Category : Programs

Irrigation districts share water for mutual gain

February 27th, 2013

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!

The I-Lateral was one of the leakiest canals in Central Oregon Irrigation District.

The I-Lateral was one of the leakiest canals in Central Oregon Irrigation District.

Annual meetings give water transaction organizations a chance to gather and learn

October 12th, 2012

Three of our Deschutes River Conservancy staff members recently returned from the 2012 Fall QLE meeting in Washington. Qualified Local Entities, or QLEs are organizations under the Columbia Basin Water Transaction Program with missions to restore stream flows to the tributaries of the Columbia River. Managed by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and funded by the Bonneville Power Administration, the eleven QLEs throughout Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana meet annually in a different watershed to learn from each other.

“The QLE meetings a great resource for our staff to interact with other organizations doing similar work around the Columbia Basin,” said Scott McCaulou, DRC Program Director. “It’s a time to learn from our peers, to examine conservation projects happening throughout the Northwest and bring those good ideas back to the Deschutes.”

This year’s meeting was centered around water conservation projects being managed by the Washington Water Trust and the Trout Unlimited Washington Water Project. QLE attendees were able to tour the project sites and ask detailed questions about the planning and implementation processes.



The Deschutes River Conservancy awarded $50,000 grant from the Bureau of Reclamation

October 2nd, 2012

Funds Will Be Used To Develop a Long-Term Collaborative Plan to Improve Water Management in the Upper Deschutes Basin

Recently, the Bureau of Reclamation announced the recipients of its WaterSMART Cooperative Watershed Management Program. Through this program, the Deschutes River Conservancy will receive $50,000 to develop a comprehensive water management strategy, in partnership with the Deschutes Water Alliance, to improve instream flows, provide more reliable water supplies to farmers, and to help meet future municipal water demands.

“This is a great opportunity for basin water stakeholders to step back from their day-to-day activities and to consider how water can be managed even better than it is today for the mutual benefit of agriculture, municipalities and the environment,” said Tod Heisler, the Deschutes River Conservancy’s Executive Director. “We are enthusiastic about this planning initiative and the potential improvements it will likely identify.”

WaterSMART is a program of the U.S. Department of the Interior that focuses on improving water conservation and sustainability and helping water resource managers make sound decisions about water use. To this end, the Deschutes Water Planning Initiative (DWPI), spearheaded by the Deschutes River Conservancy, seeks to balance competing needs for water through a collaborative planning effort.

“With this funding, the local community becomes a partner with Reclamation and together we work toward conserving valuable water”, said Scott Boelman, the Bureau of Reclamation’s Bend Field Officer Manager. “When Reclamation supports local watershed management groups we are ensuring the community is involved in local decisions that create healthy watersheds”.

The Deschutes River Conservancy is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization established in 1996 to restore streamflow and improve water quality in the Deschutes Basin. If you would like more information about this topic, or to schedule an interview with Tod, please call 541-382-4077, Ext. 19 or email at

Funding salmon and steelhead reintroduction in the Deschutes Basin

September 28th, 2012

The Pelton Fund was created by Portland General Electric Company (PGE) and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs to protect and enhance habitat for salmon and steelhead being reintroduced above the Pelton Round Butte Project.

Historically, salmon and steelhead migrated from the Columbia River up the Deschutes River and into the Crooked River, Metolius River and Whychus Creek. In 1964, PGE completed the construction of Round Butte dam on the lower Deschutes River, providing fish passage facilities to promote continued migration. Unfortunately, the passage system was unsuccessful because of the confusing currents in Lake Billy Chinook. To mitigate the loss of the salmon and steelhead runs, PGE funded a hatchery program to replenish the downstream fishery.

The Deschutes River just above the Pelton Round Butte Dam


In 2005, PGE and the Tribes received a new operating license which made restoring fish passage at the dams its centerpiece. To solve the fish barrier issue, PGE and the Tribes partnered to construct a $100 million dollar Fish Passage System, which saw the first returns of salmon and steelhead making their way through the facility and into the Upper Basin this year.

The Pelton Fund has been dedicated to funding habitat restoration in the Upper Basin, including the Deschutes River Conservancy’s streamflow restoration projects in Whychus Creek and the Crooked River, to support the reintroduction of salmon and steelhead. These funds have helped the DRC develop and implement the largest water conservation initiative in Oregon and to achieve one of two streamflow targets in Whychus Creek.

The Pelton Fund also supports a project to restore healthy conditions in McKay Creek, a tributary of the Crooked River. The scope of the Pelton Fund’s commitment to enhancing tributary conditions for salmon and steelhead has greatly leveraged the DRC’s ability to collaborate with its restoration partners to implement strategic and comprehensive reach-wide restoration.

Salmon and Steelhead Benefit from Longterm Funding in Central Oregon

July 25th, 2012

The Deschutes River Conservancy recently hosted a project tour for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Bonneville Power Administration, primary funders that have been integral in shaping our conservation efforts for the past 10 years. Both organizations have funded numerous projects over the years, but this tour was all about salmon and steelhead reintroduction efforts.

The first stop on the tour was Whychus Creek in Sisters, one of our biggest success stories. Not too long ago, Whychus Creek ran dry in the summer irrigation months, dramatically impacting native fish populations. Now, after a series of restoration projects implemented by the DRC and our partners, we are able to enjoy a healthy creek that is home once again to salmon and steelhead.

DRC Program Director, Scott McCaulou explains the massive restoration efforts taking place on Whychus Creek.

The second stop was at the Crooked River near Smith Rock. This past winter, the DRC and North Unit Irrigation district broke ground on the first of a series of projects that will address irrigation needs of farmers in the Madras and Culver areas as well as the habitat needs for salmon and steelhead in the lower Crooked River. When complete, The North Unit Initiative will be the largest flow restoration project in Oregon’s history.

Crooked River

North Unit Irrigation District Manager, Mike Britton (left) and DRC Executive Director, Tod Heisler (right), discuss the intricacies of the North Unit Initiative.

The last stop on the tour was McKay Creek. Nestled into the Ochoco National Forest northeast of Prineville, McKay Creek suffers from low streamflow during the summer months. When completed, the McKay Creek Water Rights Switch will provide farmers with a more reliable water source and up to 11 cubic feet per second (cfs) of streamflow will be restored in the creek during a critical period for steelhead spawning and migration.

McKay Creek

DRC Program Analyst, Brett Golden, looks for macroinvertebrates in McKay Creek, a sign of a healthy stream.

Making History in River Restoration

June 7th, 2012

From the Desk of the Executive Director, Tod Heisler

Whychus Creek

Whychus Creek now flows year round after several streamflow restoration projects.

In 2011, the Deschutes River Conservancy surpassed the state’s 20 cfs flow target on the upper reach of Whychus Creek, a feat never before achieved on any stream in Oregon. Reaching this goal, established by the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, was successful thanks to the cooperation of private landowners and Three Sisters Irrigation District.

These remarkable accomplishments are only possible when parties of seemingly different interests find common ground and work together. Along these same lines, 2011 saw the start of a landmark agreement between the DRC and North Unit Irrigation District to restore flows in the Crooked River while providing  the district significant savings in pumping costs. The project will enhance habitat for reintroduced steelhead and salmon and will assure a better water supply for Central Oregon’s most productive commercial farmers.

It is our partnerships of which we are most proud – partnerships not only to restore streamflows and improve water quality, but also to provide municipal water supply, restore streamside vegetation and fish passage and to conserve critical lands. Together, the DRC and its partners are making historic change in our precious watersheds throughout the Deschutes River Basin. And 2011 was another great year.

Patagonia offsets water use by restoring 8 million gallons to the Deschutes River

May 12th, 2012

Patagonia has recently announced that they will be offsetting their domestic water consumption by purchasing Water Restoration Certificates through the Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF). Patagonia’s contribution to BEF will fund the restoration of 8 million gallons of water to the Middle Deschutes River though the Deschutes River Conservancy’s Leasing Program. To read more about this great program, check out this pdf. Patagonia gives back water the the Deschutes River

Patagonia | Putting Water Back

Patagonia is putting water back in the Deschutes River

Deschutes Brewery pledges one billion gallons to the Deschutes

March 31st, 2012

Deschutes Brewery pledges 1 billion gallons to the Middle Deschutes River

The Deschutes Brewery has partnered with the Deschutes River Conservancy (DRC) to annually restore 1 billion gallons of water to the Deschutes River beginning this summer. Yearly contributions to the DRC’s water leasing program will allow the Brewery to offset more than 14 times their total water requirements, including their bottling facility, brew pubs, supply chain, hops growers and grain growers!

“We’ve always been avid supporters of the DRC and its mission,” said Michael LaLonde, chief operating officer for Deschutes Brewery and a board member of the DRC. “By creating this new partnership, we are able to give back to the river in a significant way, preserving the lifeline of the Central Oregon region.”

Significant is right. The Deschutes Brewery’s contribution is the largest private local donation for the Deschutes River leasing program, making up nearly 7% of the restored flows to the Middle Deschutes. Historically, this section of the river has suffered from low streamflows and degraded habitat. With the Deschutes Brewery’s contribution, the DRC is even closer to meeting our streamflow goal, which benefits not only fish and wildlife, but our whole community!

Restoration in the Crooked River: Largest Water Conservation Project in Oregon’s History

January 2nd, 2012



This winter, we broke ground with North Unit Irrigation District on the first phase of the largest streamflow restoration initiative in Oregon’s history. When completed, this initiative will restore up to 190 cubic feet per second of streamflow to the Crooked River running through Smith Rock State Park. This reach of the Crooked River has historically suffered from poor water quality and a degraded ecosystem. This initiative will benefit the region’s agricultural economy while permanently improving conditions for fish, wildlife, and recreation.