Rescue nets thousands of Deschutes River fish

Oct 29, 2014

Bend Bulletin

Rescue nets thousands of Deschutes River fish Volunteers, teaming up with state and federal workers, rescued nearly 7,000 fish from dwindling waters along the Deschutes River near Bend over the weekend.

The fish rescue started Friday, continued Sunday and ended Monday, said Brett Hodgson, district biologist in Bend for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The Department of Fish and Wildlife’s exact count totaled 6,902 fish.

“That’s a large number of fish,' Hodgson said.

Small, young rainbow trout 6 inches or smaller made up the bulk — 4,968 — of the fish, according to state data. The group rescued 111 rainbow trout between 6 inches and a foot long and none longer than a foot.

“Clearly that side channel is highly used by (rainbow) trout for spawning and rearing,' Hodgson said. “It is definitely important habitat.'

The rescue came a year after a runner discovered a fish kill in the side channel, which flanks Lava Island and parallels the Deschutes River Trail. About 3,000 fish died, and the runner led a small rescue crew that saved about 500 fish.

The side channel emptied of water after flows on the Deschutes River dropped as the Oregon Water Resources Department switched from delivering water downstream to irrigators to storing water in Wickiup Reservoir. The agency changed how it lowers the flows this year, dropping them more slowly than before to give scientists time to see how the side channel responded to different levels of water.

As irrigation season neared its end, Gabe Parr, founder of the Bend Casting Club, rallied volunteers to be ready to move fish. About 45 people volunteered over the three-day rescue, hauling buckets full of fish after state and federal workers shocked fish in pools along the side channel and scooped them up in nets. Parr said the final fish count was surprising .

“I am floored by these numbers,' said Parr. He hopes long-term changes to how the state manages the river could end the need for future fish rescues at Lava Island.

The Deschutes River runs for about 55 miles between Wickiup Reservoir and Bend, with the side channel splitting off for about a mile. Parr wonders how many more miles may have similar side channels where fish could become stranded.

Hodgson said he’s not sure how many miles of side channels there are along the river, but the channel around Lava Island has a couple of unique factors that lead to fast-disappearing pools when the water drops. The river has a high gradient around Lava Island, meaning its elevation drops substantially, and porous lava rock soaks up standing water.

Once flows at the Benham Falls gauge upstream of Lava Island drop to below 700 cubic feet per second, the side channel at Lava Island loses water, said Jeremy Giffin, Deschutes Basin watermaster for the Oregon Water Resources Department in Bend. The flows dropped this month and likely won’t be greater than 700 cfs until spring, when irrigation season starts.

— Reporter: 541-617-7812, ddarling@bendbulletin.com

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