March 23, 2011 - Bend Bulletin - Changes to Prineville Reservoir allocation deserve support

Apr 18, 2011

March 23, 2011 - Bend Bulletin - Changes to Prineville Reservoir allocation deserve support

Changes to Prineville Reservoir allocation deserve support

By Yancy Lind / Bulletin guest columnist
Published: March 23. 2011 4:00AM PST

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden recently announced his intention to introduce legislation that would change the manner in which water in Prineville Reservoir is allocated.

The bill is under development, but the city of Prineville and local irrigators have released a set of principles outlining what they think the legislation should include. These principles would allocate water to the city of Prineville and increase the rights of irrigators to water without consideration for the Crooked River, the needs of fish and wildlife, or recreational boaters.

Central Oregon Flyfishers, the Deschutes Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Sunriver Anglers, and the Deschutes Basin Chapter of the Association of NW Steelheaders are a coalition of local angling clubs that are concerned with the management of the Crooked River. We believe it is possible for reasonable, civic-minded individuals to come to a water management agreement that will benefit all Oregon residents as well as fish and wildlife.

The abundant natural resources in Central Oregon make it a great place to live and recreate. The area’s rare mix of urban, rural and active lifestyles coupled with outstanding outdoor qualities makes it a highly sought destination for new residents, businesses and visitors alike.

Prineville Reservoir and the Crooked River are resources enjoyed by thousands of Central Oregonians as well as a destination fishery for anglers from all over the Pacific Northwest. The positive economic impact of the river will only increase if the ongoing reintroduction of salmon and steelhead is successful.

Currently, Prineville Reservoir is managed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for two purposes: flood control and agricultural irrigation. The legislative concepts announced by Walden would modify management in some important ways. Key aspects include moving the upstream boundary of the Wild and Scenic section on the Crooked River to allow a new hydroelectric plant to be built below the dam, allocating water to the city of Prineville for mitigating increased groundwater pumping, and providing “first fill” rights to the Ochoco and North Unit irrigation districts to ensure irrigators are given their water allotment before any other uses for the water. This is a significant change from current management policy.

As the The Bulletin has detailed in recent coverage, the city of Prineville has a serious water shortage issue. We acknowledge Prineville’s need for an allocation of water to mitigate increased groundwater pumping for their city water supply. We see clear benefits of adding a hydroelectric power plant at the base of Bowman Dam. We also understand the desire of the irrigators to ensure they have continued access to the water they have used for many years.

There are no provisions, however, for fish and wildlife. Speaking for the angling community, we are concerned the needs of a river, which has been neglected for decades, are not being addressed in the draft bill.

To be fair, the draft bill calls for further studies on the needs for fish (while providing no funding mechanism or commitment to act on study results). We also support the call for additional study to help inform future management; however, we should not wait for results from an unfunded study to begin managing for improvements. We can act now based on what we do know. For example, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has studied the river and in 1990 applied for increased water in the Crooked River for the benefit of native trout. The Ochoco Irrigation District protested this request and it was not granted. Additional studies have been completed since then which further refine our understanding of how significant improvements can be made in trout habitat.

It is important to understand that approximately 50 percent of the water in Prineville Reservoir is allocated for irrigation, and the rest is unallocated. If the bill passes, the city of Prineville will only take a very small allocation of water, still leaving almost half unallocated. Given this fact, we believe water should be provided for fish and wildlife as well.

Inevitably, tensions between competing interests for natural resources will arise, but civic-minded and reasonable residents should be able to negotiate amiable resolutions that benefit us all. If done thoughtfully, new legislation can provide all users an opportunity to benefit from the unallocated water.

We call on our legislators to craft legislation to make this happen. If you agree with us, we urge you to contact Rep. Walden as well as Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley on this important issue.

Yancy Lind is president of the Deschutes Basin Chapter of the Association of NW Steelheaders .

Published Daily in Bend Oregon by Western Communications, Inc. © 2010

Back to The River in the News »