Category : Native Fish Reintroduction
Beginning this winter, the Deschutes River will flow at a minimum of 100 cubic feet per second (cfs) from September 16th to March 30th. The river community is celebrating the addition of this water to critically low winter flows that have dropped to as low as 20 cfs in past years.
“It’s unfortunate that these results were achieved through litigation,” said DRC Executive Director, Tod Heisler. “While this is a step in the right direction, it doesn’t solve the long-term flow issues that face the Deschutes River. We see this 100 cfs as a foundation for further flow restoration and we sincerely hope that additional flows can be restored through continued partnership and collaboration within the basin.”
This initial flow increase is the result of a recent settlement agreement in the Oregon spotted frog litigation involving WaterWatch, Center for Biological Diversity, Bureau of Reclamation and five local irrigation districts – Arnold, Central Oregon, Lone Pine, North Unit and Tumalo.
Irrigators have also agreed to leave 600 cfs instream in the Upper Deschutes River for the first half of April to support Oregon spotted frog breeding and habitat. Additionally, Crescent Creek will now flow at a minimum of 30 cfs and levels in Crane Prairie Reservoir will remain more stable to benefit existing frog populations living along the reservoir’s edge.
The settlement agreement will be in place through July 2017. After that time, additional agreements between the irrigation districts and the federal agencies are expected to continue to increase minimum winter flows in the future. The goal of the Deschutes River Conservancy is to protect a minimum of 300 cfs of winter flows in the Upper Deschutes, or ultimately enough water to restore a functioning upper Deschutes River.
A large scale basin study scheduled to conclude in 2018 will provide key information needed to create long-term cooperative solutions that will both restore the Deschutes and benefit water users for the future. Because climate change is increasingly impacting the timing and supply of water, we need to place great importance and care on how we manage and use water in Central Oregon.
The DRC believes there is enough water for all if we continue to manage this precious resource with forward thinking solutions.
Central Oregon Irrigation District (COID) is in the process of piping almost one mile of their I-Lateral canal, located near the Alfalfa Store & Feed. The conserved water from this project will be transferred to farms in North Unit Irrigation District (NUID). NUID will, in turn, transfer 5 cfs instream to the Crooked River to restore critical steelhead habitat. This project upgrades COID’s canal system while reducing NUID’s reliance on Crooked River water. A win across the board for the irrigation districts and fish!
This month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that the designation of steelhead trout released above Round Butte Dam on the Deschutes River will be changed from endangered to experimental under the Endangered Species Act. The designation as experimental will occur for 12 years and when the experimental period ends in 2025, protective regulations that apply to the larger Middle Columbia steelhead population will also extend to this population.
The change in designation will allow irrigation districts and water users in Central Oregon more flexibility to develop a cooperative conservation plan.
“People who want to do good things for fish species will now be able to do so without going through the complexities of the Endangered Species Act consultation process,” said Amy Stuart of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “It will support steelhead reintroduction in the Deschutes Basin by giving an incentive to water users to establish a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) and implement habitat improvement projects for the HCP in a faster, simpler way.”
This new federal designation is encouraging news for our work at the Deschutes River Conservancy because it will allow water users and partners dedicated to reintroduction efforts to more easily work together for the mutual benefit of fish, farmers and cities.