Bend Bulletin - Water plan for Upper Grande Ronde Basin receives state level recognition

This article was published on: 07/6/22 2:01 PM

LA GRANDE — The leaders of an effort to improve the flow of rivers and streams in the Upper Grande Ronde Basin, which includes Catherine Creek, have received buoyant news.

The Oregon Water Resources Commission passed a resolution recognizing the Upper Grande Ronde Watershed Partnership Place-Based Integrated Water Resources Plan.

“This is a milestone for us,” said Donna Beverage, a member of the Union County Commission, who helped develop the plan.
The passage of the resolution means that it may now be easier to put into effect plans to address issues such as flooding and low streamflow in the late summer.

“We hope that it will open doors for improvement projects that will help over the next 50 years,” Beverage said.

She added that the resolution indicates that people at the state level value local input.

“The state is willing to work with us and recognizes our water needs,” she said.

Beverage said that it also shows the state appreciates the different water issues regions face and the steps needed to address them.

“One size does not fit all,” she said.

The plan, which was five years in the making, was prepared with the help of local, state and federal agencies, including the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Union County Farm Bureau, Union County Soil and Water Conservation District, Union County Cattlemen’s Association, Grande Ronde Model Watershed, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and cities, plus many local farmers and ranchers.

The Upper Grande Ronde Basin is one of four in Oregon provided funding by the state commission to develop a plan for boosting its water quality and quantity as part of a pilot project. The plan for the Upper Grande Ronde Basin is the first to be completed. The basin sites for which other plans are being developed are in Harney County, a site on the Oregon Coast and the lower John Day River.

The Upper Grande Ronde Basin plan was developed with help from a $250,000 grant from the Oregon Water Resources Department and a $100,000 grant received from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board.

The executive summary of the plan states that it will provide strategies for meeting the water needs of communities in the Upper Grande Ronde Basin while adhering to all existing laws and policies.

Beverage said the intent of the plan is to address a long running problem in the Upper Grande Ronde Basin.

“We have too much water in the spring and not enough in the summer,” she said.

The excess spring water frequently causes flooding and the lack of water in the summer causes water quality issues. Beverage said low streamflow contributes to raising temperatures to unhealthy levels for fish and causes water to have higher concentrations of naturally occurring chemicals like nitrates.

Steps to improving water quality and quantity suggested in the plan include looking into accessing aboveground storage opportunities, such as expanding portions of rivers and streams to prevent the creation of ice jams in narrow stretches that can lead to flooding.

Options the plan calls for studying also include storage sites that would not impact stream channels. The plan sets the stage for investigative work to be done into the possibility of having reservoirs to which water from streams could be diverted. Storage of the water would help prevent flooding in the winter and spring, and its release in the summer would boost low streamflow.

Another option could be pumping water from Catherine Creek into underground caverns in the spring when flows are high, and then pumping it out in the summer when flows are lower.

Water storage options were scheduled to be discussed on Thursday.

-Dick Mason