Dams hurting frog habitat, lawsuit against feds claims

December 19, 2015
Dams hurting frog habitat, lawsuit against feds claims

Oregon Spotted Frog listed as threatened last year

By Scott Hammers

A conservation group has filed suit against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, alleging the operation of the Wickiup and Crane Prairie dams is damaging the habitat of the Oregon spotted frog.

The suit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Eugene by the Center for Biological Diversity, claims the operation of the two dams creates a cycle of flooding and drying along the banks of the Deschutes River, hampering the breeding of the frogs.

“If the Bureau of Reclamation keeps operating these two dams like it has, the Oregon spotted frog has little chance of survival,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the center, in a news release issued Friday. “The Bureau has turned the Deschutes River on its head with high flows in late summer and low flows in winter, exactly the opposite of how a natural river should flow. This harms not only the Oregon spotted frog, but salmon, steelhead and people that depend on the health of the river.”

The 2- to 4-inch black spotted frog was listed as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act last year. The suit alleges the Bureau of Reclamation has failed to complete consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about the frog and its habitat, in violation of the Endangered Species Act. It further alleges the bureau failed to provide the Center for Biological Diversity with public records, in violation of the Freedom of Information Act.

Venetia Gempler with the Bureau of Reclamation said representatives of her agency met with the Center for Biological Diversity earlier this year to try to come to agreement, but that she was unfamiliar with the details of those meetings. The Bureau is in the process of developing a comprehensive conservation plan for the Deschutes River, she said, that aims to improve spotted frog habitat.

Late Friday, the Deschutes Basin Board of Control — a consortium representing the eight irrigation districts in the Deschutes basin — issued a news release in response to the suit, alleging it could result in reduced water supplies for farmers and ranchers across the region.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, local irrigation districts and local governments have spent $5.3 million developing a conservation plan for the Deschutes basin since 2008, the release stated, which will include recommendations for improving spotted frog habitat. The release also highlighted irrigation districts’ conservation efforts, which have included canal piping and lining to minimize water loss due to seepage and evaporation, boosting the amount of water in the Deschutes River.

The two dams are used to manage flows on the Deschutes River year-round, increasing flows in summer to meet irrigation demand and reducing flows in winter to store water for the following irrigation season. Before the construction of the dams, the river level fluctuated minimally from winter to summer; today, flows range from as little as 20 cubic feet per second to as much as 1,400 cfs below the Wickiup Dam.

Taken together, the Wickiup and Crane Prairie reservoirs store approximately 255,000 acre feet of water, enough to cover the city of Bend nearly 12 feet deep.

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An aerial view of a body of water.