Judge to consider Deschutes River injunction in spotted frog lawsuit

March 21, 2016
Judge to consider Deschutes River injunction in spotted frog lawsuit

Decision could change water management in Deschutes basin

Bulletin staff report

Parties are scheduled to meet Tuesday in federal court in Eugene to argue the merits of implementing a court-ordered change in water management in the Deschutes Basin that environmental groups believe would benefit the Oregon spotted frog.

Magistrate Judge Jolie A. Russo is expected to hear arguments on the environmental groups’ request for a preliminary injunction at 2 p.m. in U.S. District Court in Eugene. It is unlikely she will make a decision Tuesday, according to Jim McCarthy, communications director for WaterWatch of Oregon.

In 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the frog as a threatened species. The Center for Biological Diversity and WaterWatch each filed lawsuits in December and January, respectively, against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and multiple irrigation districts that draw water from the Deschutes River, arguing management of the river and reservoirs for irrigation harms the frogs.

The lawsuit alleges storing water behind the Wickiup and Crane Prairie dams and releasing it during the brief summer irrigation season creates a cycle of flooding and drying along the banks of the Deschutes River. That, the lawsuit alleges, hampers the frogs’ breeding and harms other species.

In February, the Center for Biological Diversity and WaterWatch requested a preliminary injunction that, if granted, would impose restrictions on irrigation runs from Crane Prairie, Wickiup and Crescent Lake reservoirs in the Deschutes Basin.

The environmental groups asked to have the injunction in place by April 1 and provided two options for increasing river flows for the frog.

In their response, the Bureau of Reclamation and the irrigation districts argue the spotted frog has “persisted and adapted to flow regimes” in the basin for more than 70 years and so do not face immediate harm with the current changing flows in the river. They also state the changes suggested by the environmental groups would do more harm than good.

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