Category : Oregon Spotted Frog
Frogs and flows were the topic of conversation on Tuesday night for a packed house at McMenamins. The Coalition for the Deschutes hosted a community education program presented by Jason Gritzner of the US Forest Service and Jennifer O’Reilly of the US Department of Fish and Wildlife Services.
Jason Gritzner presented flow and riparian studies from the Upper Deschutes River that span the past 60 years starting from the completion of Crane Prairie and Wickiup Reservoirs. Prior to the construction of Wickiup Dam, flows in the spring-fed Deschutes River varied little between seasons and years. Historically, flows in the summer averaged 730 cubic feet per second (cfs) and dropped to an average of 660 cfs in the winter. Today flows fluctuate dramatically between an average of 1800 cfs in the summer and a minimum of 20 cfs in the winter storage season. This new flow pattern creates significant challenges for a river that was not built for fluctuations, including significant erosion that has resulted in a widening of the channel by about 20% and a straightening of the channel. This winter, as a part of the Oregon Spotted Frog Settlement, irrigators have agreed to increase minimum winter flows to 100 cfs.
Jennifer O’Reilly informed last night’s seminar attendees about the lifecycle, breeding needs and habitat requirements of the Oregon spotted frog. The frog was listed as a Threatened Species in 2014 under the Endangered Species Act. Environmental groups have filed litigation to restore flows in the Upper Deschutes to protect frog habitat. The fluctuations in streamflow resulting from irrigation fulfillment in the summer and storage in the winter have created a difficult environment for the frogs to thrive.
To conclude the evening, Jason Gritzner highlighted the connection between the plight of the Oregon spotted frog and the overall health of the river. Because amphibians are considered an environmental indicator species, a distressed population confirms distress in the overall ecosystem in the Upper Deschutes.
Want to learn more? There are more community leaning opportunities to come! Click to see the list and RSVP links.
Do you want to play a more active role in local environmental issues this year? The best way you can help the river is to learn about the problem and support the organizations working to protect it. Here are several upcoming community learning opportunities to help you navigate the complex issues facing the Deschutes River and its tributaries.
Feb 1 | OSF and Related Initials: The Oregon Spotted Frog Legal and Policy Story
6:30 – 7:30 pm
OSF, NEPA, HCP, ITP…If you’re scratching your head about the nuts and bolts of the Oregon Spotted Frog lawsuit – what happened, where are we today, what’s next, and what do the initials and acronyms stand for – this is your opportunity get your questions answered. RSVP requested.
Feb 3 | Overview of the Deschutes River Basin: Science, Water Law, the Challenges and Potential Solutions
1:30 – 3:30 pm @ The Oregon Duck Store
Kyle Gorman of the Oregon Water Resources Department will give an overview of how water is managed in the Deschutes Basin and the geology in Central Oregon. He will also discuss how water is used in the region and the role water rights is playing in today’s water issues. Only 20 spots available. RSVP required. Please email email@example.com
Feb 6 | Farmers Conservation Alliance: Connecting the dots between irrigation modernization, our environment, and our community
6:30 – 7:30 pm
Farmers Conservation Alliance is a nonprofit organization working throughout the western US, including Central Oregon, to modernize irrigation for the benefit of agriculture, the environment and community. Learn about irrigation modernization and its role in restoring healthy flows to the Upper Deschutes River. RSVP requested.
Feb 17 | Environmental Issues on the Deschutes River
1:30 – 3:30 pm @ The Oregon Duck Store
Ryan Houston, the Executive Director of the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council will speak on topics including native fish, the Oregon spotted frog, riparian issues, the Endangered Species Act, the Habitat Conservation Plan and the human impacts on the river. Kate Fitzpatrick, Program Director for the Deschutes River Conservancy will speak about the Basin Study Work Group and the collaborative planning process to solve water supply issues in the Deschutes Basin moving into the future. Only 20 spots available. RSVP required. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Feb 23 | The Return of the River: Film and panel discussion
6:30 – 8:30 pm
This award-winning film tells the story of a remarkable campaign to set the Elwha River free. It is an unlikely success story for environmental and cultural restoration that offers hope and possibility for a more sustainable future. The film will be followed by a panel discussion about river restoration with the director/cinematographer and two research scientists who worked on the project. RSVP required.
March 3 | Irrigation in the High Desert: Perspectives on Water Use from North Unit Irrigation District and Central Oregon Irrigation District
1:30 – 3:30 pm
Mike Britton (North Unit Irrigation District), Craig Horrell (Central Oregon Irrigation District) and Patrick Griffiths (City of Bend) will discuss topics including farming, municipal needs, water challenges, opportunities, and solutions for irrigation districts and the river. Only 20 spots available. RSVP required. Please email email@example.com
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.
Perspective on U.S. District Court hearing on the Oregon spotted frog litigation from DRC Executive Director, Tod Heisler
As I scanned the overflowing courtroom for an empty seat at last Tuesday’s Oregon spotted frog hearing, I encountered Richard Macy, a North Unit Irrigation District board member and former member of my board.
Richard asked me, “Tod, are you sitting on the bride’s side or the groom’s side?” I laughed and said that I always have to sit in the middle. This is the nature of my work at the Deschutes River Conservancy. I walk down the center aisle, imploring people on both sides to work together.
At the Deschutes River Conservancy, our mission is simple and clear: to restore streamflow and improve water quality in the Deschutes Basin. But the manner in which we accomplish this mission is not so simple. We strive to forge a consensus among various and competing interests to advance the mission. We believe that solutions developed this way will be the most effective and longest lasting.
When I look at an underlying objective of the lawsuit filed by environmental groups to restore winter flows in the Upper Deschutes River, I agree with the objective. It is our mission. But what is clear to my organization is also clear to U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and others — solutions to complex water management problems need to be worked out collaboratively.
Judge Aiken made a wise decision last week. Rather than immediately cutting off water to hundreds of commercial farmers, she concluded that the collaborative processes underway in the Deschutes Basin need to be given time to resolve water management disputes in a manner that is not “all or nothing.” Judge Aiken was quick to point out that it takes a long time to build trusting relationshipsand that protecting these relationships is very important when solving emotional and potentially divisive problems.
I applaud this decision but acknowledge that we have a lot of heavy lifting in front of us. The Upper Deschutes River continues to degrade at a rapid rate.Basin stakeholders need to accelerate their collaborative work to set a rational course for restoring the Upper Deschutes River in a manner that supports the region’s farmers and growing cities.
The cooperation needed to make this work is not only between agricultural and environmental interests; it is between irrigation districts, too. This interdistrict cooperation will unlock the opportunities to make real progress in the river in a reasonable timeframe and cost.
Over the past 10 years, I have said that there is plenty of water to meet all the needs in our basin. We have an issue of distribution rather than true scarcity. But to tap this potential water supply, we need to develop a new mindset and culture of water conservation.
Water is precious. Let us treat it as such. We can improve century-old infrastructure and water management practices with great results for districts and rivers.
I hope that last Tuesday’s hearing serves as a wake-up call for us all. Let’s get serious about fixing the problems in the Upper Deschutes River and do it in a manner that respects the needs and interests of farmers and urban communities.
But let’s not dawdle, as the challenges are not getting any easier. The Upper Deschutes River needs all of our help. Let’s bring the river back to a place where it can function rather than unravel, where the various life forms that depend upon it can thrive rather than just survive.
Today, it is a spotted frog. Tomorrow, it could be a fish or salamander or sedge or snake. Let’s get it done together.
Groups seek settlement talks in Oregon spotted frog case, The Bulletin
No immediate change to Deschutes Water use, The Bulletin
Judge to consider Deschutes River injunction in spotted frog lawsuit, The Bulletin
Frog lawsuit could change Deschutes River flows, The Bulletin
What you need to know about the Deschutes, Deschutes River Conservancy
Letter: Central Oregon Irrigation District works to conserve, The Bulletin
Letter: It’s time to save the Upper Deschutes, The Bulletin
Editorial: All-or-nothing lawsuits not the answer for Deschutes, The Bulletin
A river used to run through it, The Source Weekly
Guest Commentary – Just Add Water, The Source Weekly
The Deschutes River needs our help.
The Deschutes River, though beautiful, has some very serious problems. In many years, flows in the Deschutes below the reservoir can drop by as much as 98% from summer to winter. When this happens, fish and wildlife habitat dries up.
What caused this problem?
In the winter, irrigation districts store water in Wickiup and Crane Prairie Reservoirs for the following irrigation season. Without the water stored in Wickiup, farmers in Madras and Culver would not be able to water their crops in the summer and would be unable to make a living. These farmers have lived with uncertain water supplies for decades and have already fine-tuned their watering practices to be very efficient.
How do we solve the problem?
We can solve the problem by finding a better way to manage our water. 100-year old leaking canals and outdated irrigation practices make it difficult to move and use water efficiently in some areas. Updating these systems and improving these practices will conserve enough water to meet everyone’s needs, including the river.
Our region is currently in the middle of a basin-wide process to study the problem and to develop solutions. This $1.5 million basin study will provide the information needed to create voluntary, community-based solutions that are effective and lasting.
I heard something about a lawsuit.
In 2014, the federal government listed the Oregon spotted frog as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.The frog joined steelhead and bull trout as a listed species in the upper Deschutes Basin. Since 2008, local irrigation districts have been working on a plan to minimize their impacts on these species.
Eight years into the planning process, two environmental groups wanted more immediate action. They sued the owners and operators of the reservoirs to change how the rise and fall of river levels were affecting the Oregon spotted frog.
On March 22, the parties to the lawsuit will appear in court to argue over a request to immediately change Deschutes River management. This immediate change would reduce water supplies for local farmers because updating leaky canals and improving irrigation practices will take time and money.
We face a dilemma – how to take the urgent measures needed to protect the threatened frog right away without devastating water supplies for farming families who must be engaged in the long-term solution. Ultimately, we need to restore a functioning Deschutes River in a manner that meets environmental AND agricultural needs. Community-based solutions provide the greatest opportunity to resolve that dilemma and restore the river.
We all know that rivers need water. Here, in the Deschutes Basin, we are fortunate to have an abundant supply of water from an extraordinary spring-fed river, but today the use of that water is a topic of intense discussion. The current use of Deschutes River water is based on a system set up over a century ago to provide water for agriculture. Public demands for water have expanded since then to include growing cities, recreation and ecological health. We must now find a way to sustain century-old irrigated agriculture while providing for important new economic uses of water as well.
Every winter, irrigation districts store water in Wickiup, Crane Prairie and Crescent Lake Reservoirs for irrigation during the following summer. This stored water augments natural summer flow in the Deschutes River primarily to support Jefferson County farmers, holders of junior water rights, every year. The stored water also provides important insurance for other local irrigators in years of drought. While this water allocation allowed for the successful establishment of agriculture during the 20th century, it did not fully account for the associated ecological impacts to the river.
In many years, the flows coming out of Wickiup Reservoir decrease by over 98% from summer to winter, from as much as 1,800 cubic feet per second (cfs) in the summer to as low as 20 cfs in the winter. You only need to take a walk along the Deschutes River upstream from Bend after mid-October to see first-hand the effects these reduced flows have on the river’s floodplains, stream banks, vegetation and fish habitat.
Assessments of public opinion in recent years indicate that maintaining a healthy river while meeting the water needs of farmers and cities is now a high priority for Central Oregonians. We need new creative water management strategies to meet this challenge.
In response, basin partners are looking into new ways to meet water needs for rivers, agriculture and communities over the next 50 years. While much progress has been made through aggressive conservation efforts by irrigation districts to restore flows in Whychus Creek, Tumalo Creek, Middle Deschutes, and the Lower Crooked Rivers, progress in the Upper Deschutes lags behind and will require a greater effort. To that effect, a $1.5 million Basin Study is underway to provide needed information on restoration options. The collaborative Basin Study Work Group involves all of the diverse, and sometimes conflicting, water interests in the Deschutes Basin voluntarily working toward a modern water management plan.
The Basin Study coincides with a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) started in 2008 by the irrigation districts and City of Prineville to address the impact of water management on fish and wildlife.
In 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Oregon spotted frog as a threatened species under the Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). A number of factors have contributed to the decline of the species throughout its range over the past 50 years. In the Upper Deschutes Basin, the altered flow regime has been identified as one of those contributing factors. This puts additional pressure on water users and resource planners to find alternatives to the current allocation of Deschutes River water.
Impatient with the timeline of the HCP process, two environmental groups recently filed 60-day notices of intent to sue the Bureau of Reclamation for violation of the ESA with respect to the Oregon spotted frog. In addition, one of the notices named the irrigation districts that manage the seasonal storage of water in the reservoirs. These potential lawsuits cite the need for immediate actions as well as longer-term solutions.
The pending litigation against the two member groups of the Basin Study Work Group places challenges on the collaborative process. Finding the most cost-effective short-term solutions to flow issues while evaluating longer-term, more expensive flow restoration solutions is the core mission of the Basin Study. Possible legal actions have the potential to constrain the open brainstorming that is central to developing creative and collaborative water management solutions.
Despite these challenges, we will continue to work together with our partners to stay the course with collaborative planning under the Basin Study. Ultimately, these efforts will show us the best way to restore a healthy river and meet the needs of the the fish, wildlife and communities that depend upon it.