Archives : 2013 : October

Working toward a healthier Deschutes River

October 15th, 2013

Low flows in the Upper Deschutes River

Two weeks ago a large quantity of trout and other fish species became stranded and died in a side channel of the Deschutes River, near Meadow Camp and Lava Island, southwest of Bend, Oregon. The staff at the DRC is deeply saddened by the death of these fish on the Upper Deschutes River. This tragedy highlights the complexity of the flow issues that have been affecting the Deschutes River for decades.

Dead fish in a channel of the Deschutes River

Unfortunately, this year we are experiencing the unintended consequences of water management policies and practices that have been in place for many years. In a dry year like this year, the reservoirs, Wickiup, Crane Prairie and Crescent, were drawn down very low and water managers are obligated to refill them to serve existing water rights for irrigation season next year. These low streamflows led to this side channel drying up, stranding hundreds of trout and other aquatic species, many of which perished.

The DRC launched the Deschutes Water Planning Initiative in 2012 to tackle this complex water management issue. It is a collaborative stakeholder process with the goal of restoring streamflows in the Upper Deschutes River while simultaneously meeting the water needs of irrigators and municipalities. The DRC’s streamflow goal is to restore 300 cubic feet per second to the Upper Deschutes River, meeting the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s instream water right and flow target for a healthy, thriving fishery and ecosystem.

Lasting solutions will not occur unless all basin stakeholders, including all water right holders, are invested in a collaborative process to develop an integrated water management plan. The DRC and partners hope that this plan will provide the basis for water management agreements to consistently restore streamflows in the Upper Deschutes River while meeting agricultural and municipal needs. As the next critical step in this process, the DRC, the Deschutes Water Alliance and other instream interests have formed a Basin Study Work Group to obtain a Bureau of Reclamation Basin Study. This study will provide the modeling and empirical data needed to move forward with streamflow restoration in the Upper Deschutes River.

You can help this process by becoming more aware of how our river is managed and the efforts currently underway to restore streamflows in the entire river system. At one time, the Upper Deschutes had a stable flow regime that supported a blue ribbon trout fishery. As we make progress devising solutions to meet the needs of the fish, farmers, cities and the Tribes, hopefully, these types of tragedies will be a thing of the past. For more information about the DRC: www.deschutesriver.org.

Flash flood in Whychus Creek shows stream’s natural variability

October 7th, 2013

Originating at the base of Bend Glacier on Broken Top in the Cascade Mountains, Whychus Creek tumbles down through the City of Sisters before flowing into the Deschutes River. As a snowfed, undammed stream, Whychus Creek is subject to large fluctuations in streamflow depending on precipitation and snowmelt.

Two weeks ago, we witnessed just how variable this system can be with a ten year water event resulting from the weekend’s heavy rainfall. Sunday night, water levels in Whychus Creek surged from a seasonal average of around 100 cubic feet per second (cfs) to well over 1000 cfs  in a thirty minute time period. That’s a 1000% increase in streamflow!

“This is an extreme event in Whychus Creek, but not unheard of considering the variable nature of the creek,” said Zachary Tillman, program manager at the Deschutes River Conservancy. “You wouldn’t see this kind of event in the Deschutes River, for example, where dramatic fluctuations in flow are reduced by the porous nature of the geology of the drainage area.

Since the flash flood happened at night, there are no photos. This graph gives a good idea of the quick rise in streamflow that occurred.

Since the flash flood happened at night, there are no photos. This graph gives a good idea of the quick rise in streamflow that occurred.