Whychus Creek dam removal clears way for fish return to Deschutes River system
Sep 10, 2014
The OregonianSISTERS — Workers are tearing out the last of half a dozen concrete dams on a Central Oregon stream and its tributaries, erasing yet another barrier to the return of imperiled fish to the Deschutes River system.
The work is underway on Whychus Creek near Sisters, on the east flank of the Cascade Range, the Bulletin newspaper reported.
The Whychus is part of the drainage of the Deschutes, Central Oregon's major river. Salmon and steelhead began returning to the Whychus after a fish tower was installed in the big reservoir along the Deschutes known as Lake Billy Chinook.
The $2 million project on the Whychus includes knocking down a 6-foot dam, with the expectation that will lead to restoration of a flood plain and 13 miles of fish habitat. Because the ranch is switching to a more efficient water delivery system, stream flows are expected to increase.
The dam has provided irrigation water for about three decades to the Pine Meadow Ranch, running through a mile-long canal to its 200 irrigated acres. It is the latest of the structures that has fed irrigation water to the ranch since the late 19th century.
The ranch has already switched to a pump-fed pivot irrigation system, which pulls water from the creek downstream of the dam.
The new system eliminates the cost of annually maintaining the canal, said Dorro Sokol, president of the ranch.
"We feel actually very lucky to have this work out this way," she said.
The work began Monday and is expected to last two weeks.
It took about five years to work through alternatives for the project, said Mathias Perle, project manager for the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, a Bend-based restoration group. The Deschutes River Conservancy of Bend, a nonprofit focused on restoring flows to the Deschutes and its tributaries, and the U.S. Forest Service also took part in the talks.
Among the entities contributing to the project were the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, Pelton-Round Butte Mitigation Fund, The Nature Conservancy, Reser Family Foundation, Patagonia and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
Perle said negotiations are underway over one more river obstruction upstream on the Whychus, where an old-growth log diverts water. There, Perle said, there are about 30 water rights holders, compared with just one at the Pine Meadow Ranch.
-- The Associated Press