Archives : 2013 : September
We are used to some severe weather here in Central Oregon, but the two hail storms that came through in late August were truly exceptional. With hailstones of between ¼ – ½ inch in diameter and 2-3 inches deep in some areas, these storms ravaged crops in Madras and Culver.
Greg Williams has been a field representative for 16 years with Central Oregon Seeds. He reported 600-700 acres of damage to his carrot seed production with the first storm and 200-250 acres with the second storm. Williams is still assessing the total damage, but he estimates a yield loss of 25% to 75% on the areas hit by the storm — just a few weeks before harvest.
When confronted with a storm of this severity, crops become defoliated, stems can crack and seeds shatter from their pods. Flooding is also a huge problem.
This is a serious blow to the 2013 crops and potentially very serious to the 2014 plantings as well.
Rob Galyen, another longtime Madras farmer echoed this same story of devastation. “I’ve been farming in this area for 20 years and have never seen a storm of this magnitude,” said Galyen. With 50-70% crop damage on his farm, Galyen says he is going to have to wait and see what this means for him in the future.
Low river flows and associated high water temperatures often negatively affect fish populations. Biologists believe this to be the case in the Deschutes River downstream from Bend, where flows are dramatically altered during the irrigation season. Conversely, increased river flows, lower water temperatures and cold spring inputs often benefit native fish and lead to more abundant populations. With limited access to this reach of the Deschutes River, there has historically been little data to show how fish populations here respond to increased summer flows or to what extent fish congregate in cold water areas.
Recently, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, in partnership with the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, completed the first year of a study of fish populations and habitat use in the Deschutes River between North Canal Dam near the Riverhouse Hotel in Bend and Steelhead Falls located near Culver. The preliminary findings of this five-year study confirm that higher flows and areas of cooler water support higher numbers of redband and brown trout. It also suggested that fish are bigger at cold-water sites and that current flow management in the Deschutes River may benefit introduced brown trout at the expense of native redband populations.
Since 1999, the Deschutes River Conservancy has been working with water users to restore flows to this section of the Deschutes. Before restoration efforts began, flows in this part of the river would drop dramatically during the summer irrigation months to as low as 30 cubic feet per second (cfs). Today, thanks to the participation of local irrigation districts, up to 160 cfs of water is now protected instream during these hot summer months.
This study will allow conservation groups such as the Deschutes River Conservancy and the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council to have the scientific data needed to identify conservation and restoration priorities, develop and implement large scale restoration projects, and further improve conditions for fish and other wildlife.
This study was supported in part by the Central Oregon Irrigation District Mitigation and Enhancement Fund.
The Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) serves the public by practicing and promoting responsible water management. Jeremy Giffin (pictured above) is the OWRD’s Watermaster for Central Oregon and has spent the past 17 years working to ensure long-term sustainability of Oregon’s ecosystems, economy, and quality of life.
DRC: After a long, dry summer, what are water supplies looking like?
Jeremy: The Deschutes and Crooked River basin reservoirs are seasonally low ranging from 21%-67% of capacity. As a result of the very dry conditions through 2013 the natural flows are lower than average and many of the streams in Crook County have gone dry this year.
DRC: We know that flows in the upper section of the Deschutes River tend to be lower in the winter months while flows are being stored in Wickiup and Crane Prairie Reservoirs for summer irrigation. What do you anticipate river levels looking like after such a dry summer?
Jeremy: The flows in the upper Deschutes will start the storage season (typically set mid-October) slightly above the state required minimum of 20 cubic feet per second, as measured at the river gage immediately below Wickiup reservoir. If we have an above average winter with precipitation we could possibly re-assess the situation and increase flows later in the winter if conditions permit.
DRC: How does the OWRD decide the flow level in the Upper Deschutes below Wickiup Reservoir in the winter?
Jeremy: In Oregon, water rights are full filled based on seniority. We manage the flows to ensure that the senior water rights are satisfied first. If we have water in excess of the legal rights we will work with ODFW and other partners to provide flows for ecological needs which tend to be junior.
DRC: We just saw Colorado struggle with massive flooding. Could that kind of thing happen in the Deschutes basin?
Jeremy: Possibly in the Crooked River basin and even to a lesser extent in the drainages of Tumalo Creek, Whychus Creek, Little Deschutes River & Trout Creek. However the mainstems of rivers such as the Deschutes and Metolious are largely spring fed and not as susceptible to large scale flooding like we recently saw in Colorado.