Streamflow Restoration Accomplishments in the Deschutes Basin

A river flowing through a lush green forest.

Since 1996, the DRC has accomplished more than any other streamflow restoration group in the Northwestern United States. Historically, nearly 90% of the streamflow from the Deschutes River in Bend was diverted through irrigation canals during the irrigation season. These diversions caused a dramatic reduction of streamflow in the middle reach of the Deschutes River, between Bend and Lake Billy Chinook.

Through the years, the Deschutes River Conservancy has worked with irrigation districts and other partners to create a more efficient water delivery system to allow more water to remain instream. As a result of our collaborative approach, this section of the Deschutes River has seen a five-fold increase in streamflow

Restoration and Reintroduction Milestones in the Deschutes Basin

An unprecedented effort is underway in the Deschutes Basin to reintroduce steelhead and salmon. Since the Pelton Round Butte Hydro-Electric Project was built in the 1960s, these anadromous fish have been blocked from the Deschutes Basin above the dams. Over the past several years, the DRC and our partners have been working to restore and maintain the watershed conditions necessary for successful salmon and steelhead reintroduction.

2011 was a very encouraging year for these reintroduction efforts. In early 2011, Portland General Electric, The Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation and the State of Oregon celebrated the return of the first adult steelhead from the 2007 reintroduction. Additionally, major flow restoration milestones were achieved on both Whychus Creek and the Crooked River.

A healthy watershed and a thriving ecosystem are the keys to our future here in the Deschutes Basin. When we have healthy rivers, streams, and lakes, we know we can support the diverse needs of people and wildlife.

Living in the high desert, we all rely on the Deschutes River and its tributaries. When we began restoring streamflow and improving water quality 27 years ago, the landscape looked much different. Whychus Creek in Sisters ran dry in the summer, the Middle Deschutes, downstream from Bend had only 20% of the flow it has today, and the Crooked River downstream from Smith Rock suffered from low flows and high stream temperatures.

Flow Restoration Progress over the years

Streamflow restoration progress looks at an increase throughout the Deschutes River Basin measured in cubic feet per second (CFS). Through collaborating with our basin partners, DRC restores streamflow through water rights leasing (blue), updated water management policies (grey), permanent water rights transfers from irrigation in streams (orange), and water conservation projects such as piping leaking canals and creating more efficient irrigation practices (green).

2012-2024 Streamflow Progress

Whychus Creek: Permanent Restoration Achieved

Whychus Creek, flowing through the town of Sisters, historically ran dry during the irrigation season. This caused fish and wildlife populations to suffer. The DRC has worked with Three Sisters Irrigation District and Oregon Water Resources Department to implement a series of water conservation projects and water rights transfers that now ​protects over 20 cubic feet per second (cfs) of instream water rights in the creek. Maintaining a healthy year-round flow in the creek is vital to efforts currently underway to restore salmon and steelhead to Whychus Creek.

A fish is swimming in the water.

Basin Study Work Group: Water Management Planning for the Future

The DRC’s Water Management Planning Program designs the next generation of water management projects to help stakeholders in the Deschutes Basin resolve long-standing water management issues. The DRC and our partners are finishing the Upper Deschutes Basin Study.

The Basin Study ​was a $1.5 million process, in partnership with the Bureau of Reclamation, that ​provides a roadmap to meet water needs for rivers, agriculture, and communities for the next 50 years. It includes a climate change analysis to ensure that we are planning for future conditions. The study builds on previous planning work in the basin, including the Deschutes Water Planning Initiative, and will be completed in 2018.

The Study encompasses the upper Deschutes, Whychus, and Crooked sub-basins, and it’s particularly focused on finding solutions to restore flows in the Upper Deschutes River.

A river running through a lush green forest.