Deschutes River Conservancy
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.
This week, the Deschutes River Conservancy helped welcome the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB) to the Deschutes Basin and attended OWEB’s quarterly board meeting in Madras. The Deschutes Partnership and partner organizations (DRC, the Deschutes Land Trust, Upper Deschutes watershed Council and the Crooked River Watershed Council) reported to OWEB board members on its experience with OWEB’s Focused Investment Partnership (FIP) program. OWEB awarded the Deschutes Partnership $4M through the FIP program over the 2015-2017 biennium to help restore the physical and biological conditions necessary for successful anadromous fish reintroduction in the Deschutes Basin. DRC used funding from this grant to support its work on Whychus Creek with Three Sisters Irrigation District and to increase streamflow on McKay Creek, a tributary to the Crooked River. DRC is grateful to OWEB for its support of our work over the years. OWEB’s significant investment in the Deschutes Partnership has helped to leverage resources and increase the pace and scale of restoration in the Deschtues Basin.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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 email@example.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
This week we are celebrating our longstanding partnership with Marc Thalacker and his 20th anniversary as Manager of the Three Sisters Irrigation District. Marc’s vision, will and determination were instrumental in the achievement of historic change for Whychus Creek and the district. In 1999, when Mid-Columbia Steelhead became ESA listed species, Marc assessed the threat and embraced an aggressive plan to restore Whychus Creek and protect his district. Marc worked closely with his board, patrons and stakeholders to pipe the district’s canal conserving and restoring 14.32 cfs (soon 1.16 more) to Whychus Creek while providing pressurized water to his patrons. The DRC has invested more than $10 million in the district’s canal piping over the past 6 years and the district will be fully piped by next year. As a result, Whychus Creek is one of the few places in Oregon where the state’s minimum streamflows have been achieved. Thank you Marc for our great partnership and wonderful success story.
Upper Deschutes River
The Basin Study Work Group is a basin wide collaborative working to restore flows in critical reaches such as the Upper Deschutes for the past 2 years. This year, the group is identifying the specifics of new water management solutions for the Upper Deschutes Basin. These include water conservation, water marketing, new storage options, and new ways to re-balance water between rivers, farms and cities. Bureau of Reclamation will model these solutions to help us understand how well they meet instream and out of stream needs under different climate change scenarios. This work will be complete spring of 2018. We are looking forward to then making large scale agreements that will guide the sustainable management and use of water moving into the future.
We are moving forward in our partnership with Ochoco Irrigation District to develop the McKay Creek Water Rights Switch. This project would restore natural flow to McKay Creek in exchange for providing landowners irrigation water rights from Ochoco Irrigation District. Increased flows will improve habitat and water quality for summer steelhead and redband trout, and will increase fish access to 37 miles of stream in McKay Creek.
Phase Eight of the Three Sisters Irrigation District Main Canal begins this winter. This phase will pipe another 4,400 feet and protect an additional 1 cfs instream. With the completion of Phase Eight, the project will include 8.27 miles of piped canal yielding 14.32 cubic feet per second (cfs) of conserved water–all of which is protected instream. This increase in streamflows will help meet minimum streamflow targets from April through October to improve conditions for reintroduced steelhead, Chinook salmon, and native redband trout from the diversion to the mouth of Whychus Creek.
We are here because we love the Deschutes River. Our local rivers give life to an otherwise arid, high desert climate. No matter who we are, we are all connected to the river, and therefore, to each other.
By working together with farmers, fisherman and urban communities, we have done great things.
Central Oregon’s rivers have seen some hopeful successes in 2016. We’d like to thank our partners, supporters and funders who have helped:
- Restore water back to the Middle Deschutes. Through your support of our Leasing Program, 2135 acres and 10,180 acre-feet of water were protected instream from April through October, with protected peak flows of up to 31.15 cfs from mid-May to mid-September.
- Increase Minimum Winter Flows in the Upper Deschutes. The Oregon Spotted Frog Settlement Agreement has ensured a permanent increase in winter flows raising the minimum from 20 cfs to 100 cfs. This is a first step toward further flow restoration we hope to accomplish through continued partnership and collaboration within the basin.
- Improve Conditions for Salmon and Steelhead in Whychus Creek. Increased flows through piping and partner-led habitat restoration work have improved summer flows for Salmon and Steelhead in Whychus Creek.
We want to sincerely thank all of you who have supported the Deschutes River this year. We need the river—and now, the river needs us. We pledge to work together to care for the river today and for generations to come!
Join us in continuing to restore the Deschutes River and its tributaries in 2017. By working together, we really can do great things!
From the Desk of the Executive Director, Tod Heisler
As we enter uncertain times, it is important for us to work together as a community. To keep calling for the protection of our beautiful places. To keep educating our children about the value of nature.
In my family, we have all pledged to do everything we can to protect the beautiful world we live in.
In the Deschutes Basin, we have been working to set aside our differences and find solutions for water conservation where we can all win – fish, families and farmers.
Though we’ve been successfully working at this for twenty years, today we need your help more than ever.
Restoration of the Upper Deschutes is our greatest undertaking and affects our entire region. We can’t do this without community support.
We need you to pledge your support to restoring the Deschutes River. We need you to pledge to do everything you can to conserve water and educate others.
Please join us in being a river supporter. The only way we will see healthy flows in the Upper Deschutes is by pulling together.
Together we can do great things!
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.
Community members gathered in waders, boots and rain jackets at Lava Island Falls last week to rescue thousands of fish in what’s becoming an annual event. Each fall, streamflow in the Upper Deschutes from Wickiup Reservoir to Bend are reduced in order to refill reservoirs for the following irrigation season. This drop in flows cuts off water from a side channel of the Deschutes, leaving fish high and dry.
This year 3,941 Rainbow Trout, Whitefish and Brown Trout were rescued over 3 days and relocated back to the main stem of the Deschutes. We are so grateful to community volunteers, the Coalition for the Deschutes, Trout Unlimited, the Deschutes Basin Board of Control and the Trout Bus for your hard work and dedication to the health of the Deschutes River.
“While there is value in everyone working together to rescue stranded fish, the salvage is a symptom of a bigger challenge of how to manage the Deschutes River to effectively meet the needs of fish, farms and families,” said Mike Britton, executive director of the DBBC. “Central Oregon’s irrigation districts — along with numerous other stakeholders — are working toward innovative water management solutions that will ensure we maintain adequate year-round streamflows in the Deschutes River while addressing our region’s economic, agricultural, environmental and recreational interests.”
We look forward to sharing news of specific steps being taken to restore winter flows through more sustainable water management agreements in the future.
Tuesday, April 12 at 7:00pm
This programming is sponsored by:
Brooks Resources, Deschutes Brewery, Deschutes River Conservancy, Bend Broadband, Old Mill District, ASCOCC and OSU-Cascades Student Fee Committee.