Category : Stakeholders
The McKay Water Rights Switch will restore natural flow to the middle reach of McKay Creek by allowing landowners in this reach to trade their private McKay Creek water rights for Ochoco Irrigation District (OID) water rights, sourced from Prineville Reservoir. In exchange for more reliable OID water, McKay landowners will transfer all 11.2 cfs of certificated McKay Creek water rights instream. Restoring the natural hydrograph in this reach of McKay Creek will provide critical habitat for salmon and steelhead, support Crook County’s rural agricultural economy by providing more reliable agricultural water to irrigators, and help stabilize OID’s assessment base for future urbanization by adding patrons. The McKay Creek Water Rights Switch will also provide a great opportunity for the DRC to work with local partners (such as the Crooked River Watershed Council) to remove remaining fish passage barriers along the Creek and restore riparian habitat. The DRC is in the process of signing a MOU with OID and will begin local outreach efforts this summer.
Let me paint a picture of the summer of 1977 in Sisters, Oregon. The population was less than 700 people, many of whom were farmers. A drought had devastated the snowpack in the Cascades, leaving almost no water in Whychus Creek.
What little water flowing in the creek was diverted to fulfill only 10% of the expected water for farmers. That summer, the creek ran dry through the City of Sisters.It was a disaster for fish and a disaster for farming families.
Fast forward 38 years to 2015. Another severe drought hit Central Oregon and much of the West. Snowpack in the Cascades was only a fraction of normal. Mountains were bare. Glaciers were melting.
But what happened in Whychus Creek last year?
“We were able to maintain a daily average flow of 20 cfs in Whychus Creek while delivering 20-40% of expected water to farmers,” said Marc Thalacker, District Manager, Three Sisters Irrigation District. “This was in addition to generatingclean green renewable power and conserving energy.”
Thanks to the forward-thinking water conservation projects that Three Sisters Irrigation District has completed with partners like the Deschutes River Conservancy, last year’s drought was a very different experience.
“Cooperation and collaboration by a wide variety of partner stakeholders made it possible for us to help fish and farmers while reducing Oregon’s carbon footprint.”
Here in the Deschutes Basin, our situation is serious, but not as grim as in some places. We benefit from a combination of water supplies. Groundwater, snowpack and stored flows from reservoirs all contribute to our rivers and streams.
Despite our reliable water supply, when drought extends for more than one year, even these resources are impacted.
The flow issues in the Deschutes Basin are complex. In many regards, the area’s economy was originally based upon water usage practices that were established long before we fully understood the natural limitations of the watershed.
We are confident there will be enough water for everyone’s needs, provided we are willing to manage these resources differently. With a better understanding of our natural limitations, we’ve made progress to protect flows.
Commercial and non-commercial irrigators, for example, are the largest water users in the basin. They have contributed the most to restoring streams through large scale water conservation projects, but they still have the greatest opportunity to conserve more.
Simply increasing irrigation efficiency and optimizing water delivery systems could produce the water needed to restore critical flows in the Deschutes River.
Making these changes will take time and money, and should not be the sole responsibility of the irrigation community.
Healthy rivers are the responsibility of our entire region, and they are the legacy we leave behind.
Spring is finally here, but what an unusual winter! Unseasonably warm temperatures resulted in very little snowpack and an average amount of precipitation that allowed reservoirs to fill in the Upper Deschutes Basin ahead of schedule.
What can we expect to happen with the river this year as a result? According to Kyle Gorman, Oregon Water Resource Department Region Manager, the flows in the Deschutes should be relatively normal this summer, but will depend on stored water to a greater extent than in a normal year where snowmelt provides much of the water supply during the late spring and early summer.
If the remainder of the winter and early spring continue to produce minimal snow followed by scant summer rainfall, levels in the reservoirs are likely to be lower after the irrigation season than in recent years.
That’s likely to create more pressure to fill them next winter. When flows in the Deschutes are held back for the winter to replenish the reservoirs it creates a potential for a significant impact on fish and wildlife in the fall.
Tumalo and Whychus Creeks are entirely dependent on snowmelt, so we will see lower than normal flows in both of these reaches as the irrigation season unfolds. But thanks to a number of conservation projects and several key instream leases, flows should hold around 10 cfs in Tumalo Creek and 20 cfs in Whychus.
On a positive note, Ochoco Reservoir is in better shape than it was at this time last year, giving a more positive outlook for water supplies instream in Ochoco Creek and on farms in the Crooked River Basin.
According to Brett Hodgson of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, weather driven variability in streamflows is a natural phenomenon to which trout in this area have been able to adapt. Consecutive dry years and seasonal flow management for irrigation are both factors that tend to have greater long-term impacts on fish and wildlife.
Prineville Reservoir is the wild card. If the reservoir doesn’t fill, this could affect the amount of stored water available to improve flows for fish and other wildlife, pursuant to recent legislation.
While officials say water supplies are fairly decent this year, we should still conserve water where we can. The big question is: what will happen next winter? If next winter brings very little precipitation, we could see very low water supplies, and that has the potential to dramatically impact the health of our rivers and streams.
One thing to remember is that variations in snowfall and overall precipitation in the Deschutes River Basin can vary dramatically. In the past decade, we’ve seen some great years – and a year like this.
What can we do? Deschutes River Conservancy is working collaboratively with all who have an interest in the river – communities, farmers and irrigation districts, fishermen, boaters and more – to ensure the health of the river and its unique ecosystems. Together we are identifying long-term solutions to ensure healthy ecosystems and economic benefits, regardless of the weather.
The harvest season is drawing to a close in Central Oregon as fall seeding and preparation for the next year begin. With the successful completion of a diversity of crops grown, from garbanzo beans to fresh vegetables, the year turned out good.
Because of efficiencies in irrigation practices, crops that require less water, and the conservation efforts by the irrigation districts throughout Central Oregon, a shortage of irrigation water was overcome.
“This past season was great for most Commodities grown through out Central Oregon with plenty of sunshine and frost free days.” said Richard Macy, a third generation Culver farmer.
“The proof will be after all the seed crops are cleaned, commodities sold, and bills paid. This cycle can take as long as seventeen months before you see the bottom line.”
Even though, Central Oregon is a great place to farm and watch your family grow.
Up to 90% of the water used in Central Oregon supports local agriculture. Much of the irrigation system was developed more than 100 years ago with technology that’s now outdated.
Today, the DRC works closely with local irrigation districts and other partners to improve and update water use efficiency in Central Oregon — restoring much-needed water to our rivers and streams.
Modest changes can yield impressive results. Nearly half of the water now protected in the Deschutes River, Whychus Creek and the Crooked River is the result of piping only 7% of the canal system. To visualize total restored flows, imagine more than eight Olympic-sized swimming pools per hour pouring back into Central Oregon’s rivers and streams!
Healthy rivers are important to both the ecosystem and to our community. We’re working with our partners to find new ways to balance water use and meet all of our needs, particularly in the river. To achieve this, we will need to employ new tools, such as water management agreements, and existing tools, such as water rights leasing, in-stream water transfers, and piping and lining canals. We believe that if we collectively re-think how we use water, everyone can benefit — including the river and irrigated agriculture.
Deschutes River is one of the defining characteristics of Central Oregon. As our region’s cities have grown, many community leaders have helped to responsibly guide and shape this growth to maintain the quality of life we all enjoy today.
Since 1969, Brooks Resources, chaired by Mike Hollern, has been a leader in preserving the character of Bend. Brooks creates planned communities that “enhance, rather than degrade, the natural environment,” according to Mike.
Mike is a founding Board member of the Deschutes River Conservancy. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that preserving the trees, improving water quality and increasing water quantity in the Deschutes River are priorities for the company. “These are the reasons people live here, and we strive to build communities that provide residents with connections to our stunning natural environment,” says Mike.
One such enhancement is a river-friendly hydropower plant upstream from the Bill Healy Bridge in Bend. Brooks Resources, developer of the adjacent Mount Bachelor Village Resort, helped Central Oregon Irrigation District plan the project to have minimal visual and environmental impact. Profits from power sales fund water conservation projects around Central Oregon.
Another example of the company’s dedication to the preservation of the natural environment: the DRC receives funding through the Oregon Community Foundation from each developer sale in its North Rim community. These funds have helped to restore much-needed flows in the Deschutes River.
The Deschutes River runs through many aspects of Mike’s and his wife, Sue’s, lives – including their home on Mirror Pond. “We are always aware that we are privileged to live on the river,” Mike said. “It reminds us every day of our good fortune, and motivates us to protect and nurture the wonderful environment surrounding us.”
“I hope that Central Oregon will grow steadily and thoughtfully while maintaining its unique character and natural advantages,” Mike said of the future. “Without the Deschutes River, Bend wouldn’t be here. It’s the life and soul of this community.”
“Chuush” is the word you’ll hear at the beginning and end of any ceremonial meal in Warm Springs. It means water in the Warm Springs language, Ichishkiin. Held in the highest regard by the Tribes, water is believed to be the first gift given by the Creator. Water is the giver of life.
The Warm Springs reservation is home to nearly five thousand tribal members and is downstream from the cities of Bend, Redmond and Madras. Unlike their neighbors upstream who draw their drinking water from other sources, the water in Warm Springs comes from the Deschutes River.
Because water plays such an important role in tribal culture and life, it is no wonder that the water quality of the Deschutes River is of the utmost importance to the Tribes. To ensure this precious resource was protected, the Tribes worked with local water interests to form the Deschutes River Conservancy in 1996.
“We need to be respectful of these resources,” said Deanie Johnson, a life-long Warm Springs resident. “We need to be able to make future generations understand why the river is so important.” While much work has gone into restoring flows in the Deschutes River, tribal members like Deanie would like to see more attention paid to water quality — a responsibility we all share.
“When you turn on the faucet in Warm Springs, you can smell the chlorine before the water pours out. It’s really amplified here because our water comes straight from the Deschutes River and needs to be treated quite a bit before we can drink it. We need to be respectful of that water and I hope that the rest of the basin can be mindful that there are people living downstream from them.”
Deanie Johnson is a Wasco tribal member living in Warm Springs along the Deschutes River. Water is the most important resource for the Warm Springs tribes and Deanie was kind enough to spend some time with us to share her perspective.
Talk a little about your guiding business.
I started Deep Canyon Outfitters in 2009 after working with another outfitter for 4 years, and before that, yet another outfitter for 3 years. In total I have 13 years experience guiding fly fishing trips in Central Oregon. While the majority of our clients come to wade the famous waters of the Lower Deschutes, we offer guided trips on the Fall River, Crooked River, Upper Deschutes, and the Cascade Lakes. In 2013, we took 1300 guests fishing, hailing from around the country… if they were experienced anglers, they came to fish the Deschutes River. In 2014, I’m projecting to take 1500+ guests fishing. We have 7 full time guides and 4 part time guides on staff. The health of the river is not just important for me, but for everyone who works for Deep Canyon Outfitters.
Why is the Deschutes River important to you? Why do you care?
The river has many layers of importance for me… for my business – it is imperative for the ecology to be healthy and for the river to support the reputation as the greatest fishery in Oregon. Without a healthy river, the trout and steelhead my clients want to catch would not exist. Without trout and steelhead, Deep Canyon Outfitters may not exist. Without Deep Canyon Outfitters, my staff would not be able to support their families and values. Without my staff, I would not be able to function as a business owner, a resident of Bend, and a caretaker of the Deschutes River.
On a personal level – for me the river is important because it is my home. I learned to fly fish on the famous rivers of Montana, but I developed the lifelong passion for the sport, the fish, and the connection with nature on the Deschutes River. I eat, sleep, and walk its banks over 125 days a year.
There are few rocks, trees, and fish on the Deschutes that I’ve not met. Protecting the resource that I rely upon for sport, spiritual connection, relaxation, and commerce seems natural.
Why are you part of the Deschutes River Conservancy?
I’ve been a DRC board member for the past 8 years and in that time I’ve seen dramatic changes to the river – much higher flows, better ecology for the fish, and reintroduction of salmon and steelhead in the upper basin. None of this would have happened without the work of the Deschutes River Conservancy.
The collaborative process employed by the DRC is, in my estimation, the only option for meeting the needs of every water user in the basin. While I see the importance of more water in the river for fish, I can empathize with other users and understand their water needs to support their way of life. If we don’t work together we all lose.
Why is it important to restore flows in the Upper Deschutes?
The Upper Deschutes river was historically a more productive fishery than the famous Lower Deschutes river. In the late ’70’s and early ’80’s the Upper Deschutes was heralded as the best fishery in Oregon. Restoring flows in the upper basin would return this fishery to its potential. Even small additions of water will have a huge impact – riparian zones will be kept intact during the winter months protecting both habitat and valuable food sources. The economic potential is vast – little to no commercial fishing is done below Wickiup dam today, but a productive fishery coupled with demand for fishing from the boat and close access from Bend would bolster the Upper Deschutes’ economic importance. If the fishing were better in the Upper Deschutes, Deep Canyon Outfitters would have many guests fishing up there, enjoying the scenery and the fish.
What benefits do you see in the river when there are higher flows and lower water temperatures?
Over the past 10 years of fishing the Middle Deschutes River I’ve seen the impact of higher flows and cooler water. The vegetation in the riparian area is fuller. Although this can make angling and casting a challenge, the positive is that the trout populations seem to be more robust, and the insect hatches are extremely prolific. No longer do I steer clear of the Middle D in the summer months. The fishing from late June through early September is much more productive than the days of low flows.
In your view, what is the best possible outcome of the flow restoration process for the Deschutes Basin?
For me and my way of life, the best possible outcome is to increase flows below Wickiup dam to a minimum of 250 cfs from mid October to mid April and recreate a Blue Ribbon fishery near Bend. What I like most about the DRC’s approach is that the goal is not just to restore flows in any one section of the Deschutes basin, but to work with all the stakeholders to create the most efficient water management system. In my mind, without all aspects of water use being upgraded to maximum efficiency, we are wasting the resource. The truth is there is not enough water for everyone’s needs, but by understanding each other’s most important needs we can work to meet them. No one can deny that agriculture is important to the central Oregon economy and way of life, and that water is a crucial element for the economy. By maximizing efficiencies in reservoir management, farm delivery, and on farm use, the amount of water saved will be great. That water can then be used to meet the need of other stakeholders – including the fish!
What value do you see in this process?
Beyond conserving water for fish and wildlife, I see great value in bringing our community together to talk about the issues, set goals and create success – together. Through the DRC’s collaborative process I have gained better understanding and more respect for the agriculture community – especially those in the North Unit district. I better understand how important the river, and the water they use to grow their crops, is to them. My hope is they have gained the same understanding of my needs, and in doing so, they will work to reestablish the Upper Deschutes River to the high quality fishery it once was.
Damien Nurre is a local fishing guide and also serves on the Board of Directors for the Deschutes River Conservancy.
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.