Deschutes River Conservancy
This winter has been a refreshing change from the recent past. Central Oregon’s snowpack is 138% of average. Skiers are ecstatic and irrigators look forward to plentiful water supplies this summer as the snowpack melts and releases water into our rivers and reservoirs.
Historically, Central Oregon sees these large snow events from time to time. People have compared this past winter with that of 1993 or even 1996. What’s important to note is that these huge snow events do not happen regularly and we can’t plan on them.
When we get a significant snowpack, it’s a gift from nature. Much of that water makes its way down through highly permeable volcanic landscape and into the groundwater system. This groundwater then bubbles up as springs that recharge the Deschutes River, contributing 80% of its flow in the lower reaches of the Deschutes.
This special groundwater connection is one of the primary reasons why the Deschutes River is considered so unique.
Kate Fitzpatrick presented to students in a Desert Watershed Management class at OSU Cascades today. Drawing on the successful partnerships and restoration successes in Whychus Creek, the group discussed how to innovate on these tools and partnerships to solve broader river restoration and water management issues. “It’s exciting to see the next generation of natural resource managers so engaged,” Kate exclaimed after finishing the guest lecture.
Crooked River Stream Temperature Modeling
As part of the Deschutes Basin Study, Portland State University has developed a temperature model that assesses the relationship between reservoir levels, streamflow and stream temperature in the lower Crooked River. PSU walked through the baseline model with about thirty basin stakeholders in Prineville February 7th. The group agreed upon 3 different management scenarios to run through the model. The results will give basin stakeholders and water managers new information to help understand the temperature impacts of different scenarios for releasing additional water for fish and wildlife out of Prineville Reservoir.
Crooked River Dry-Year Planning Meeting
The Bureau of Reclamation, as part of the Crooked River Collaborative Water Security and Jobs Act of 2014, is tasked with developing a voluntary dry year management plan for the lower Crooked River. They held an initial meeting with interested stakeholders in Prineville today where they described reservoir operations, described the process for developing the dry year plan and invited written suggestions for voluntary actions that could be implemented to best benefit the Crooked River and its uses during a dry year when current Prineville Reservoir allocations cannot be met. Suggestions and comments are due to the Bend Field Office or Carolyn Chad at firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday, March 17, 2017. Reclamation will keep us posted on subsequent meetings to further discuss these concepts.
Last night, the Coalition for the Deschutes and the Farmer’s Conservation Alliance (FCA) presented to an audience of about 50 people at the downtown branch of the Deschutes Public Library. FCA helped community members understand how modernizing irrigation practices in Central Oregon benefits farmers and local rivers, which ultimately benefits our community. FCA has considerable experience installing fish screens and modernizing irrigation districts in the Hood River area. They are enthusiastic about opportunities to partner with the Deschutes River Conservancy, Coalition for the Deschutes, local irrigation districts and other regional partners to help restore streamflow to the Deschutes River. This program was part of an ongoing series hosted by the Coalition for the Deschutes to raise awareness of the issues facing the Deschutes River. Learn more about these challenges and the collaborative solutions now being developed through the Basin Study Work Group.
Learn how one Culver-area ranch has reduced their water need
Ranch Facts at At a Glance
- 1989 to present
- 620 irrigated acres
- Hybrid carrot seed, Kentucky bluegrass seed, peppermint oil, wheat, alfalfa and grass hay
- 2 family operators, 2-3 full-time employees + seasonal labor
The Richard Family Story
Marty and Nancy Richards purchased 350 acres near Madras and began farming full time in 1989. Prior to that, they had lived and worked near Portland and grew hay and raised cattle in their spare time on a small 20 acre farm.
When they moved to Madras their three children (Gary, Katie and Kevin, ages 11, 9 and 6 at the time) contributed to the farm: picking rocks, changing irrigation and eventually operating equipment and taking on more responsibility. The three kids became active participants in 4-H and FFA, and Marty and Nancy became active volunteers, resulting in the family being awarded the Oregon State Fair Farm Family of the Year in 1994.
Currently, the Richards family grows hybrid carrot seed, Kentucky bluegrass seed, peppermint oil, wheat and hay on 620 irrigated acres. Their interest in sustainable practices has led them to implement technology such as drip irrigation, Scientific Irrigation Scheduling (SIS) and wireless irrigation monitoring to improve water use efficiency. Installing GPS systems on tractors has improved production efficiency and reduced fuel consumption. They also use no-till and minimum tillage practices in their crop rotation as frequently as possible and they’ve begun incorporating cover crops to improve soil health and reduce fertilizer and chemical use.
The family’s farming roots still run deep. Eldest son Gary moved with his wife and three girls to a home on the family farm so his children can experience farm life. Kevin, along with his wife and two sons, has purchased the property next door and moved back to Madras to farm full-time. Daughter Katie and her husband Brent live just over the mountain in Hillsboro, where she works for Intel.
(provided by the Richards Family)
Kevin Richards was recently honored with an Oregon Farm Bureau Top Hand Award during the 84th Oregon Farm Bureau Annual Meeting in Salem for his leadership on many critical ag issues at the county level and for his work to connect local students with agriculture.
Ranch Improvements and Benefits
The Richards family began making improvements on Fox Hollow Ranch in 1989, when they purchased the property, and continue today. These investments include: piping, ponds, improvements to soil, pumps, irrigation, and the modernization of equipment and practices.
These changes and investments have produced returns by reducing fertilizer, fuel and pesticide needs, while improving efficiencies and productivity. The sustainable practices utilized by Fox Hollow Ranch produce savings in water, energy, labor, and other inputs.
Annual water use per acre under current practices: 2 acre feet per acre
Contact Gen Hubert at the Deschutes River Conservancy for great ideas on how to use less water in your growing season.
Frogs and flows were the topic of conversation on Tuesday night for a packed house at McMenamins. The Coalition for the Deschutes hosted a community education program presented by Jason Gritzner of the US Forest Service and Jennifer O’Reilly of the US Department of Fish and Wildlife Services.
Jason Gritzner presented flow and riparian studies from the Upper Deschutes River that span the past 60 years starting from the completion of Crane Prairie and Wickiup Reservoirs. Prior to the construction of Wickiup Dam, flows in the spring-fed Deschutes River varied little between seasons and years. Historically, flows in the summer averaged 730 cubic feet per second (cfs) and dropped to an average of 660 cfs in the winter. Today flows fluctuate dramatically between an average of 1800 cfs in the summer and a minimum of 20 cfs in the winter storage season. This new flow pattern creates significant challenges for a river that was not built for fluctuations, including significant erosion that has resulted in a widening of the channel by about 20% and a straightening of the channel. This winter, as a part of the Oregon Spotted Frog Settlement, irrigators have agreed to increase minimum winter flows to 100 cfs.
Jennifer O’Reilly informed last night’s seminar attendees about the lifecycle, breeding needs and habitat requirements of the Oregon spotted frog. The frog was listed as a Threatened Species in 2014 under the Endangered Species Act. Environmental groups have filed litigation to restore flows in the Upper Deschutes to protect frog habitat. The fluctuations in streamflow resulting from irrigation fulfillment in the summer and storage in the winter have created a difficult environment for the frogs to thrive.
To conclude the evening, Jason Gritzner highlighted the connection between the plight of the Oregon spotted frog and the overall health of the river. Because amphibians are considered an environmental indicator species, a distressed population confirms distress in the overall ecosystem in the Upper Deschutes.
Want to learn more? There are more community leaning opportunities to come! Click to see the list and RSVP links.
This week, the Deschutes River Conservancy helped welcome the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB) to the Deschutes Basin and attended OWEB’s quarterly board meeting in Madras. The Deschutes Partnership and partner organizations (DRC, the Deschutes Land Trust, Upper Deschutes watershed Council and the Crooked River Watershed Council) reported to OWEB board members on its experience with OWEB’s Focused Investment Partnership (FIP) program. OWEB awarded the Deschutes Partnership $4M through the FIP program over the 2015-2017 biennium to help restore the physical and biological conditions necessary for successful anadromous fish reintroduction in the Deschutes Basin. DRC used funding from this grant to support its work on Whychus Creek with Three Sisters Irrigation District and to increase streamflow on McKay Creek, a tributary to the Crooked River. DRC is grateful to OWEB for its support of our work over the years. OWEB’s significant investment in the Deschutes Partnership has helped to leverage resources and increase the pace and scale of restoration in the Deschtues Basin.
Do you want to play a more active role in local environmental issues this year? The best way you can help the river is to learn about the problem and support the organizations working to protect it. Here are several upcoming community learning opportunities to help you navigate the complex issues facing the Deschutes River and its tributaries.
Feb 1 | OSF and Related Initials: The Oregon Spotted Frog Legal and Policy Story
6:30 – 7:30 pm
OSF, NEPA, HCP, ITP…If you’re scratching your head about the nuts and bolts of the Oregon Spotted Frog lawsuit – what happened, where are we today, what’s next, and what do the initials and acronyms stand for – this is your opportunity get your questions answered. RSVP requested.
Feb 3 | Overview of the Deschutes River Basin: Science, Water Law, the Challenges and Potential Solutions
1:30 – 3:30 pm @ The Oregon Duck Store
Kyle Gorman of the Oregon Water Resources Department will give an overview of how water is managed in the Deschutes Basin and the geology in Central Oregon. He will also discuss how water is used in the region and the role water rights is playing in today’s water issues. Only 20 spots available. RSVP required. Please email email@example.com
Feb 6 | Farmers Conservation Alliance: Connecting the dots between irrigation modernization, our environment, and our community
6:30 – 7:30 pm
Farmers Conservation Alliance is a nonprofit organization working throughout the western US, including Central Oregon, to modernize irrigation for the benefit of agriculture, the environment and community. Learn about irrigation modernization and its role in restoring healthy flows to the Upper Deschutes River. RSVP requested.
Feb 17 | Environmental Issues on the Deschutes River
1:30 – 3:30 pm @ The Oregon Duck Store
Ryan Houston, the Executive Director of the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council will speak on topics including native fish, the Oregon spotted frog, riparian issues, the Endangered Species Act, the Habitat Conservation Plan and the human impacts on the river. Kate Fitzpatrick, Program Director for the Deschutes River Conservancy will speak about the Basin Study Work Group and the collaborative planning process to solve water supply issues in the Deschutes Basin moving into the future. Only 20 spots available. RSVP required. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Feb 23 | The Return of the River: Film and panel discussion
6:30 – 8:30 pm
This award-winning film tells the story of a remarkable campaign to set the Elwha River free. It is an unlikely success story for environmental and cultural restoration that offers hope and possibility for a more sustainable future. The film will be followed by a panel discussion about river restoration with the director/cinematographer and two research scientists who worked on the project. RSVP required.
March 3 | Irrigation in the High Desert: Perspectives on Water Use from North Unit Irrigation District and Central Oregon Irrigation District
1:30 – 3:30 pm
Mike Britton (North Unit Irrigation District), Craig Horrell (Central Oregon Irrigation District) and Patrick Griffiths (City of Bend) will discuss topics including farming, municipal needs, water challenges, opportunities, and solutions for irrigation districts and the river. Only 20 spots available. RSVP required. Please email email@example.com
This week we are celebrating our longstanding partnership with Marc Thalacker and his 20th anniversary as Manager of the Three Sisters Irrigation District. Marc’s vision, will and determination were instrumental in the achievement of historic change for Whychus Creek and the district. In 1999, when Mid-Columbia Steelhead became ESA listed species, Marc assessed the threat and embraced an aggressive plan to restore Whychus Creek and protect his district. Marc worked closely with his board, patrons and stakeholders to pipe the district’s canal conserving and restoring 14.32 cfs (soon 1.16 more) to Whychus Creek while providing pressurized water to his patrons. The DRC has invested more than $10 million in the district’s canal piping over the past 6 years and the district will be fully piped by next year. As a result, Whychus Creek is one of the few places in Oregon where the state’s minimum streamflows have been achieved. Thank you Marc for our great partnership and wonderful success story.
Upper Deschutes River
The Basin Study Work Group is a basin wide collaborative working to restore flows in critical reaches such as the Upper Deschutes for the past 2 years. This year, the group is identifying the specifics of new water management solutions for the Upper Deschutes Basin. These include water conservation, water marketing, new storage options, and new ways to re-balance water between rivers, farms and cities. Bureau of Reclamation will model these solutions to help us understand how well they meet instream and out of stream needs under different climate change scenarios. This work will be complete spring of 2018. We are looking forward to then making large scale agreements that will guide the sustainable management and use of water moving into the future.
We are moving forward in our partnership with Ochoco Irrigation District to develop the McKay Creek Water Rights Switch. This project would restore natural flow to McKay Creek in exchange for providing landowners irrigation water rights from Ochoco Irrigation District. Increased flows will improve habitat and water quality for summer steelhead and redband trout, and will increase fish access to 37 miles of stream in McKay Creek.
Phase Eight of the Three Sisters Irrigation District Main Canal begins this winter. This phase will pipe another 4,400 feet and protect an additional 1 cfs instream. With the completion of Phase Eight, the project will include 8.27 miles of piped canal yielding 14.32 cubic feet per second (cfs) of conserved water–all of which is protected instream. This increase in streamflows will help meet minimum streamflow targets from April through October to improve conditions for reintroduced steelhead, Chinook salmon, and native redband trout from the diversion to the mouth of Whychus Creek.