Category : River Restoration Stories
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.
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.
Whychus Creek in Sisters has made a huge comeback in the past several years through the collaborative efforts of the Deschutes River Conservancy (streamflow), Three Sisters Irrigation District (TSID – water conservation), the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council (fish passage & habitat) and the Deschutes Land Trust (land conservation).
Long-time Central Oregon residents will remember Whychus Creek running dry in the summer months, severely impacting native fish populations. Since we started flow restoration efforts in Whychus, the creek now almost meets the State’s minimum flow requirement of 33 cubic feet per second (cfs). Increased flows of cool water are going a long way to restore stream conditions that support the successful reintroduction of salmon and steelhead in Whychus Creek.
Much of this restoration work has been achieved through creating a more efficient irrigation system for TSID. By piping their leaking canal system, TSID is able to restore flows to the creek while delivering pressurized water to its farming and ranching patrons, reducing or eliminating their pumping costs.
The fourth phase in TSID’s ongoing initiative to completely pipe its system was recently completed – TSID has now piped over 60% of its 60 miles of canals. This phase of the project piped one mile of the canal, restoring 1.3 cfs to Whychus. That is more than 840,000 gallons of water per day! This winter, a similar project breaks ground bringing TSID even closer to completing their water conservation project and restoring a total of an additional 1.3 cfs to Whychus Creek. This project is funded by the Pelton Fund, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, Bureau of Reclamation and the Three Sisters Irrigation District.
Avion Water customers can make an easy contribution to the Deschutes River Conservancy through our Blue Water Program. Avion customers can opt in to make a monthly contribution by filling out the Blue Water form coming out in their August billing.
Every dollar you donate through the Blue Water program goes directly to the DRC to support streamflow restoration on the Deschutes River during the summer irrigation season when flows are critically low. Just $1.00 per month can put 46,550 gallons of water back in the River!
On June 6th of this year, Central Oregon lost one of its most important figures in water management. Bob Main was Watermaster and then Regional Manager at the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) for twenty-two years during a time of dramatic change in perception about water management in the region.
Bob’s philosophy of meeting irrigators’ needs while improving the quality of our rivers was at the heart the Deschutes River Conservancy’s (DRC) formation in 1996. He felt strongly that the State needed to honor its commitments to farmers’ water rights. As an avid outdoorsman, Bob also saw the need for more water in our streams and rivers. Bob had the vision and wisdom to understand that a voluntary approach could succeed in restoring our waterways. In 1992, Bob negotiated with water right holders to voluntarily leave 2.5 cfs in Tumalo Creek, the first summer flow in that part of the creek in almost a century.
As a founding DRC board member, Bob worked hard to make sure that his fellow board members understood all sides of the issues being discussed. Bob’s expertise, innovative ideas, passion and generosity made him one of the most dedicated supporters of the DRC. We will miss him greatly.
The native fish habitat found in Whychus Creek plays an integral role in steelhead reintroduction efforts underway in the basin. Through a series of instream flow restoration projects, the Deschutes River Conservancy, in partnership with Three Sisters Irrigation District (TSID) and local landowners, has been able to restore year-round flows in Whychus Creek to 20 cfs.
The latest in this series of projects is currently underway along TSID’s main canal. In an effort to modernize the district, restore flows and deliver water more efficiently to farmers, the district has been involved in a multi-phase project to pipe 9 miles of the main canal for a total of 14 cfs, or 9 million gallons of water per day protected in stream. This fourth phase of the nine phase project will pipe one mile of the canal, restoring 1.33 cfs instream.
Our goal for Whychus Creek is to restore flows to meet the minimum instream target of 33 cfs set by the State of Oregon. We will be able to accomplish this through a combination of water conservation projects, water rights transfers and instream leasing.
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.
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.
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.
Whychus Creek tumbles down the east slopes of the Cascade Mountains, through the City of Sisters, and into the Deschutes River. For over a century, summer irrigation demands far exceeded water supply meaning parts of the creek often ran dry, dramatically affecting native fish populations. Over the past decade, The Deschutes River Conservancy (DRC), The Deschutes Land Trust, and the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, and Three Sisters Irrigation District have worked to restore the conditions necessary to restore healthy habitat for steelhead in Whychus Creek.
In 2007, longtime funder of the DRC, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB), created their Special Investment Partnership (SIP) program designed to help implement significant collaborative restoration projects that obtain long-term ecological outcomes. The unique integration of land and streamflow conservation, habitat restoration, and steelhead reintroduction efforts underway in Whychus was the perfect fit for SIP funding.