Oregon jumps into Deschutes River spotted frog fray

March 3, 2016
Oregon jumps into Deschutes River spotted frog fray

Asks court to order mediated talks to resolve lawsuit, avert 'widespread adverse impacts'

SALEM, Ore. - Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said Wednesday the state is asking to join the Deschutes Basin Oregon spotted frog federal litigation as a friend of the court, "with the goal of resolving the water management conflict through a collaborative, court-sponsored process."

“The Deschutes Basin litigation is a major conflict over water resources that requires a solution developed collaboratively, recognizing multiple important interests,” Brown said in her announcement.

“To reach a sustainable and comprehensive solution to this conflict, Oregon needs to be at the table to help craft a positive path forward for the health of our fish and wildlife, their habitats, and the economic vitality of our communities,” the governor added.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service listed the Oregon spotted frog as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in August 2014.

Lawsuits filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and WaterWatch of Oregon assert that operations of Crane Prairie, Wickiup and Crescent Lake dams and reservoirs on the Upper Deschutes River and Crescent Creek harm spotted frogs, in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

The lawsuits, filed against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and three irrigation districts, "seek sudden and dramatic changes in dam and reservoir operations," the governor's office said.

In the unopposed motion to join the litigation, the state said it is taking no position on the alleged ESA violation, or the environmental groups' motion for a preliminary injunction.

"Instead, Oregon urges the court to use its discretion to order the parties to participate in mediated settlement negotiations to resolve this lawsuit and allow the state to participate in such negotiations as an amicus" (friend of the court).

"Oregon supports efforts to improve habitat for the Oregon Spotted Frog." the motion states. "At the same time, Oregon recognizes that the Deschutes River is a highly managed and regulated river system."

"Sudden and dramatic alterations to the river's management regime will affect numerous state interests, which likely would include the administration of water rights under state and federal law."

"There are numerous competing legal interests and rights at play in this litigation," the motion continues. "Overbroad relief that fails to account for the complex demands on the river system could have widespread adverse impacts on the Deschutes River and the state as a whole."

The Deschutes Reclamation Project was federally approved in 1937 and the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed the Crane Prairie Dam in 1940. Wickiup Dam and the North Unit Main Canal were completed in the late 1940s. Additional water storage and delivery infrastructure were built in the 1950s and 1960s.

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