Groups seek court order to change Deschutes River flows

February 10, 2016
Groups seek court order to change Deschutes River flows

Irrigation districts: Move threatens to disrupt water supplies for 1,000s

MADRAS, Ore. - A motion filed Tuesday by two environmental groups seeking a federal court order for immediate changes in Deschutes River management to protect the Oregon spotted frog has the potential to disrupt water supplies to thousands of Central Oregon farms, ranches and families, the region's irrigation districts said.

The Center for Biological Diversity and WaterWatch of Oregon last month sued the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and five Central Oregon irrigation districts, claiming that they have managed river flows"like an irrigation ditch," threatening the threatened frog's habitat with flows that rapidly rise and fall.

The groups now want a preliminary injunction to stop the agency from operating Crane Prairie, Wickiup and Crescent Lake dams and reservoirs "in ways that harm Oregon spotted frogs."

They claim the defendants are violating the federal Endangered Species Act "by continuing to operate those facilities in ways that cause irreversible harm to Oregon spotted frogs before completing ESA consultation and a habitat conservation plan for those operations."

Here's a responding news release in full issued Tuesday by the Deschutes Basin Board of Control:

"A preliminary injunction filed today in federal court by two environmental groups seeks to disrupt the water supplies of thousands of families throughout Oregon’s Deschutes Basin, including families in the communities of Bend, Madras, Redmond, and Tumalo.

"The two groups are asking the court to impose abrupt and severe restrictions on three reservoirs, which provide over 6,000 farms, ranches, and homes with water for crops, horses and other animals, gardens, schools, and parks.

"Collaborative, science-based efforts to improve fish and wildlife habitat in the Deschutes River involving local, state and federal agencies, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, and conservation groups may also be affected by the litigation.

"On January, 20, 2016, the United States District Court for the District of Oregon (Eugene Division) consolidated two separate lawsuits filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, a Tucson, Arizona based group, and WaterWatch of Oregon, a Portland, Oregon based group.

"The consolidated lawsuit, and today’s preliminary injunction, claims the operations of three reservoirs (Crescent, Crane Prairie, and Wickiup) are harming the Oregon spotted frog, a species listed as “threatened” by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2014.

"Crescent Lake reservoir is owned and operated by Tumalo Irrigation District, while Crane Prairie and Wickiup reservoirs are owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and operated by Central Oregon and North Unit irrigation districts.

"The environmental groups’ preliminary injunction demands that the court impose abrupt and severe restrictions on the use of the reservoirs, which may completely eliminate the ability to store water in them for irrigation purposes.

"Mike Britton, President of the Deschutes Basin Board of Control, which represents eight irrigation districts, said in response to the environmental groups’ demands made to the court, “Collaboration is a better forum for helping the Oregon spotted frog than the courts.”

"Britton added, “The Districts, agencies, tribes and others continue to make real progress together, and I would encourage the environmental groups to work with us rather than against us.”

"Craig Horrell, General Manager of Central Oregon Irrigation District, said today, “All of the Districts, including COID, have implemented dozens of water conservation projects that have helped to restore over 80,000 acre-feet of water for fish and wildlife in the Deschutes River and its tributaries.”

Horrell added, “We’re capable of restoring even more water in the river, but people must work together.”

Upon reviewing the irrigation districts' statement, WaterWatch Communications Director Jim McCarthy offered this response to NewsChannel 21 by email:

"We appreciate the districts acknowledging in their press release that they have the capability to restore more water to the long-abused Upper Deschutes River. We have come to the same conclusion.

"Fish, wildlife and many local economic interests and residents beyond just irrigators stand to benefit from the establishment of healthy flows in this stretch.

"But no one benefits when the answer to the question of when healthier Upper Deschutes flows will be implemented is always 'maybe later.' We can’t afford more years of delay while the Upper Deschutes continues to decline. The time for concrete action on river flows is now," McCarthy concluded.

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