Lawsuits Threaten Central Oregon Communities

Feb 11, 2016

Cascade Business News

Lawsuits Threaten Central Oregon Communities A preliminary injunction filed this week in federal court by two environmental groups seeks to disrupt the water supplies of thousands of families throughout Oregon’s Deschutes Basin, including families in the communities of Bend, Madras, Redmond and Tumalo.

The two groups are asking the court to impose abrupt and severe restrictions on three reservoirs, which provide over 6,000 farms, ranches, and homes with water for crops, horses and other animals, gardens, schools, and parks. Collaborative, science-based efforts to improve fish and wildlife habitat in the Deschutes River involving local, state and federal agencies, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, and conservation groups may also be affected by the litigation.

On January 20, 2016, the United States District Court for the District of Oregon (Eugene Division) consolidated two separate lawsuits filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, a Tucson, Arizona based group, and WaterWatch of Oregon, a Portland, Oregon based group.

The consolidated lawsuit, and today’s preliminary injunction, claims the operations of three reservoirs (Crescent, Crane Prairie, and Wickiup) are harming the Oregon spotted frog, a species listed as “threatened” by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2014. Crescent Lake reservoir is owned and operated by Tumalo Irrigation District, while Crane Prairie and Wickiup reservoirs are owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and operated by Central Oregon and North Unit irrigation districts. The environmental groups’ preliminary injunction demands that the court impose abrupt and severe restrictions on the use of the reservoirs, which may completely eliminate the ability to store water in them for irrigation purposes.

Mike Britton, president of the Deschutes Basin Board of Control, which represents eight irrigation districts (Districts), said in response to the environmental groups’ demands made to the court, “Collaboration is a better forum for helping the Oregon spotted frog than the courts.” Britton added, “The Districts, agencies, tribes and others continue to make real progress together, and I would encourage the environmental groups to work with us rather than against us.”

Craig Horrell, general manager of Central Oregon Irrigation District, said today, “All of the Districts, including COID, have implemented dozens of water conservation projects that have helped to restore over 80,000 acre-feet of water for fish and wildlife in the Deschutes River and its tributaries.”

Horrell added, “We’re capable of restoring even more water in the river, but people must work together.”

Ken Rieck, general manager of Tumalo Irrigation District, said, “Right now, Tumalo is piping a 3,400-foot section of canal that will increase instream flows in Tumalo Creek, Crescent Creek, and the Little Deschutes River.”

Rieck added, “These higher in-stream flows will improve habitat for Oregon spotted frog, and other fish and wildlife.”

Contacts: Mike Britton (541) 475-3625
Shon Rae (541) 408-7007

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