Copyright 2018. Deschutes River Film. All rights reserved.

Rivière des Chutes II

​A Five Million Year Journey to the Columbia River

In 1805 Lewis and Clark first set eyes on the River and marveled at the volume of water that joined the Columbia.  Captain Clark even named it after himself but that name never held.

Trappers and frontiersmen soon followed and 38 years later John Fremont and Kit Carson came down the Columbia.  In his maps, Fremont refers to the Deschutes as the Fall River but French trappers called it the Rivière des Chutes.  The river itself had not yet been explored so it’s name did not come from the many falls that we know today, Shearers, Steelhead, Dillon, Benham and Pringle Falls - it was named for Cellilo Falls a few miles downstream on the Columbia River and the center of NW trading for Native American tribes for at least 15,000 years.  The Falls now lie covered by the waters of the Dalles Dam, forever lost.

This film has been a decade in the making,  I started in ’06 but the recession hit in 
’08 and funding sources disappeared.  I would occasionally shoot the river and finally realized that if I was going to produce this story my way I’d have to do it on my own. By 2011, though funding sources returned, but by then I knew the River would become my full time focus and I would do it without funding just so I could say whatever I wanted and not have to answer to anyone else.

The first version of the film was simply called ‘Deschutes’, was a 9 minute look at the beauty of the river set to music.  I soon realized that there was more to the story and I began interviewing river characters - one man, Bob Main, made a statement that the river, in many parts, had not changed in the last 1000 years - many people took exception to what he said.  

Fish were dying near Lava Island and Mirror Pond was again filling with silt.  Wickiup and Crane Prairie Reservoirs filled in Winter and for 23 forgotten miles below the Wickiup, the Wild and Scenic river was suffering as flows were reduced to a mere 20 CFS from October till April. I say 23 forgotten miles because until the Fall River and the Little Deschutes join the main channel, the river is nearly empty and dry. The first version of Rivière des Chutes was born and premiered at BendFilm in 2014.

 Soon after that more fish died at Lava Island and a spotted frog was declared ’threatened’.  Winter snows were replaced with rain and climate change affected Central Oregon and the entire Northwest.  Sparks Lake was nearly dry in the Summer of ’15 and the output of Little Lava Lake, the headwaters of the Deschutes dropped considerably.  Wetlands nearly dried out during the Winter and it was a bleak picture of the river.

This past Winter El Nino arrived with better snowfall  but Wickiup and Crane Prairie reservoirs still failed reach capacity and today we’re talking honestly at the Basin Study Work Group table, flow and temperature studies are being done and irrigators are taking steps to use less water and there is hope for a  

Rivière des Chutes II will tell you the rest of the story.

​​photographed, written & edited by 

Richard Scott Nelson

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