I ranch near Union and irrigate from Grande Ronde tributaries — Catherine and Little creeks. I was not caught off guard by the introduction of the River Democracy Act because I, like all Oregonians, received an unprecedented invitation from Sen. Ron Wyden to highlight streams worthy of protection.
Some might think that Wyden’s ask was only for recreationists. However, for my ranching business, the watershed's ecological health is essential. Moreover, my hometown’s water quality, infrastructure and economy depend on what happens upstream, whether the waterway is on private or federal lands.
If we continue neglecting our floodplains' health, fires and flooding will further erode infrastructure and threaten our safety. Windblown trees and ice jams are already threatening Union due to channelization. Imagine what would happen if fire took over our forest lands with little vegetation to slow snowpack melting. With the fire-management tools offered in the act, we are less likely to see huge amounts of sediment choking creeks, flooding out private properties and silting in irrigation systems.
While some seem concerned that this legislation will negatively impact private property and water rights, this is an opportunity to build resilience downstream by restoring the waterways upstream — enhancing the value of private property and water rights.
Sen. Wyden invites us now to modify the River Democracy Act. Whether using livestock, forestry practices or enhancing recreation opportunities, the River Democracy Act gives us a voice and opportunities for regenerative management.
Cattlemen, don't be caught off guard. Be part of the solution.