Notes from the Field: Pre-Project Monitoring on McKay Creek – What Do The Bugs Tell Us?

Project Update: Kelsey, our Project Coordinator, spent a couple days collecting macroinvertebrates in McKay Creek before the McKay Creek Switch Project goes into construction. This data collection will occur before and after the Switch to help us determine how increased flows have benefitted the creek. In addition to monitoring macroinvertebrates, we will also be collecting data on surface water and groundwater to get a full picture of the creek’s restoration story.

The type of macroinvertebrates in a stream indicate water quality, including oxygen levels, temperature and nutrient availability for fish and other wildlife.

One indication that will show the McKay Switch is successful will be an abundant macroinvertebrate community characterized by more species and more sensitive species that prefer better water quality. Plentiful food supply for steelhead and salmon in McKay Creek is crucial to ensure continued success in bringing these native fish back into the basin.

Project Background: McKay Creek flows 37 miles from its headwaters in the Ochoco National Forest, through private agricultural lands, and joins the Crooked River just northwest of Prineville in Crook County.

The dominant private land use along the creek is livestock and irrigated forage production, using water from the creek.

Due in part to irrigation diversions, flows are low or intermittent in the middle reach during the irrigation season, limiting fish movement, contributing to insufficient aquatic habitat, and resulting in high stream temperatures.

The McKay Creek Water Rights Switch (the Switch) will restore natural flow to the middle reach of McKay Creek by allowing landowners from river miles 6 to 12 to trade their private McKay Creek water rights for Ochoco Irrigation District (OID) water rights, sourced from Prineville Reservoir.

In exchange for more reliable OID water, landowners will transfer 11.2 cfs of certificated McKay Creek water rights instream. Restoring the natural hydrograph in this reach of McKay Creek will address many limiting factors, including low flow, altered hydrology, high water temperature, and impaired fish passage.