Category : Deschutes River Conservancy News
For the past several dry to normal years, the Lava Island side channel has run completely dry, creating the urgent need for an annual fish salvage. This year however, despite water managers holding back flows as usual, the channel has not yet dried out.
Last winter’s amazing snowpack went a long way to replenishing a parched system in the Deschutes Basin. Snowpack acts as a reservoir, storing water until it melts off – and our porous volcanic geology acts like a giant sponge. This year, that sponge was wet. We saw this play out this year with the 2017 Fish Salvage in the Lava Island side channel upstream from Meadow Camp in the Upper Deschutes.
Every fall, flows in the Deschutes are held back in Wickiup Reservoir creating a dramatic reduction in flows, changing from a high of 2000 cubic feet per second to a low of 100 cubic feet per second. For the past several years, that decrease has been enough to cut off the Lava Island side channel, stranding thousands of fish and prompting local efforts to relocate fish to the mainstem of the Deschutes River.
“Moving the fish like this isn’t sustainable,” said Shon Rae, Assistant Manager of Central Oregon Irrigation District. “It’s a reactive response until we get more flow into the river.” Local irrigation districts have recently taken over the efforts to salvage fish populations stranded as a result of seasonal river management.
What does this mean for flows now? Just looking at the snowpack data from this year so far, you can see that precipitation is already five times above average creating a bounty of water in the system that is supplementing the low flows coming out of Wickiup Reservoir. For the moment, the river is getting a small reprieve.
Snowpack throughout the winter is hard to predict. Precipitation in the winter can start out strong, then several weeks of dry weather can turn that all on its head. Month to month, year to year snowpack is a constant variable. In a matter of weeks, snowpack can change shift from higher than average to below average. Balancing water management will help alleviate the effects of this unpredictability and also improve the stability of all water needs including the river. The way water is managed in Central Oregon is on the precipice of changing. Until then, we need to be prepared to rescue fish when needed.
The Deschutes River brings so much to our lives. It inspires our runs, walks and rides. Its powerful waters work hard to bring life to our region, but we can live in Bend for many years without knowing how the devastating fluctuations in flows are affecting our river.
For the past two years, the DRC has been engaged in the Upper Deschutes Basin Study designed to develop strategies to meet long-term water needs for our rivers, irrigators and cities.
Over the last two years, the study team has generated a large body of information on the tools available to do this. The Basin Study Work Group (BSWG), a diverse group of stakeholders, co-manages this study with the Bureau of Reclamation. This summer, the BSWG will develop water management scenarios that package tools to generate and move water around to meet needs. In the fall, the Bureau of Reclamation will run these scenarios through its water resources model to help us understand which scenario best meets needs, and the group will evaluate factors like cost and timeliness. The study will wrap up a year from now and will provide the foundation for a broadly-supported long-term plan that takes care of long-standing river issues and our communities.
The McKay Water Rights Switch will restore natural flow to the middle reach of McKay Creek by allowing landowners in this reach to trade their private McKay Creek water rights for Ochoco Irrigation District (OID) water rights, sourced from Prineville Reservoir. In exchange for more reliable OID water, McKay landowners will transfer all 11.2 cfs of certificated McKay Creek water rights instream. Restoring the natural hydrograph in this reach of McKay Creek will provide critical habitat for salmon and steelhead, support Crook County’s rural agricultural economy by providing more reliable agricultural water to irrigators, and help stabilize OID’s assessment base for future urbanization by adding patrons. The McKay Creek Water Rights Switch will also provide a great opportunity for the DRC to work with local partners (such as the Crooked River Watershed Council) to remove remaining fish passage barriers along the Creek and restore riparian habitat. The DRC is in the process of signing a MOU with OID and will begin local outreach efforts this summer.
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.
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.
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.
We are here because we love the Deschutes River. Our local rivers give life to an otherwise arid, high desert climate. No matter who we are, we are all connected to the river, and therefore, to each other.
By working together with farmers, fisherman and urban communities, we have done great things.
Central Oregon’s rivers have seen some hopeful successes in 2016. We’d like to thank our partners, supporters and funders who have helped:
- Restore water back to the Middle Deschutes. Through your support of our Leasing Program, 2135 acres and 10,180 acre-feet of water were protected instream from April through October, with protected peak flows of up to 31.15 cfs from mid-May to mid-September.
- Increase Minimum Winter Flows in the Upper Deschutes. The Oregon Spotted Frog Settlement Agreement has ensured a permanent increase in winter flows raising the minimum from 20 cfs to 100 cfs. This is a first step toward further flow restoration we hope to accomplish through continued partnership and collaboration within the basin.
- Improve Conditions for Salmon and Steelhead in Whychus Creek. Increased flows through piping and partner-led habitat restoration work have improved summer flows for Salmon and Steelhead in Whychus Creek.
We want to sincerely thank all of you who have supported the Deschutes River this year. We need the river—and now, the river needs us. We pledge to work together to care for the river today and for generations to come!
Join us in continuing to restore the Deschutes River and its tributaries in 2017. By working together, we really can do great things!
From the Desk of the Executive Director, Tod Heisler
As we enter uncertain times, it is important for us to work together as a community. To keep calling for the protection of our beautiful places. To keep educating our children about the value of nature.
In my family, we have all pledged to do everything we can to protect the beautiful world we live in.
In the Deschutes Basin, we have been working to set aside our differences and find solutions for water conservation where we can all win – fish, families and farmers.
Though we’ve been successfully working at this for twenty years, today we need your help more than ever.
Restoration of the Upper Deschutes is our greatest undertaking and affects our entire region. We can’t do this without community support.
We need you to pledge your support to restoring the Deschutes River. We need you to pledge to do everything you can to conserve water and educate others.
Please join us in being a river supporter. The only way we will see healthy flows in the Upper Deschutes is by pulling together.
Together we can do great things!