschutes River and the Little Deschutes River, reducing their ability to support recreation, fish, and wildlife. Upstream reservoirs store and release water for irrigation but cause seasonal flow changes that increase erosion and inhibit plant life along the banks of the upper Deschutes River. Downstream irrigation diversions reduce flow in the Deschutes River between Bend and Lake Billy Chinook during the summer. The low flows cause elevated water temperatures in the summer and degrade water quality for fish and other aquatic life. This reduces the potential for recreational opportunities in the river and diminishes the river’s beauty.
A number of organizations are working to improve conditions for recreation, fish, and wildlife in the Little Deschutes River and the Deschutes River. The Stewardship Organizations section, under the Resource tab, lists contact information for these organizations.