The Water Lantern Festival Disaster

A night of comfort, love, pollution and travesty.

As the sun begins to set, the event starts. Hundreds of Bend residents all gather for the same reason; their handcrafted lanterns are sent on a journey down the river. 

The Water Lantern Festival is not just a local celebration, but an event that is held across various cities nationwide. The festival has been held for more than six years nationwide, and has now set its sights on Bend. 

“It was a good display of Bend’s community,” said Emily Roberts, a local resident and attendee. Two local musicians, Kelsey Lassen and Fitzy Sounds, performed live music throughout the evening. The sponsors and vendors were also, for the most part, local companies. 

One of the great parts about this experience is that not everyone has the same mementos or symbols for their lanterns. 

“Perfect, adult night out,” said Kristen Burke. She and her husband attended the event for their anniversary and loved the romantic atmosphere of the lanterns on the water. Although some viewed it as a romantic getaway, it was also inclusive to those who were looking for a fun family night out.

“It was heartfelt and family oriented,” Diane Webster said, as her children were placing their lanterns in the river. 

Those lanterns were lit up using plastic candles. These same plastic candles were later found at the bottom of the Deschutes River. After paying $27 dollars (or $41 at the door), participants were promised the retrieval and cleanup of their lanterns. According to the Lantern Festival website, they stated that “our staff ensures that each and every lantern is gathered up following the event.” Following the event, however, a group by the name of ‘Loot The Deschutes’ found over 80 lanterns at the bottom of the river, with plenty more still to be retrieved.

This left countless Bend residents upset, with Mayor Melanie Kebler chiming in, calling the event “upsetting.” The only response the Water Lantern Festival has issued has been a dismissive, insincere apology in the comments of their Instagram page, stating, “we are working with local groups to help clean the river, and are grateful for their expertise and care for the river.” 

This message was repeated to many frustrated commenters. Despite the event organizers’ shallow promises, ‘Loot The Deschutes’ and many other community members have been working diligently to clean up and attempt to fix this disaster.