Archives : Streamflow in the Upper Deschutes
There is a saying in our office that “restoration does not happen at a 21st century pace.”
In an immediate world of instant messages, short cuts and quick fixes, we are accustomed to being able to solve problems right away. When a problem is as complex as solving the flow issues in the Upper Deschutes, the time line for solutions, by necessity, must follow its own pace.
Over the past 21 years, the Deschutes River Conservancy has successfully restored streamflow to Whychus Creek, the Middle Deschutes, Tumalo Creek and the Crooked River through building relationships, forging agreements and creating win-win solutions for basin stakeholders.
With the help of our partners, we are now on the eve of the greatest change we hope to accomplish in our basin: fixing the Upper Deschutes River. It is our responsibility as a community to leave the Deschutes Basin a better place than how we found it. In order to do that, we are changing the story of how we use water in Central Oregon.
The graphic below will show the large-scale and long-term restoration solutions for the Upper Deschutes. You will see how how, through the execution of a suite of innovative conservation measures, irrigators and their partners will create more water security for farmers and restore critically needed flows to the Deschutes River. These conservation measures include canal piping, water rights transactions, and reservoir management. The measures are designed to incentivize irrigators in urban areas to share water with farmers in Jefferson County so that these farmers are able to then share reservoir water with fish and wildlife in the Upper Deschutes.
By rethinking how we use and share water, we can and will have enough water for fish, farms and families.
The Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) serves the public by practicing and promoting responsible water management. Jeremy Giffin (pictured above) is the OWRD’s Watermaster for Central Oregon and has spent the past 17 years working to ensure long-term sustainability of Oregon’s ecosystems, economy, and quality of life.
DRC: After a long, dry summer, what are water supplies looking like?
Jeremy: The Deschutes and Crooked River basin reservoirs are seasonally low ranging from 21%-67% of capacity. As a result of the very dry conditions through 2013 the natural flows are lower than average and many of the streams in Crook County have gone dry this year.
DRC: We know that flows in the upper section of the Deschutes River tend to be lower in the winter months while flows are being stored in Wickiup and Crane Prairie Reservoirs for summer irrigation. What do you anticipate river levels looking like after such a dry summer?
Jeremy: The flows in the upper Deschutes will start the storage season (typically set mid-October) slightly above the state required minimum of 20 cubic feet per second, as measured at the river gage immediately below Wickiup reservoir. If we have an above average winter with precipitation we could possibly re-assess the situation and increase flows later in the winter if conditions permit.
DRC: How does the OWRD decide the flow level in the Upper Deschutes below Wickiup Reservoir in the winter?
Jeremy: In Oregon, water rights are full filled based on seniority. We manage the flows to ensure that the senior water rights are satisfied first. If we have water in excess of the legal rights we will work with ODFW and other partners to provide flows for ecological needs which tend to be junior.
DRC: We just saw Colorado struggle with massive flooding. Could that kind of thing happen in the Deschutes basin?
Jeremy: Possibly in the Crooked River basin and even to a lesser extent in the drainages of Tumalo Creek, Whychus Creek, Little Deschutes River & Trout Creek. However the mainstems of rivers such as the Deschutes and Metolious are largely spring fed and not as susceptible to large scale flooding like we recently saw in Colorado.