Category : Deschutes River Conservancy News
We can look forward to a higher flowing, healthier Whychus Creek this summer as a result of the latest in a series of restoration projects that have revived this Sisters creek.
Once a dry creek bed in the summer months, Whychus Creek now flows year round and fish populations are starting to rebound. In addition to an increase in streamflow, Whychus has been a gem of collaborative conservation efforts over the years with large-scale riparian rehabilitation, removal of fish passage barriers and replanting of native plant life.
In this spirit, the Deschutes River Conservancy, the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council and the U.S. Forest Service are working together with long time Sisters landowners at the Pine Meadow Ranch. The project will replace their concrete dam with a more efficient and fish-friendly pump. Eliminating the water lost through the unlined ditch that previously conveyed water to the ranch will result in the permanent protection of one cubic foot per second (over 646,000 gallons of water per day) of senior water rights in Whychus Creek. When the project is complete this fall, salmon and steelhead will have access to thirteen miles of previously inaccessible habitat as well as a restored reach just below the existing dam site.
These pioneer water rights are some of the oldest in the Deschutes Basin, dating back to 1880. In addition to the benefits for flows and fish in the Creek, this project will strengthen the 135-year long tradition of farming at the Pine Meadow Ranch by enabling the ranch to continue irrigating in a more efficient manner.
Talk a little bit about your farming operation. I am a third generation Madras area farmer who has taken over the family farm and has expanded the acreage as opportunity has allowed.
We grow carrot seed, garlic seed, grass seed, alfalfa hay, grain hay and both spring and fall wheat, all of which is irrigated.
Why is the Deschutes River important to you? Why do you care? I grew up on this river. We farm quite a bit of ground that borders the Deschutes canyon. I have a shop full of fishing rods, so the river is important on several levels. I need the water for irrigation, and I love the recreation and wildlife it supports. It is also our legacy to make it better than how we found it. Most of us did not cause the problem, but we can improve it, and help mitigate our influence. Once again, take a look at your life, if there was no river would you be here? I know I probably wouldn’t, and honestly most others wouldn’t either. I believe the river is the lifeblood of Central Oregon–that is how important it is.
Why are you a part of the Deschutes Water Planning Initiative process to restore flows in the Upper Deschutes? Without irrigation we could not survive here, it is our livelihood, and in being so, makes any decisions on the Deschutes very important to our operation. I think it is great that we have such a broad base of stakeholders in this process and I guess I am trying to make sure agriculture is represented. I sit on the board of directors for North Unit Irrigation District, as well as being in commercial agriculture so it is a natural fit.
You don’t have to be involved in the flow restoration process, why do you choose to? WHY be involved? I say why not? The Deschutes River is a precious resource for all of us and it is going to take all of us to preserve it. The river influences so many lives in Central Oregon that most people don’t even realize the extent of its grasp on day to day life. Tourism, agriculture, lifestyle, land values, employment, and general commerce to name a few. The Deschutes River and its tributaries are why we are all here in one way or another. There is a deep affection for the river and people have very strong opinions about how it should be managed. So you have two people adamantly voicing their opinion about the river, both just as passionate, but from different ends of the spectrum. Who has the right? Both do. Who is right? Both can be, but there are laws governing the water and where or what can be done with it. This is where the opportunity lies, in educating and participating, to get everybody to come to a broader understanding of the problems and opportunities involved in this process.
How long have you been farming? I personally have been farming on my own for17 years, but grew up helping out where ever I could. Whether I wanted to or not. About half the acres we have now were from when my grandfather started in 1947.
What do you do to use water as efficiently as possible? Most of our ground is irrigated with sprinklers–predominately wheel lines–and the little bit of flood irrigation we have runs into pump back collection ponds which allows us to reuse the run off. We have also invested in a couple of drip irrigation systems which allow us to target root zones more efficiently in our carrot production. As funding and time allows, the systems are being upgraded for efficiency as well. The biggest things are the sprinkler systems and our ponds which allow us to maximize our efficiency. Water is life around here.
In your view, what is the best possible outcome of [the flow restoration process] for the Deschutes Basin? I would like us, the stakeholders, to be more involved in the management of the river. I think there is plenty of water most years, but it is a change in how we manage it that is needed. Cooperation and creative use of the storage and natural flow could make a huge difference in what the river could be. They need to let us be creative and work together by moving water around and best utilizing it when and where it is needed most.
What value do you see in this process? Cooperation and understanding are two of the biggest things that can be accomplished in this process. Everybody needs to understand how the system works and why it is managed the way it is. Once you have that, then a discussion can be had with an understanding of why we have to do some things and can’t do others. The system has certain designs in it that are purpose built and can’t be discounted, but they can be modified or even changed with the right plan. It is getting everyone’s ideas out there and finding ways to improve what we are doing. The potential is there.
In the past year, DRC and our partners have improved fish habitat in the Crooked River by ensuring streamflows up to six times greater than they had been in the past. We expect to improve those streamflows even more in the near future.
In Sisters, spawning grounds in Whychus Creek are primed for reintroduced steelhead spawning, thanks to new standard flows which now meet the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s recommendation for a thriving fishery and ecosystem.
Steelhead have access to two more miles of increased flows in Whychus Creek thanks to a collaborative project with theUpper Deschutes Watershed Counciland other partners.Watch the time lapse video of the dam removal.
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.
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.
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.
The Deschutes River Conservancy wishes longtime staff member, Scott McCaulou, the best of luck in his new position as the Program Director of the Columbia Basin Water Transactions Program at the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation in Portland.
Over the past fourteen years at the DRC, Scott presided over a period of tremendous growth and oversaw streamflow restoration projects that resulted in more than 200 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water being restored to Central Oregon’s rivers and streams.
“A large part of the DRC’s success over the past decade can be attributed to Scott’s steady hand and mastery of project design and implementation,” said DRC Executive Director, Tod Heisler. “We will miss him greatly at the DRC, but his new position will allow him to take the expertise he has gathered so far to support organizations engaged in restoring streamflow throughout the greater Columbia Basin.
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Bonneville Power Administration, and the Walton Family Foundation brought together 90 river restoration practitioners together in Bend this past week. They toured the Deschutes and Klamath Basins, comparing and contrasting approaches to streamflow restoration across states and geographies. Through these tours, the Deschutes River Conservancy modeled successful collaborative partnerships on behalf of all of our partners.