USFWS RELEASES DRAFT DESCHUTES HABITAT PLAN; AIM IS WATER FOR FARMERS, IMPROVE HABITAT FOR LISTED SPOTTED FROG, FISH

Oct 03, 2019

Columbia Basin Bulletin

USFWS RELEASES DRAFT DESCHUTES HABITAT PLAN; AIM IS WATER FOR FARMERS, IMPROVE HABITAT FOR LISTED SPOTTED FROG, FISH

A draft habitat conservation plan designed to aid several species listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, while also providing crucial water to Central Oregon farmers, will be posted in the Federal Register for review, Friday, Oct. 4, by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The posting will open a 45-day public comment period for the draft HCP.

Fish and Wildlife says the Deschutes River Basin Habitat Conservation Plan is a large scale planning effort that will help the City of Prineville and the eight irrigation district members of the Deschutes Basin Board of Control meet their water needs. It also will protect fish and wildlife habitat, the agency says.

The irrigators say the plan will increase water reliability for farmers and for fish, improve fish and wildlife habitat, decrease energy costs, reduce operations and maintenance costs and achieve system-wide results in less time, according to DBBC information.

The Deschutes Basin HCP will also clear the way for Prineville and irrigators to apply for 30-year incidental take permits of listed species. Listed species are the Oregon spotted frog, bull trout and Deschutes steelhead, as well as species not listed but with the potential of a listing, including sockeye salmon and spring chinook salmon. Jurisdiction for the spotted frog and bull trout go to Fish and Wildlife, while NOAA Fisheries has jurisdiction over the other three species.

The irrigation districts say in the draft Deschutes River Basin HCP that their continued use of water from the Deschutes River and tributaries would cause them to unlawfully take the ESA-listed species. To avoid that incidental take would require irrigators to “curtail a number of essential activities involving the use of water.”

“The incidental take permits will allow the Permittees to continue their otherwise lawful uses of water without the threat of prosecution for the incidental taking,” the draft plan says.

The area covered by the HCP is huge, encompassing some 10,700 square miles of watershed in Central Oregon. Boundaries are the Columbia River to the north, the Cascade Mountains to the west and the Ochoco Mountains to the east. The Deschutes River basin includes six major tributaries upstream of Lake Billy Chinook near Madras.

The DBBC says that the collaborative conservation strategy of the HCP will protect and restore habitat in 340 miles of rivers and streams.

However, Waterwatch of Oregon executive director John Devoe wrote that the plan to release more water in the winter takes too many years and is not enough for ESA-listed species.

“The Plan will allow the districts to do nothing to improve Upper Deschutes winter flows for five more years, do essentially what they can already do now for years six through 10 and reach a target winter flow of 400 cubic feet per second by year 30 (that’s 2049), after many of us are dead and gone,” Devoe wrote in a guest column in the Bend Source Weekly. “Recent federal science indicated at least 600 cfs is needed in the winter. The Upper Deschutes is already dying. The crystal ball suggests it won’t last on life support for three more decades.”

Craig Horrell, Managing Director of the Central Oregon Irrigation District, said, “We are committed to implementing long-term solutions that not only address the needs of listed species but also benefit our region’s farmers and communities.

“The purpose of the DBHCP is not to solve all the water issues in the Deschutes Basin,” Horrell said. “Rather, conservation measures in the DBHCP are designed to minimize and mitigate impacts to species listed under the Endangered Species Act, where such impacts may result from the storage, release, diversion, and return of irrigation water by the Districts and City of Prineville.”

In addition to the DBHCP, he said, “several other initiatives are underway to improve the ecological health of the Upper Deschutes River, including a water marketing grant program and the formation of the Deschutes Basin Water Collaboration. This consensus-based entity will include representatives from irrigation, instream, and municipal interests, and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, and will focus on addressing water imbalances in our basin.”

After several public scoping and stakeholder meetings since 2017, the draft HCP was submitted to Fish and Wildlife in August 2019 by DBBC irrigation members. Those members are: Arnold Irrigation District, Central Oregon Irrigation District, Lone Pine Irrigation District, North Unit Irrigation District, Ochoco Irrigation District, Swalley Irrigation District, Three Sisters Irrigation District, Tumalo Irrigation District and the City of Prineville, all in Central Oregon.

Also find the draft environmental impact statement for the project at https://www.fws.gov/Oregonfwo/articles.cfm?id=149489716

DBBC estimates the cost to develop the HCP at about $7 million, with $3.3 million in federal funding and $3.4 million from an irrigator/City of Prineville cost share. However, the total cost of the project over the coming years is expected to be several hundred million dollars or more.

The costs of the HCP will be borne by the nine permittees separately, based on each district’s responsibilities, the draft HCP says. At $55,458, the Central Oregon Irrigation District will have the highest annual cost, while the City of Prineville will have the lowest annual cost at $5,467.

The activities covered by the DBHCP modify the timing and magnitude of flow in the Deschutes River and a number of its tributaries through the storage, release, diversion and return of irrigation water.

According to DBBC information, over the next five years the irrigation districts will modernize their delivery of water by changing out the more than 400,000 feet of open canals to pipes, a conservation improvement that will result in nearly 94 cubic feet per second in water savings. Individual farms will change over from small canals to sprinklers.

Conservation measures included in the HCP are:

  • Crane Prairie Reservoir will be operated to reduce annual fluctuations in its surface elevation from up to 9 feet or more down to 2.25 feet. This will provide improved breeding, summer rearing and overwintering conditions for Oregon spotted frogs. It will also reduce storage and release of irrigation water normally released in the summer from about 50,000 acre feet to about 10,000 acre feet.

  • Wickiup Reservoir – the North Unit Irrigation District will forego storage in the reservoir as needed to maintain minimum flows downstream during the winter. That will improve conditions for the Oregon spotted frog in the Deschutes River between the reservoir and Bend. NUID will also increase flows below the dam to at least 600 cfs by April 1 and maintain flows within specified limits for the entire month of April to support spotted frog breeding.

  • Winter flows in the Deschutes River below Bend will be maintained at or above 250 cfs for covered fish species, which requires the Permittees to coordinate their winter diversions of water for livestock.

  • Crescent Lake Reservoir will be operated to maintain and enhance habitats for spotted frogs in lower Crescent Creek and lower Little Deschutes River. The minimum flow below Crescent Lake Dam from October through June will be increased from the historical 6 cfs to 20 cfs to enhance overwintering and breeding habitat. The minimum flow from July 1 through September 30 will be 50 cfs to maintain summer rearing habitat. Ramping rates will also be limited at all times of year to avoid sudden changes in water depth in wetlands occupied by the frogs.

  • Whychus Creek flows will be increased in a nod to the instream water right transfers of over 30 cfs that Three Sisters Irrigation District made during the HCP development. Further increases of instream flow will come by supporting on-farm conservation and temporary instream leasing.

  • The storage, release and diversion of water in the Crooked River, Ochoco Creek and McKay Creek will protect habitat for covered fish species. In addition, the Permittees will provide annual funding for fisheries habitat restoration and enhancement projects in the subbasin.

    Another conservation measure that was highlighted in the irrigators’ Aug. 30 transmittal letter to NOAA and Fish and Wildlife for incidental take permits could be added to the final HCP. That includes the idea of a habitat conservation fund for projects in the upper Deschutes River and the concept of increasing winter flows downstream of Wickiup Dam to 350 cfs by year 15 of the HCP.

    The final and completed environmental impact statement and HCP will be published in the Federal Register next year in April or May, according to Fish and Wildlife, with a Record of Decision by May 2020.

    Fish and Wildlife will host two more public meetings in central Oregon. The meetings will begin with a presentation on the draft HCP and draft EIS followed by an opportunity to engage with experts involved in the development of the plan.

    October 15, 2019, 6pm-8pm

    Mount Bachelor Village Resort & Event Center
    19717 Mt Bachelor Drive
    Bend, OR 97702

    October 16, 2019, 6pm-8pm

    Carey Foster Hall, Crook County Fairgrounds
    1280 Main Street
    Prineville, OR 97754

    Written comments will be accepted through November 18, 2019, and can be submitted at the public meetings or by mail. For further instructions go to: https://www.fws.gov/oregonfwo/

    For updates to the planning process, visit https://www.fws.gov/Oregonfwo/articles.cfm?id=149489716

    For Background, see:

    — CBB, May 13, 2016, “USFWS Designates Critical Habitat For Oregon Spotted Frog in Washington, Oregon,” https://www.cbbulletin.com/usfws-designates-critical-habitat-for-oregon-spotted-frog-in-washington-oregon/

    — CBB, January 15, 2016, “Another Lawsuit Filed Regarding Deschutes Dam/Irrigation Impacts On Oregon Spotted Frog,” https://www.cbbulletin.com/another-lawsuit-filed-regarding-deschutes-dam-irrigation-impacts-on-oregon-spotted-frog/

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