Archives : Whychus Creek
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.”
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.
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.
From the Desk of the Executive Director, Tod Heisler
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.