Concerned Citizens about the Recent Deschutes River Fish Kill

To: Concerned Citizens about the Recent Deschutes River Fish Kill
From: Tod Heisler, Executive Director, Deschutes River Conservancy

This past week a large quantity of trout and other fish species became
stranded and died in a side channel of the Deschutes River, near Meadow
Camp and Lava Island, southwest of Bend, Oregon. The staff at the DRC is
deeply saddened by the death of these fish on the Upper Deschutes
River. This tragedy highlights the complexity of the flow issues that
have been affecting the Deschutes River for decades.

Unfortunately, this year we are experiencing the unintended consequences
of water management policies and practices that have been in place for
many years. In a dry year like this year, the reservoirs, Wickiup,
Crane Prairie and Crescent, were drawn down very low and water managers
are obligated to refill them to serve existing water rights for
irrigation season next year. These low streamflows led to this side
channel drying up, stranding hundreds of trout and other aquatic
species, many of which perished.

The DRC launched the Deschutes Water Planning Initiative in 2012 to
tackle this complex water management issue. It is a collaborative
stakeholder process with the goal of restoring streamflows in the Upper
Deschutes River while simultaneously meeting the water needs of
irrigators and municipalities. The DRC’s streamflow goal is to restore
300 cubic feet per second to the Upper Deschutes River, meeting the
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s instream water right and flow
target for a healthy, thriving fishery and ecosystem. Lasting solutions
will not occur unless all basin stakeholders, including all water right
holders, are invested in a collaborative process to develop an
integrated water management plan. The DRC and partners hope that this
plan will provide the basis for water management agreements to
consistently restore streamflows in the Upper Deschutes River while
meeting agricultural and municipal needs. As the next critical step in
this process, the DRC, the Deschutes Water Alliance and other instream
interests have formed a Basin Study Work Group to obtain a Bureau of
Reclamation Basin Study. This study will provide the modeling and
empirical data needed to move forward with streamflow restoration in the
Upper Deschutes River.

You
can help this process by becoming more aware of how our river is
managed and the efforts currently underway to restore streamflows in the
entire river system
. At one time, the Upper Deschutes had a stable
flow regime that supported a blue ribbon trout fishery. As we make
progress devising solutions to meet the needs of the fish, farmers,
cities and the Tribes, hopefully, these types of tragedies will be a
thing of the past. For more information about the DRC: www.deschutesriver.org.