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As part of a five year, self funded, solo project, Bend Oregon photographer and film maker Richard Scott Nelson presents the story of the Deschutes River, encompassing the history, science and challenges of a river born 5 million years ago when the volcanic peaks of the Cascade Mountains were born and the spring-fed Deschutes River began it's journey North to the Columbia River.
Known to early French trappers in the 1800's as the Rivière des Chutes, by the turn of the century it was know simply as the Deschutes River.
The Deschutes is the most constant flowing river in the United States and the focus of the story, as told by noted experts, is how the snowmelt from the volcanoes of the High Cascades feeds the vast underground storage system that releases cold, clear water day after day into a spring-fed river system that eventually flows North to the Columbia River.
Thought to be named for the many falls that occur in Central Oregon - Benham Falls, Dillon Falls, Shearer Falls, Steelhead Falls - the river is actually named for Celilo Falls on the Columbia River, not far downstream from where the Deschutes joins the Columbia. These ancient falls, the historic gathering spot for Native American tribes, were covered with the construction of the Dalles Dam in 1957.
The film, Rivière des Chutes premiered in the 2014 BendFilm Festival and in 2016 a new version, Rivière des Chutes II was released which includes 13 minutes of new footage that specifically looks at the river immediately below Wickiup Dam and reservoir and offers detailed interviews with scientists, biologists and hydrologists about the state of the river today.
This wild and scenic river is in trouble - original river flows varied between 800 and 1000 cfs but today the irrigation rights have radically altered the flows from 20 cfs in Winter while the reservoir fills, to 2000 cfs in Summer to meet downstream irrigation demands. The once abundant fishery in the Wild and Scenic upper river is now devastated by the complex changes to the hydrology.
Conservationists, fishermen and irrigators are still searching for answers as the Deschutes Basin Study Work Group attempts to find a compromise solution to the problems facing the river.