I have been asked why there has been so little discussion about the Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan now that it is final, so here are a few quick comments. It does appear that there have been marginal improvements in the HCP compared to the last draft. There are loopholes, however, so it’s debatable. Regardless, as someone who advocates for fish, wildlife, and river recreation, the HCP remains deeply disappointing. Flows in the Upper Deschutes will be increased far too slowly and remain unstable. There will be no real improvement in the even more disastrous flows in the Middle Deschutes. The Crooked River will continue to suffer from both low flows and high levels of pollution from agricultural runoff.Read More »
Local ecologist and wildfire expert George Wuerthner alerted me to a new report publish by the American Geophysical Union with the unwieldy title “Projected Changes in Reference Evapotranspiration in California and Nevada: Implications for Drought and Wildland Fire Danger“. While Central Oregon is not specifically covered, it is obvious from the report that it applies to us as well. The bottom line is that global warming is going to increase and strengthen the extended state of drought we have been experiencing as well as increase and strengthen local wildfire danger. George asks how will this impact the HCP and our management of local rivers? What breaks when there is not enough water to meet all the defined needs?Read More »
Spectacular news. Today in a live Zoom call it was announced that the states of California and Oregon will replace PacifiCorp / Berkshire Hathaway as co-licensees of the Klamath Dams, which “ensures successful dam removal” and the “biggest salmon restoration project ever”. Dam removal will begin in 2022 and finish in 2023. FERC will have to approve the transfer, but Oregon governor Brown and California governor Newsom said that it will occur. FERC previously asked that PacifiCorp remain as co-licensee in order to provide a backstop in the case of cost overruns, that backstop will now be provided by California and Oregon. Learn more at klamathrenewal.org.
I recently had an extended email exchange with someone who objected to my statements that irrigators do not pay for their water, they pay for the delivery of the water. This may be a subtle distinction, but in my mind it is important. It’s analogous to paying for the delivery of a bale of hay, but not the hay itself. I have had several irrigators insist that they do pay for their water, but this is simply not true. So, here’s a more detailed explanation and why I think this is important.Read More »
It’s not in Central Oregon, but the North Umpqua River is a favorite destination of mine. If the pass is clear it can even be a long day trip. Chasing winter steelhead in the fly water section is some of the toughest fishing I have ever done but it can be rewarding, and the river is beautiful. Of course, as is the case all over the state, steelhead returns continue to decline on the North Umpqua. On this river, however, those declines are partially due to the abysmal condition of the fish ladder at the 130-year old, privately owned Winchester Dam. A new lawsuit asking the owners to fix the ladder is another example of the excellent work being done by WaterWatch of Oregon. Learn more about the dam here.
A reader recently contacted me concerned about low flows in the Crooked River. As I have written about in the past, Prineville Reservoir is currently being managed by Ochoco Irrigation District and the US Fish & Wildlife Service to release 50 CFS during the winter (non-irrigation season). In my opinion, this is in violation of the 2014 Crooked River Act. At the beginning of the irrigation season there was more than enough water in the “fish bucket” to meet the Act’s 80 CFS target over the winter. Worse, they are not even releasing 50 CFS as the river has been at 47 CFS for some time now. 3 CFS might not seem like much, but OID is currently asking to spend tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer money to add 4.8 CFS. Once again, fish, wildlife, and taxpayers are losing.
The Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan was officially made final yesterday. You can read the plan on the US Fish & Wildlife Service website. Local USFWS folks have told me that little changed from the last draft. I have been closely tracking the HCP (reading, going to meetings, making official comments, writing about it, etc.) for over 10 years (!) and can’t overemphasize how disappointing the final product is. At this point, litigation is inevitable. I have years of HCP posts on this blog, but will try to provide an easier to digest summary after I get through the final version (it’s thousands of pages).
I upgraded my WordPress subscription so I could add some cool videos of fish passing through the Opal Springs ladder at the mouth of the Crooked River. Here’s just a sample.Read More »
For Central Oregonians, the “day trip” on the Deschutes is the stretch from Warm Springs to Trout Creek. While steelhead counts on the Columbia are somewhat elevated from last year’s dismal numbers, it has not translated into good returns on the day trip section so far this season. According to fish counts on the PGE website, a total of 186 steelhead have been captured at the trap near the base of the Pelton Reregulating Dam from May through October. Of those, 8 were true wild fish and were returned to the river. 15 of the fish were planted as fry or smolts above Lake Billy Chinook. Most of these will be released into LBC with the hope they will naturally reproduce in the Crooked River or Whychus Creek. The 163 hatchery fish will mostly be used as brood stock for future hatchery production. These are small numbers, but the next three months typically see the most fish arrive. Keep your fingers crossed.
If you want water in rivers and streams in Oregon, then WaterWatch of Oregon deserves your support. Without question, no one has been more effective in preserving and increasing flows, as well as preventing and removing dams, than WaterWatch. I have worked with them for over a decade on a variety of issues in Central Oregon (where they have been very effective) and ask for your support of this worthy group. There will be an online auction October 19th – 25th and an hour long live auction October 24th from 5:00 – 6:00 pm. Short and sweet and certainly deserving of your consideration. Need more convincing? Visit their web site, but also be aware of something that is not listed: their lawsuit is why the Upper Deschutes now has flows of 100 CFS in the winter. That alone is worth at least a small donation.
After almost four hours of testimony and discussion, the ODFW Commission denied the request by Ochoco Irrigation District, the City of Prineville, and Crook County to provide a waiver for fish passage! Get more background information here. I certainly hope that the applicants follow the advice of the Commission and come back with an improved application. Clearly, adding a hydro facility to Bowman Dam has real benefit, but there needs to be real benefit to fish as well.
As I wrote about here and here, Ochoco Irrigation District, the City of Prineville, and Crook County would like to add a hydroelectric facility to Bowman Dam (Prineville Reservoir) without providing fish passage. This would violate the law so they are asking the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife for a waiver. The ODFW Commission will make their ruling this Friday. You can find the meeting agenda here, and sign up to testify (via Zoom) here. Public testimony at prior hearings has been overwhelming against providing a fish passage waiver but the applicants will make their best case for it on Friday so a strong showing by conservationists and fish advocates is essential. Lend your voice to fish, it’s not painful at all.
Ochoco Irrigation District is the latest in Central Oregon to apply for federal funding to upgrade their water distribution system. Details of the proposal as well as information on how to submit comments by September 30th are online. The “Draft Watershed Plan – Environmental Assessment” (Draft-EA) is 155 pages long but easy to read. I encourage you to go through the materials yourself and come to your own conclusions, but here are my comments. Like the previous proposals from other local irrigators, it’s a mixed bag. The common belief is that canal piping is good, and in theory I agree, but the devil is always in the details.Read More »
I get flack from people I respect for being on ODFW’s Restoration & Enhancement Board. Every fishing license includes a small fee that funds projects selected by the R&E board. Some of those are hatchery projects, hence the criticism. R&E also supports projects like habitat restoration, basic science, and fish passage. As I wrote last year, the Willamette Falls fish ladder is in danger of collapse, which would stop all upstream migration of anadromous fish. R&E provided a grant to repair the ladder, which after much delay, is underway.
“Polite conservationists leave no mark save for scars on the Earth that could have been prevented had they stood their ground.” – David Brower
Here are a few things that might be of interest. I have not posted about steelhead returns this season, but as you can see above, total returns (hatchery + wild) to the Columbia River this year are above last year’s dismal numbers. This is clearly welcome news. Note that they remain well under the 10-year average and that average number has been consistently going down for some time. ODFW recently put out this press release on the status of hatcheries that were impacted by the recent and ongoing wildfires. It includes an interesting video, especially if you have never seen how fish are spawned in a hatchery. Finally, here’s a post I made a year ago on the positive impact wildfires can have on wild fish.
This morning the Bulletin covered the sediment flows into the Deschutes from Wickiup Reservoir. It’s worth a quick read.
This morning I received an email titled “The big muddy” with the photo above and this text: “This is a photo of the Deschutes about 5 miles south of Sunriver at about 4:00 pm, September 15, 2020. I’m guessing that the emptying of Wickiup Reservoir has many years worth of sediments, accumulating at the bottom of the reservoir, now washing down stream.” Seems like a reasonable guess to me.
As expected, Wickiup Reservoir has been emptied, all that currently remains is the Deschutes River in it’s historical river bed. The Bend Bulletin had a good story about it in today’s paper. Clearly, this is terrible news for farmers who rely on this water. That being said, look at the charts below for some perspective.Read More »
At the end of 2014, the Crooked River Collaborative Water Security and Jobs Act was passed. Commonly known as the “Crooked River Act”, I was a minor participant in the negotiation of this controversial legislation. Many people whom I respect continue to believe that the Crooked River Act was a giveaway to irrigators and a loss for fish and wildlife. I disagree with them, but the way in which the bill is being implemented does not meet the spirit in which it was negotiated. Read on for an overview of the bill, how it is working, how it is not, and why this is an even more important topic given the impending release of the Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan.Read More »
I know that with all the fire devastation around us, ODFW hatcheries are low on the list of concerns, but this is a water and fish blog so I’m reporting that Marion Forks, Minto, Leaburg, McKenzie, Rock Creek and Klamath hatcheries have all been evacuated. Many fish at these hatcheries will be lost along with some buildings, although the extent of the damage is unknown at this time. Regardless of your opinion on hatcheries, this is going to be another huge hit to a dramatically underfunded ODFW budget which will impact all anglers. Still unconvinced that planet heating is upon us?
This appeared on Nextdoor this morning. No mention of wanting to grow anything, only a statement that they are going to use water just so they don’t lose their water right. This happens all the time. Laws and policies need to be changed to protect the Deschutes River.
As reported by The Bulletin on August 28th, Lone Pine Irrigation District is the latest local district to run out of water to deliver to their patrons. This is terrible news, no one wants to see farmers losing their livelihoods. Water is a complicated topic in Central Oregon with many factors contributing to the shortage. Unfortunately, rather than addressing the real issues, Terry Smith, chairman of the board for LPID, places the blame on the Endangered Species Act.Read More »
Yesterday our county commissioners gave approval for some construction to begin at Thornburgh Resort. I would anticipate continued legal challenges and there will be more approvals required as development continues, but it is clear that our county government is supportive of adding another massive golf community, including lakes for water skiing, to Central Oregon. I understand that we are going to continue to grow but without a significant change in the way that growth is managed we are going to run out of water. It has already happened in other west coast communities and we are not immune.
Counter Punch ran this article today from Bend resident George Wuerthner reacting to the current mismanagement of the Middle Deschutes and asking if we should completely rethink how water should be used.
This is no way to manage a river for fish, wildlife, or recreation. Simply incredible.
Today, the Bulletin covered the current erratic flows in the Middle Deschutes caused by the last irrigation diversion in Bend. I too had been told that the issue had something to do with automatic gate malfunctions from debris clogging the gates or perhaps upstream flow fluctuations from the whitewater park or the PacificPower dam that creates Mirror Pond. I wonder.Read More »
This week has seen multiple, abrupt 50%+ drops in the Middle Deschutes below the last irrigation diversion near the Mt. Washington bridge. Clearly, this is ecologically devastating to aquatic life. It is also arguably illegal. Enough senior water rights have been transferred to the river to keep flows around 120 CFS at this time of year. So far this week the river has been dropped to 48, 53, and 57 CFS. Oregon Water Resources Department says there is an issue with North Unit Irrigation District’s automated gates, but the damage is still being done.
Here’s how our local reservoirs and rivers look as of the end of the day yesterday (click here for a direct link). Crane Prairie still has a lot of water as it is held fairly constant until late summer to maintain endangered species habitat. Haystack is nearly full as it is intermediate storage for North Unit Irrigation District. NUID’s main storage is Wickiup which will most likely be empty before the end of irrigation season. Prineville Reservoir is managed for both irrigation and fish. As of August 5th, it has 41,820 acre feet of irrigation water and 23,380 acre feet of “fish water”.Read More »
I asked Jeremy Griffin, our local water master, what happened yesterday with the flows on the Middle Deschutes. He said the automatic gate for the NUID canal at the North Canal Dam “went wild” for a while. While my concern for the ecological damage that was caused by the huge, rapid drop is justified, I assumed that the drop was purposeful rather than accidental. That assumption was based on watching the irrigators create frequent, sudden drops for many years (although not quite as large). Nevertheless, I should have investigated it before making my post. For that, I apologize. I hope that they can get their equipment fixed, and soon.
Right now, the Middle Deschutes is at 48 CFS. In the 16 or so years that I have tracked flows, this is the lowest I have seen. So much for all the posturing on the part of the irrigation districts about caring for the environment. When push comes to shove, they get all the water. They didn’t even slowly ramp flows down to give fish a chance to move out of side channels. The river dropped from 117 CFS to 48 CFS in only 2 hours. We have known for years that drought and water shortages will come but little has been done to prepare for it.
UPDATE: Since hitting a low of 48 CFS around 9 AM this morning, the flows were returned to around 120 CFS at 12:30 PM. So, it looks like I jumped the gun somewhat in my post. Nevertheless, a 50%+ drop in less than 2 hours was more than concerning and will create environmental havoc. Like I have said so many times before, just like us, fish and other aquatic life need to breathe all the time, not just most of the time. It is also the case that very little has been done to prepare for the hot, dry future that we are going to live in and the irrigators continue to control almost all of the water in the Deschutes from the headwaters almost to Lake Billy Chinook.
Oregon native Dave Hughes is a fly fishing legend. He’s written over 25 books on entomology, fly tying, and fishing techniques. He’s also a noted conservationist. Dave is one of the few real experts in fly fishing. Most simply have a lot of experience and recycle knowledge gleaned from others. I put myself in that later category. I catch a lot of fish, and big fish, but it’s all due to learning from people like Dave and spending an inordinate amount of time on the water. So, I’m really looking forward to this online presentation on Wednesday, Aug. 19th, at 6 pm. Be sure to check out his YouTube fly tying videos as well. I’m not a tyer, but learn a lot about fly selection from watching tying videos. If someone has a well-kept copy of his book on the Deschutes for sale, please let me know.
Yesterday the Deschutes County Commission voted to continue moving forward with the approval of the proposed Thornburgh Resort near Eagle Crest. A final decision on the first golf course is still a couple of weeks away, but their comments seemed to indicate that final approval will be granted. I continue to be concerned with the amount of water that Thornburgh will use, its impact on our aquifer, and the corresponding reduction in surface water (our rivers and streams). Three golf courses, artificial lakes, lodging, and housing will use a lot of water. Below is the email I sent to our commissioners earlier today.Read More »
I’m looking forward to this webinar tonight at 6 PM on dam removal. The author of this book will speak along with the leader of the successful effort to remove dams on the Rogue River here in Oregon. It should be interesting.
One of the primary disagreements between the irrigators and conservation groups is the relative importance between canal piping and improving efficiency in the use of water. For a variety of reasons, the irrigators are focused on piping their main canals. The Basin Study Work Group, however, showed that water could be more cheaply and quickly saved via other techniques including the use of modern irrigation methods and simple water conservation. I saw a great example of this while on a hike along the Deschutes yesterday.Read More »
Tod Heisler has a great column in today’s Bend Bulletin titled, “The fallacy of in-conduit hydropower”. It’s worth reading, but the gist is that hydro power plants installed into piped canals encourages the continued overuse of water, even when it is not needed, in order to keep the power plant running. Of course, this maintains the irrigator’s legacy of keeping water levels in local rivers and streams below what is needed for a healthy ecosystem.
From my perspective, one of the highlights of the Deschutes Fisheries Workshop is the annual report on lower Deschutes fish from ODFW. That presentation did not occur this year, so I talked to Rod French, ODFW Mid-Columbia District Fish Biologist which includes the lower Deschutes. There was a surprise, read on for more.Read More »
I’m looking forward to this free online presentation on July 29th, 6:30 to 7:30 PM. More info here.
“Join bestselling novelist and former Oregon fly-fishing guide John Larison for an interactive lecture on the creative power of water. John will guide you through a brief history of water’s effect on human creativity, from the salty origins of art on the African coast to the enduring role of water in contemporary literature, in his effort to explore the question: “Why do people of all cultural backgrounds feel inspired by water?” John’s talk will welcome participation. If you’re so inclined, be ready to share an example of art you love (sculpture, painting, a poem, etc.) that was inspired by water.”
I have looked forward to attending the annual Deschutes Fisheries Workshop for many years. It has been the place to hear the latest, best available science on what is happening in the Deschutes River, some of its tributaries, and anadromous fish reintroduction efforts. I found the online event yesterday to be disappointing, however. Part of that is due to the lack interaction with others in the hallway, during a meal, or at the bar. The organizers are not to blame for that, they have no control over the pandemic, but they could have provided a lot more content. Here’s my summary and criticism of the 26th annual meetingRead More »
I’m on the email list that discusses water releases from Bowman Dam into the Crooked River. You can get more details by reading prior posts on the topic (see the Crooked River section), but the executive summary is that the water is supposed to be released for irrigators as well as the “maximum benefit” of fish. How that actually occurs is the subject of constant discussion. The latest email contained the graphic above that really illustrates the operation well.Read More »
Four dams are slated to be removed on the Klamath River, re-establishing hundreds of miles of habitat to anadromous fish. The long-negotiated plan was to transfer ownership of the dams from PacificCorp to the Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC), a non-profit formed exclusively to oversee removal. Yesterday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved transfer of ownership but with the stipulation that PacificCorp remain a co-licensee. I listened to the FERC meeting, read their ruling, and was enthused by FERC’s desire to have the dams removed. I also understand their caution to ensure sufficient funding is available to complete removal once started.Read More »
All public comments pertaining to the requested fish passage waiver are part of the public record. I requested a copy of them, which you can see here. There is some grey area as a few were not perfectly clear, but by my count there were 171 letters in opposition to the waiver and 12 in favor. (In other words, the overwhelming majority asked that fish passage be provided.) I thought the letters made for interesting reading and recognized many of the writers. The final decision is scheduled to be made in September.
This is a little out in the weeds for most folks, but next Thursday at 7 AM Pacific is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission meeting where the final decision will be made to transfer ownership of the dams on the Klamath River to the Klamath Renewal Corporation. This is the final hurdle before the dams can be removed. You can watch the meeting live here. I certainly plan to have it on in the background.
Two recent stories caught my eye. This article in The Guardian states that 23% of all water in the US is used to grow feed for cows and is a primary driver of water shortages. Hay is the primary crop in Deschutes and Crook counties. This NY Times article examines a problem we are all too familiar with: dwindling snowpack and the threat of a mega drought cycle. Both articles could have been written about Central Oregon.
This year’s workshop is being held online on July 23rd. Before COVID these workshops were 1.5 days and filled with great information. I have been going for years and always learn from them. This year will be much shorter but still the place to get the latest info on anadromous fish reintroduction efforts. See the agenda and sign up here.
“The Deschutes River’s beauty hides problems”, was an editorial in yesterday’s Bend Bulletin. I continue to be pleased with the paper’s new commitment to environmental coverage. The problems facing the Deschutes River are numerous, complex, and often rooted in decisions made a century ago. Few people, or even some organizations claiming to be advocates for the river, really have a grasp of the broad range of interwoven issues: water law and rights, hydrology, global heating, tax policy, groundwater recharge, mitigation, economics, biology, etc. It really is a fascinating area that I have been studying for over a decade. In that context, I think the Bulletin’s editorial did a fine job of skimming the surface of a few current high-profile issues. In the future, I hope they can provide broader and more nuanced coverage.Read More »
Surface water (rivers & streams) in the Deschutes Basin has been fully allocated since the early 1900s, primarily to irrigators. To accommodate for continued growth, groundwater pumping became the primary source of new water supplies. In the 1990s studies showed that this pumping was impacting surface water. In the Deschutes Basin, snowmelt in the Cascades seeps through porous volcanic rock, slowly replenishing the aquifer. As the aquifer overfills it releases the water via springs, which create our local lakes and rivers. Variability in snowpack and pumping impacts the aquifer and therefore stream flow.Read More »
Recently, I have spent far too many hours researching the proposed Thornburgh Resort. This project is a great example of how confusing and illogical planning laws and regulations can be. For example, did you know that when you pump water out of an aquifer that you only “mitigate” for a portion of it? Or that the mitigation water may or may not actually be measured? I could go on. Arguing and litigating about these issues is why it can take over a decade to reach decisions. (For an example of just how convoluted it is, see this legal summary of the various court cases that have been brought against the project.) Rather than wade into that thicket, I decided to take a different approach in my comments to Deschutes County Commissioners on the Thornburgh project. Here is the email that I sent today.Read More »
Yesterday, Karen and I took our canoe out to Little Cultus Lake along the Cascade Lakes Highway for a late afternoon, escape-the-heat excursion. Given the drought and heat wave I was not too surprised to see algae starting to form, but it was disappointing. As anyone who has lived in Central Oregon for any amount of time knows, algae blooms are occurring more frequently. This excursion reminded me that in April I was given this report on algae in Odell Lake and am way overdue for a post about it.Read More »
Yesterday I was interviewed for a story on the proposed Thornburgh Resort, an experience I always find frustrating. We spent 20 minutes discussing local water issues relating to the resort and the reporter picked something that I guess was a good sound bite, but a minor element of what I was trying to convey to her: the fact that we are dramatically overusing water. In any event, raising the profile of this issue is a good thing and I am thankful it is being covered.
Note: I state in the interview that 9+ CFS of water was for the first phase of development only. In fact, 9.28 CFS is for the entire development. I sincerely regret the error, although it does not change my position on the matter.
Since 2005 there has been an effort to develop a new destination golf resort just southwest of Eagle Crest Resort near Redmond. The proposed Thornburgh Resort will include multiple golf courses, lakes, temporary lodging, and detached housing. It is controversial, with multiple appeals and lawsuits, including one that will soon be heard by the Oregon Supreme Court. The developer continues to push forward, however, and last Wednesday, June 17th, was the initial public hearing by the Deschutes County Board of Commissioners on the Site Plan Review for Phase A golf course development. You can watch video of the hearing here, it starts at about 3:34:00 and continues for approximately 3 hours. I watched it live and was fascinated with the tension between growth and development with land use laws, water availability, affordable housing, etc.Read More »
For what it’s worth, here’s the email I sent to ODFW yesterday:
I oppose providing a fish passage waiver for the proposed hydroelectric plant at the base of Bowman Dam. While the cost of installing a ladder may be prohibitive, the proposed mitigation measures do not come close to providing a greater benefit to fish than opening up 500 miles of habitat and reconnecting fish in the upper Crooked River with fish in the lower Crooked River as well as other upper Deschutes Basin waterways. Further, a 50-year FERC license would preclude passage for the same amount of time.Read More »
NOAA just released this interesting graphic. Click here to learn more.
Bowman Dam was completed by the US Bureau of Reclamation (BoR) in 1961, damming the Crooked River and creating Prineville reservoir. It was built to protect development downstream from flooding, including the City of Prineville, and to provide water for Ochoco Irrigation District (OID) who operates the dam. While these are worthy goals, Bowman Dam has also caused significant environmental damage. OID, Prineville, and Crook County would now like to add a small hydroelectric facility to the base of Bowman Dam and are asking for a waiver to the State of Oregon requirement that fish passage be provided at dams undergoing significant changes. This is a complex issue, below are my thoughts. The waiver application, supporting documents, and analysis by the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife can be found here. Public comment on the waiver application is being accepted until June 22nd.Read More »
You have to watch this three-part PBS special on water. In 10 years the world will need 40% more fresh water than will be available. The themes are global, but they apply to Oregon as well. The global fresh water crisis is real, is already impacting the US, and will be strongly felt in Central Oregon sooner than any of us want to acknowledge. Locally, we dramatically mismanage our water and have not updated policies that are over 100 years old. But, what’s the worry? Someone will fix it, right? Can I get another beer?
Thanks to Brett Hodgson for informing me about this show.
“We have met the enemy, and he is us”. – Pogo
Adult steelhead start arriving in the Upper Deschutes during the summer and continue through the following April. (Steelhead are amazing.) Today, Portland General Electric released their April adult fish count for the Pelton Trap near the bottom of the re-regulating dam. A total of 57 adult steelhead returned during the 2019-2020 season. 22 of them were released as fry into the upper basin and 35 were released as smolts. There’s no denying that 10 years in, this is a disappointment.Read More »
Here’s the latest snow pack info for Oregon. Pretty grim. Last weekend I did a driving tour of the Cascade Lakes and saw just how low the lakes are for spring. Here’s a photo of the Deschutes arm of Wickiup from two days ago. It’s not just a river yet, but it will be by the end of the summer.Read More »
For years, ODFW has been working on chub control in a number of local lakes, mostly via netting and removal. The pandemic has created a budget issue along with a health issue and there will be no netting this year on East or Paulina Lakes. Control efforts have been successful and the chubs are less abundant than in the past, so this should not have too much impact on this summer’s fishing.
The fish ladder at Opal Springs has proven remarkably successful. Since it became operational late November through the end of April, thousands of fish from a variety of species have been filmed and identified as moving through it. Suckers and whitefish have moved up from Lake Billy Chinook for spawning. Rainbow, brown, and bull trout have traveled upriver most likely foraging for food. While the primary motivation for installing the fish ladder was to facilitate the reintroduction of salmon and steelhead, the ladder has also provided much needed connectivity between the Crooked, Metolius, and Middle Deschutes rivers. An improved ecosystem will be the result. Below is the breakdown by species.Read More »
Swalley Irrigation District and the Deschutes River Conservancy recently announced the completion of piping a 3 mile stretch of canal which will restore about 1.8 cubic feet a second (CFS) of flow to the Middle Deschutes during peak irrigation season. 1.8 CFS is about 13.5 gallons. Picture 5-gallon buckets, two full and one 2/3rds-full. Put them on their side and that’s the size of the stream they would create. Restoring water to the river is always good news, but this announcement is a great example of the complexity of the issue.Read More »
I have been writing for years about the water crisis that is looming in Central Oregon. Global heating, booming growth, and antiquated water policy is already impacting fish and wildlife. The persistence of shortages for agriculture are now becoming apparent to even the most fervent deniers. Municipal shortages are clearly on the horizon. I am heartened that the new ownership of The Bulletin is tackling this issue. Today they had two good articles on the topic. “How climate has changed farming the the Northwest” is a reasonable overview of the impacts of smaller snow pack, a topic I frequent. Missing from the article is a discussion of the impact of over pumping groundwater and lack of recharge which is equally concerning. They also ran a story about water rights marketing in Washington in the print edition, but failed to put it online (I found it here). This is exactly the approach that the Basin Study Work Group said would be a cheaper, faster way than piping to return water to the Deschutes River. If it can work in Washington, why not here in Central Oregon?
Today the Bulletin ran a guest column, “$1 billion is too much to give irrigation districts in these times“, by Tod Heisler of Central Oregon Land Watch. Clearly, I agree with Tod that the current plan is the wrong one. My first letter to The Bulletin criticizing water and canal management by local irrigation districts was over 10 years ago. Hopefully we can get past identifying the problem and finding real solutions to our local water issues before lack of adequate funding, a growing population, and a heating planet create a full-blown crisis. Of course, it already is a crisis for local fish and wildlife.
Today the Middle Deschutes below North Canal Dam was lowered to 74 CFS. The average for this time of year is 470 CFS. Historically it would be at least 1,000 CFS. I took the first photo this afternoon just below the dam, the river has been turned into frog water and much of the bank and what was habitat has been exposed. The second photo is at Sawyer Park. Look at this entry to see the see a similar view 10 days ago when it was at 310 CFS.Read More »
Another beautiful day on the river which made me think of the quote below. (BTW, I was following the rules: little travel, no parking in a parking lot or at a trailhead, there was no trail, and I only saw a couple of other adventurers all day. It is still possible to do this in Central Oregon.)
“I fish because I love to. Because I love the environs where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful, and hate the environs where crowds of people are fond, which are invariably ugly. Because of all the television commercials, cocktail parties and assorted social posturing I thus escape. Because in a world where most men seem to spend their lives doing what they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of small rebellion. Because trout do not lie or cheat and cannot be bought or bribed, or impressed by power, but respond only to quietude and humility, and endless patience. Because I suspect that men are going along this way for the last time and I for one don’t want to waste the trip. Because mercifully there are no telephones on trout waters. Because only in the woods can I find solitude without loneliness. Because bourbon out of an old tin cup always tastes better out there. Because maybe one day I will catch a mermaid. And finally, not because I regard fishing as being so terribly important, but because I suspect that so many of the other concerns of men are equally unimportant and not nearly so much fun.”
– Former Michigan Supreme Court Justice John Voelker
The Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife is currently working on their budget for the 2021-2023 biennium and taking public comment until May 1. You can learn more here. ODFW is the only state agency that solicits direct public feedback on their budget. In the past they have done this through their External Budget Advisory Committee (I am a member) as well as at town hall meetings throughout the state. Given the current pandemic, they are soliciting feedback electronically. There’s lot of information on their website, below are my observations and comments from the perspective of an angler in Central Oregon. I encourage you to familiarize yourself with the materials and submit your own comments.Read More »
On March 30th the Bulletin had a front page article about some of the ecological problems facing the Upper Deschutes. In response, I quickly submitted a guest column pointing out that the Middle Deschutes is suffering from the same issues. They have not published my column, so here it is for your consideration.Read More »
The latest report from Opal Springs says that over 1,000 largescale suckers moved through the fish passage the last 2 weeks of March. I don’t know anything about these fish so did some web searches and asked Brett Hodgson, ODFW Deschutes District Fish Biologist, about them. It turns out that some people like to fish for them, and they taste good. Brett emailed me that “suckers historically were an important source of protein for Native Americans in periods when salmon were not available”. I may have to target them with a sinking line and an egg pattern someday.Read More »
As I recently posted, last Monday through early Wednesday the irrigators raised the level of the Middle Deschutes almost 50% from 410 CFS to 600 CFS before dropping it to 250 CFS in about 6.5 hours during the day Wednesday. Today I had to go into Bend so I stopped by Sawyer Park to take a look.
If you are a trout angler, you have likely seen the impact cows have on rivers and streams by damaging banks, trampling riparian areas, and otherwise degrading habitat. You might not be aware that they are also the primary reason for low river flows in the West. “Water scarcity and fish imperilment driven by beef production“, published in Nature last month, describes exactly what we are seeing in the upper and middle Deschutes River. (Thanks to George Wuerthner for sending me this article.)Read More »
Unfortunately, I am given frequent reason to post about the environmental destruction to the Middle Deschutes from abrupt, drastic irrigation withdrawals. Today is a particularly egregious example. In 2 days flows in the river were increased from 410 to 600 CFS and then dropped to 250 CFS in just a few hours! Where’s the news coverage showing all the stranded fish in the side channels in the middle? Why don’t the irrigators slowly ramp down flows in the Middle Deschutes like they do in the Upper Deschutes? Business as usual for the irrigators is the business of environmental destruction.
Need something other than COVID-19 news? Today the Bulletin ran a story that gave a brief overview of some of the issues facing the upper Deschutes River (above Bend). I am thankful that the new ownership of the paper is providing more balanced coverage of local environmental stories.
David Moskowitz, Executive Director of The Conservation Anger, emailed me with a few comments on my post about the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife’s plans for creating cold water refugia for steelhead in the Columbia River. I have been thinking about this more as well, so here are some things to consider. I really hope you take the time to look at ODFW’s web page on this topic and submit your comments via email.Read More »
Yesterday ODFW held an online public meeting to discuss potential plans for creating cold water refugia for steelhead in the Columbia River. From my perspective, this is a simple decision. With a heating planet and plunging steelhead populations in the Columbia Basin, of course there should be cold water areas set aside where fishing is restricted. If anything, it seems we should err on the side of making the refugia areas larger and closures longer. This is not a universally held opinion, however.Read More »
We’re practicing social distancing at our house, so last weekend I got the garage organized and caught up on some reading. A couple of weeks ago The Native Fish society sent out an email that neatly encapsulates both my respect and frustration with them. I agree completely that we should be doing everything possible to support wild fish in our rivers and streams. There is no scientific doubt that wild fish are superior to hatchery fish and that large scale planting of hatchery fish for harvest into waters that contain wild fish should be stopped. This is not a purely black and white issue, however, as was stated in research that NFS themselves referred to. Hatcheries can have a role to play outside of simply stocking ponds and lakes for put and take fishing.Read More »
Last week I wrote about the controversy in the angling/conservation community about the use of hatchery fish in the Klamath River following the removal of the lower 4 dams, currently slated to begin in January 2021. I asked a few more questions and heard some good and some bad news from my perspective.Read More »
Next week the City Club of Central Oregon will host a discussion on the Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan. Initially billed as a debate between Tod Heisler of Central Oregon Land Watch and a representative from the irrigation districts it now features Bridget Moran of the US Fish & Wildlife Service standing in for the irrigators. I guess none of them wanted to stand up for their own plan. I’m not sure what this debate will be about now. What I do know is that this discussion will be fundamentally unsatisfying regardless of who is on the stage.Read More »
Believe it or not, if you look at the individual fish count numbers on the PGE website for past years, summer steelhead season in the upper most stretches of the Deschutes extends to the end of April. Some of these fish really take their time to get to their final destination. So, while the return season is not over, we are getting close. As of March 6th, 53 steelhead have been passed above the dams into Lake Billy Chinook. 47 of those were recently counted via radio tags, 22 in the Crooked River, and 3 in the Crooked arm of Lake Billy Chinook, presumably getting ready to head up the river. This once again shows the importance of the fish ladder at Opal Springs.
The excellent fishing in the Klamath Basin should get even better when 4 impassable dams on the Klamath River in California and Oregon are removed (J.C. Boyle, Copco 1 & 2, and Irongate). Dam removal will improve conditions for resident redband trout as well as allow for reintroduction of anadromous fish into their prime historical spawning habitat in the rivers and streams above Klamath Lake. On Thursday I was at a Klamath Lake Land Trust event where I was able to speak with Dave Meurer of the Klamath River Renewal Corporation, the organization that will soon own the dams and be charged with their removal.Read More »
As readers of this blog know, I have an affinity for the Klamath Basin. The trout fishing there is very good and it is relatively uncrowded. Over the past couple of years I have been a donor to the Klamath Lake Land Trust which is working on habitat acquisition and restoration in the upper Klamath Basin which could make a good thing even better.Read More »
February was one of the driest months on record for Oregon and the effects can really be seen in our rivers. Here is a graph from the USGS site showing current levels. I have regularly looked at this site for many years and never seen so much red. Even the Deschutes is below the 10th percentile of normal flows! Our local snowpack is now 82% of normal and Central Oregon is currently classified as being in a moderate drought. None of this is good news for fish.
Today I returned from a fishing trip to Cuba put together by Flywater Travel. This trip did not live up to my hopes but the Zapata peninsula certainly has the potential to be a premier fly fishing destination. It is a huge area of flats, channels, mangrove forests, and small islands. There are abundant bonefish, baby tarpon, some permit, and many other species including barracuda, jacks, snapper, snook, etc. In the right conditions, at the right time of year, I am certain the fishing could be excellent. The accommodations, food, and staff were pleasant and professional.
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The 2019-2020 Deschutes summer steelhead season is not over, but we are close enough to draw conclusions. They continue to be dismal. Steelhead start entering the Deschutes River on their one-way journey to spawn in late spring and early summer. These “summer” steelhead may make it to their spawning grounds in a tributary far upriver as early as September or as late as April. They have an amazing life story. Read More »
Central Oregon Irrigation District is asking for another round of taxpayer funding to pipe a small section of their 400+ miles of canals. This time the request is for $42M to pipe 7.9 miles of canal. Yesterday Central Oregon Land Watch posted their analysis of this proposal. Per COLW, $42M equates to “$568,000 per irrigator”. I wish I got this sort of taxpayer subsidy. The Basin Study Work Group clearly showed ways to save the same amount of water for 25% of the cost of main canal piping. WaterWatch has pointed out that there are no guarantees in this latest piping proposal that any conserved water be permanently returned to the upper Deschutes. And, as always, there is no mention of increasing flows in the middle Deschutes during irrigation season. The song remains the same…
Today I saw that one of the COID main canals near my house was full of water so I checked the graph. As you can see below, there have been some pretty dramatic fluctuations in the Deschutes below Bend over the past week. There was an abrupt diversion into the canals on February 10 and it looks like another is starting today. (Note that it can take a few days for the water to make it down the canals.) As I have written before, these sudden fluctuations wreak havoc on the aquatic environment and cause increased sedimentation which fills spawning beds.Read More »
Here’s a story form NOAA Fisheries discussing increased whale entanglements in nets on the West Coast due to a warming Pacific. The meat of the story is that “warm temperatures attracted subtropical species rarely seen in the region. The krill that humpback whales typically feed on grew scarce. The whales switched to feed instead on high concentrations of anchovy that the warm, less productive waters had squeezed into a narrow band near the coast”. This has lead to a record number of entanglements.
The Bulletin ran a story last week on the local snow pack which reminded me that I had not posted on this topic since last spring. The winter is a little less than half over and so far the snow pack looks pretty good, but all is not well. Weather is not climate, Oregon remains drier than normal, groundwater levels are going down, and we continue to allocate water based on 100 year old water laws which were written in a very different environment. Keeping reading for more.Read More »
I am a member of the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Restoration & Enhancement Board. A small portion of every commercial and recreational fishing license is set aside to spend on projects approved by the R&E board. This volunteer position has been a wonderful experience and a great way to help direct projects in ways I believe will benefit anglers all over the state. Our meeting last week was in Salem where we had the opportunity to speak with top leadership and get an overview of ODFW’s strategic plan. I know that ODFW has a mixed reputation but I believe they are doing a good job given available resources, their broad mandate, and mixed constituencies. I was also encouraged by the vision they laid out for the future.Read More »
Thus far, 19 steelhead have swam from Lake Billy Chinook up the Opal Springs fish ladder into Lake Billy Chinook. Historically, the greatest number of steelhead arrive at the Pelton Fish trap in January and February, so I certainly hope the numbers get even better. Along with the steelhead, 90 rainbow, 53 whitefish, 10 brown trout, and one bull trout have been detected in the ladder, mostly moving upstream. Connecting the Crooked River to the Deschutes and Metolius rivers is excellent news for these fish species as well. So far, so good!
Central Oregon Irrigation District continues to move forward with piping their main canals. Two days ago a public review meeting for the next section was announced. There are clearly good things about this proposal. Piping a leaky canal will save water that can be shared with farmers in North Unit Irrigation District. Nevertheless, I remain a critic. We taxpayers are funding this improvement project for the benefit of private interests. Further, it is not the most efficient way to spend our money. More water can be saved, cheaper, and more quickly using other approaches. This particular train seems to have left the station, however.
Global warming is one of the topics I occasionally cover for the simple fact that it is impacting anglers in Central Oregon. Our rivers and ocean are heating, fish are being impacted, and fishing closures due to heating are becoming more frequent. The impacts on anadromous fish (salmon, steelhead) are the most dramatic, but they are only the canaries in the coal mine. While our government continues to ignore this critical issue there is a growing awareness in many parts of the business community that action must be taken, and soon.Read More »
…from Los Barriles, Baja California Sur, Mexico. My first fish of the new decade. The dorado is tonight’s dinner, the skipjack was released to live another day. I’d rather be steelhead fishing but this is not a bad replacement. Pretty fun on a 10wt rod.
I have read many of the substantial comments on the Draft Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan and associated Draft Environmental Impact Statement. The comments from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs illustrate just how tangled an issue this is. Like many others, the Tribes are extremely critical of the draft HCP and EIS, but in a unique way. While most critical comments ask for more water more quickly in the upper Deschutes in the winter, the Tribes want LESS water than proposed. Keep reading to understand why.Read More »
While the winter has started out somewhat dry in Central Oregon, things look good for the Crooked River this winter. Prineville Reservoir was not drawn down to very low levels over the summer and is currently 57% full. The majority of that is “fish water”, meaning it is not earmarked for irrigation use, and can be released for fish and wildlife. 93 cfs is currently being let out into the Crooked, which provides reasonable habitat for fish, and this amount should be maintained throughout the winter. Some fish water may even be left over. Of course, higher flows will likely occur if the reservoir completely fills over the winter. So, right now it looks like next spring and summer could be good for fishing on the Crooked.
The Association of NW Steelheaders has an article in their December newsletter stating that Willamette River steelhead have significantly increased in numbers since ODFW “removed” (killed) 33 California sea lions that were living in and near the Willamette Falls fish ladder. The sea lions were eating about 25% of the total adult steelhead run, now down to an estimated 9%. While steelhead populations continue to be under serious pressure, California sea lion populations are robust, perhaps at all time highs.
The new Opal Springs fish ladder became operational on Nov. 15 and an automated fish detection system was installed 4 days later. In the first 13 days (11/19 to 12/1) 23 trout, 28 whitefish, and 3 steelhead have been counted. That’s an excellent start.
Yesterday was the last day to file comments on the proposed Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan. You can now see all 1,681 of them here. You can also sign up to get email updates. I scanned the list and it looks like the majority were form letters. Nothing wrong with that, it shows the public is concerned. I look forward to finding and reading the comments from organizations like WaterWatch, Central Oregon Land Watch, ODFW, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, etc.
The Bend Bulletin ran a story today on the Opal Springs fish ladder. It’s worth a quick read. I’m glad to see the new ownership of the local paper paying more attention to environmental news.
Here’s an editorial from 1959, written by the editor of The Bulletin, discussing why a new irrigation dam should not be built on the upper Deschutes at Benham Falls. The arguments about water for agriculture versus other uses have not changed in 60 years. Mr. Chandler states that ag wastes too much water and is not as valuable as other economic uses. Same as it ever was.