Drought has varied impact on High Desert streams

August 2, 2015
Drought has varied impact on High Desert streams

BEND, Ore. - With widespread drought affecting Oregon's rivers, streams and fish, NewsChannel 21 decided to take a field trip to three Central Oregon streams to test water temperature with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The first stop was the Metolius River, where the water is cold, the riparian habitat is thick and the fish are healthy.

On Thursday at 9 a.m., the water temperature is 46 degrees.

"The Metolius is completely spring fed," said ODFW Assistant District Fish Biologist Erik Moberly. "It stays cold consistently all year round. The flows are very stable."

Moberly added that despite the state's extreme drought, bull trout, redband trout and whitefish are thriving in these waters.

Just a short drive away, it's an entirely different story at Whychus Creek.

The stream is entirely fed by snowpack, and more than 70 percent of the water is taken out for irrigation.

In this drought, Moberly said, you only have to look back to know what lies ahead.

"In 2011 and 2012, when we had good water years, there was almost three times ... more water in Whychus Creek in July," Moberly said.

Two tests in the creek at 10:30 a.m. yield the same results: 56 degrees.

It's a little colder than Moberly expects, but he says it's likely because it's been cooling off lately at night. He said if the region experiences another intense heat spell, the waters of Whychus will probably spike past 70 degrees -- and that becomes a problem.

"As water temperatures warm in the streams, the dissolved oxygen levels decrease, which requires fish to increase their respiration -- and it really stresses them out," Moberly said.

Bull trout are the most popular fish in Whychus Creek. Recently, steelhead salmon were reintroduced to the waters.

The last stop of the day is the middle section of the Deschutes River, near Crooked River Ranch.

Moberly's thermometer registers the water temperatures as 67 degrees.

"I'm a little surprised it's that warm -- 67 degrees at 11:30 a.m.," he said.

As the days get hotter, the water will get warmer.

"We can only predict it's going to get in the lower 70s," Moberly said.

So far ODFW says there have been no reports of fish kills in Central Oregon, but summer is far from over.

"We're just monitoring the situation," Moberly said. "There's not much we can do about it, but we're definitely keeping track of water temperatures in the Deschutes Basin."

Because of the drought, ODFW has invoked temporary rules to close some rivers and streams to fishing after 2 p.m., including Whychus Creek.

For a list of the closed streams and more information, visit: http://www.dfw.state.or.us/

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An aerial view of a body of water.