I’ve had people contact me with questions about presentations of mine they have seen on YouTube. Really? I had no idea what they were talking about. After the latest email today, I searched and saw that two online presentations I gave earlier this year to Sunriver Anglers were recorded and uploaded to YouTube. One on fishing the Williamson River and one on fishing Lake Billy Chinook for bull trout. I clearly need better lighting and to speak more slowly at times. This month I am giving presentations on streamer fishing to Southern Oregon Fly Fishers and Central Oregon Flyfishers. Show up if you are in the area.
Brooke Snavely of Central Oregon Daily News interviewed me today on the banks of the Crooked River. I don’t know how long the story will be archived on their site, but below is the accompanying text. It’s always a strange experience to see myself on video and to try to understand the thought process behind a fair amount of talking on camera getting edited down to a few seconds. But, Brooke did a fine job of squeezing a lot into a 2 minute story.Read More »
It’s almost time for a funeral for the Wild & Scenic section of the Crooked River. It took a few days, but yesterday evening Ochoco Irrigation District and the Bureau of Reclamation reduced the river below Prineville Reservoir 12 cfs. Today I went to pay my respects and take some photos. It is so sad. Don’t forget, the river below the City of Prineville has been in even worse shape, running at 1 to 2 cfs for weeks*, at a time when over 80 spring chinook have been attempting to move up to spawning grounds. Today I left my office in Bend early and drove to the Prineville Reservoir and then down to the bottom of the Wild & Scenic section. Below are photos, videos, and some commentary.Read More »
I frequently criticize the Oregon Water Resource Department for what so many of us perceive as their lack of stewardship of our publicly owned resource. Their default mode of operation has been to approve any request for additional water use with no regard for its impact on ecosystems. That does appear to be changing, however, which is a welcome development although it has taken a crisis to spur it. OWRD is now conducting a series of in-person and online public outreach meetings on the subject of groundwater. One of the meetings will be in Bend on September 28th. Here are all the details. This is your chance to learn about their plans and make your voice heard.
Its one week until the WaterWatch auction in Portland. As I have written before, if you care about water in rivers in Oregon there is no more deserving organization of your support than WaterWatch. Head over to their website for examples of the great work they do. If traveling to Portland is not in the cards, you can participate in the online auction starting on Monday, the 19th. I will be floating down the Grande Ronde river during the auction, but I have purchased a Golden Ticket. If drawn, it will allow me to pick one of the live auction items before bidding begins. Pretty good deal.
As you probably already know, Ochoco Irrigation District and the Bureau of Reclamation began reducing flows in the Crooked River two days ago. I guess we can be thankful that they did not immediately drop it all the way to 10 cfs so that fish and other aquatic life can try to find deeper pools, but in the long run it will not matter. The river is going too low. Today the Bend Bulletin ran a story on the declining flows that was a little premature in my mind, I am waiting until the flows are fully reduced before heading out to see the damage and take photos. The story contained the normal platitudes from local officials expressing how terrible it is they had to take this drastic action due to factors beyond their control. The typical drivel, once again unchallenged in the article. One comment was particularly misleading, however.Read More »
Like many, I just have to swing a fly for steelhead this time of year so a friend and I headed over to the middle fork of the Willamette River yesterday. Historically there were no steelhead in this river but there is a reasonable run of hatchery fish, so I had no problem going after them and harvesting a couple in just a morning of fishing. These will be in my smoker very soon. It’s about the same distance from Bend as Maupin and, surprisingly, we only saw a handful of other angers on a Saturday. Easy floating, easy wading, and lots of good swinging water.
Yesterday ODFW announced the closure of steelhead fishing on the John Day as of September 15.
“Wild steelhead returns were looking more positive earlier this summer,” said Stephan Charette, ODFW John Day district fish biologist. “Unfortunately, we have since seen wild passage slow down, though numbers are still improved from the record low return observed last year.”
As the graph shows, adult steelhead returns over Bonneville Dam are looking better this year than last. Note that this is for all steelhead: wild, hatchery, and destined for a number of rivers. Improved ocean conditions have been very helpful. Turning to the Deschutes, the only counts we have are at the fish trap at Sherars Falls. Only a small percentage of steelhead moving up the river head into the trap, so it is not a full count but a way of comparing years. From July 14 through September 2, 9 wild and 16 hatchery steelhead have entered the trap. During the same period last year 7 wild and 12 hatchery fish were counted. So, this year is seeing a slight improvement on the Deschutes, but the numbers are still very low. Be careful with your catch and release practices if you plan to go after any of these fish. Also remember that ODFW believes that 100% of all wild fish in the Deschutes are caught at least once, with about a 10% mortality rate and reduced fecundity. Is it really worth it? There are a lot more steelhead in the Rogue this year…
UPDATE: Here’s another reason to pay attention to the Sherars counts. If the river is still open to steelhead fishing and 60 or fewer wild steelhead are captured at the trap by October 31, the fishery will close November 15.
Yesterday I spoke with Bridget Moran of the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the agency that worked with local irrigation districts and the City of Prineville on the Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan. Due to the cooler and wetter than anticipated spring, Ochoco Irrigation District was able to move their irrigation shut off date from August 15 to September 15. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the plan is now to keep flows at 10 cfs from shut off until November 1, not October 15.Read More »
It’s better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt. – Mark Twain
For the second time in as many columns, Gary Lewis demonstrated that he has not read Mark Twain. Mr. Lewis is great at describing trips where guides take him fishing but he has an inexplicable need to comment on issues he does not understand. His latest column has this statement about steelhead fishing:Read More »
For over a decade I have been attending the annual Fisheries Workshop hosted by Portland General Electric and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, the owners of the Pelton Round Butte Hydroelectric Project. This workshop discusses the efforts to reintroduce anadromous fish above Lake Billy Chinook with presentations by a wide range of scientists, agencies, and NGOs. The last one was on July 14th. I have been waiting to write about it until the materials were online and I had the chance to get through them.
As I have written for years, reintroduction results continue to fall far short of the goals of the project. Efforts to make improvements continue, however, and I remain hopeful that they will ultimately prove fruitful. The good news is that trout continue to thrive on the lower Deschutes River.Read More »
Yesterday the Bend Bulletin ran two stories on water that did a good job summarizing this complex topic (read them here and here). I applaud the Bulletin for their continued coverage of local water issues. The articles did contain a couple of factual errors, one of which was corrected today, and an omission that is important for a fuller understanding of the local water issues.Read More »
As I wrote 2 weeks ago, steelhead returns to the Deschutes are better than last year but still very low. This post from The Conservation Angler adds more to that discussion and notes that while July returns to the Columbia River were good enough to get ODFW to lift the closure on the Deschutes, since the end of July the returns have plummeted. As of August 10, the steelhead returns are 34% below the last 10-year average. Wild steelhead returns are 45% below. As I have asked many times in this blog, is the thrill of catching one of these fish worth the impact, even with best catch and release practices, when they are barely holding on?
UPDATE: Today ODFW released updated fish counts at Sherars Falls below Maupin on the Deschutes. So far this year a total of 4 steelhead (2 wild and 2 hatchery) have been counted. Last year at this time 12 fish (9 wild and 3 hatchery) had been counted. Again, not all steelhead go up the ladder at the falls, so these numbers are best used as a year to year comparison. Thus far, that comparison is not good.
If you value water in rivers and streams in the state of Oregon you should be a supporter of WaterWatch. There really is no organization that has done more to protect and restore flows in our state. If you live near or like to visit Portland, you should consider attending this event on September 24th. Learn more about WaterWatch here and register to attend here.
Yesterday the Bulletin had a story on North Unit Irrigation District’s latest proposed piping project. Unfortunately, the story left out a critical element of this proposal: no water savings will be returned instream. This is unprecedented for a local piping project that is to be primarily funded by public dollars. In contrast, 100% of the water saved by Central Oregon Irrigation District piping projects has been returned instream. This only makes sense, if the public is going to pay for conserving water we should get the benefit for fish, wildlife, and recreation. The public comment period on this project is open until August 10. Learn more here and please take the time to make a comment. Personally, I am not in favor of public financing for purely private benefit. For other ideas on how to use this money, keep reading.Read More »
As readers of this blog know, I regularly have opinion pieces published in the Bend Bulletin. When I submit columns, I do so with extensive documentation of my claims, a sometimes tedious process but one I respect. Fact-based journalism is one of the pillars of our democracy. Unfortunately, these same standards are not applied throughout the Bulletin as evidenced by Gary Lewis’ most recent column, “Deschutes River steelhead by the numbers”.Read More »
Update on 8/4/2022: Today the Bend Bulletin printed this post I made 2 days ago.
Despite the claim that dams are a form of clean, renewable energy they are being removed in many places across the country due to their lack of cost effectiveness and dramatic negative impacts on ecosystems. Four power generating dams on the Klamath River are slated to be removed next year, the largest dam removal project in US history. The Bend Bulletin recently published an opinion column stating that dams on the Snake River should not be removed. Here’s a different viewpoint.Read More »
I’m sure that we will be hearing a lot more about this soon, but last Friday (July 29) Thornburgh notified the Department of State Lands that they were terminating their application to purchase land to add to the resort currently under construction. I doubt that this will make any real difference to the development and water use of the resort but it is good to see that public pressure is starting to make some impact on this water sucking monster that won’t go away. I wish our county commissioners would grow backbones and stop the continued approval of development permits for this massive water project that is already causing local wells to go dry. Kudos to Nunzie Gould and Central Oregon LandWatch for their continued leadership in the campaign against Thornburgh.
It’s not in Central Oregon, but Snake River steelhead and salmon should be of concern to all of us. Yet another study has recently come out, co-authored by scientists from ODFW, Oregon State University, and US Fish & Wildlife, among others, stating that the dams must be breached to avoid local extinction (extirpation) of these fish as well as pacific lamprey. This follows a draft report from NOAA which came to the same conclusion. Of course, dam lobbyists are fighting back hard and attempting to have the NOAA report altered. Public comments on the report are open until August 10. Here’s an easy way to make your voice heard on this matter.
As expected, yesterday ODFW announced that unmarked summer steelhead counts over Bonneville Dam have surpassed the minimum threshold to open the Lower Deschutes to steelhead fishing on August 15. That is good news, but while the run on the Columbia is “improved”, it is still extremely low and the outlook for Columbia Basin summer steelhead remains dire. So far, counts on the Deschutes at Sherars Falls are worse than last year which saw record low returns. As of July 27 a single steelhead has been counted at that trap, it was a wild fish*. Over the same period last year there were 7 fish, 6 wild and 1 hatchery. It’s also important to know that ODFW believes that every wild fish in the Deschutes is caught at least once. Even using the best catch and release practices there is an estimated 10% mortality rate and reduced fecundity among caught fish. So, be careful out there.
*Not all steelhead go into the fish trap at Sherars Falls. This number is best used as a comparison to other years, not to estimate the total number returning adults. Also note that if 60 or fewer wild steelhead are counted at the trap by October 31 the river will be closed again.
ODFW has come up a little short of volunteers needed to backpack trout fry into a couple of local high lakes next Wednesday, August 3rd. You will need a backpack that can accommodate 30lbs of fish and water and the ability to carry that either 1.1 or 2.1 miles one way. I have always enjoyed doing this sort of thing in the past and look forward to helping again next week. If you want to come out and play, please contact Jen Luke at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yesterday morning a client called asking about the “old, scruffy” guy on TV talking about fish the day before. Well, about 3 weeks ago I was interviewed by Central Oregon Daily about the plans to reduce the Crooked River to 10 cfs and realized they must have finally run the segment. At the time of the interview Ochoco Irrigation District and the Bureau of Reclamation were planning to reduce flows around August 15, now they are targeting September 1. Otherwise, I think the interview remains factual. The flows will be reduced until October 15 when the Habitat Conservation Plan requires flows of 50 cfs through the winter. I know of a couple of attempts help alleviate this disaster but at best they are unlikely to succeed.
I would have made this post last night but I was presenting to the local chapter of Project Healing Waters about local water issues. I continue to be pleasantly surprised by people wanting to learn about how water is controlled in Central Oregon and their concern with its mismanagement once they get the facts.
It took three weeks from the time I first alerted the Bend Bulletin on the disaster that is going to happen on the Crooked later this summer, but I am thankful that they did finally run a story. Unfortunately, they did not go into much detail on just how devastating it will be for fish and wildlife. The quote from ODFW, “at this point, the scope of the impacts are unknown and difficult to predict”, is unfathomable. We know what is going to happen and it will be ugly. It seems all the people involved are simply going to watch it happen.
We all need mental health days, I’m just back from 3 of them. That’s my fishing buddy Scott with a wild, native redband trout. We estimate it was right around 8 lbs. I love fishing around here, but you don’t catch trout like that in Central Oregon. The bonus was we only saw a few other anglers in 3 days. Here’s yours truly with a smaller, but still more than respectable fish. I hope you had a great weekend of fishing.
Today OPB published the 3rd article in their “Race to the bottom” series about diminishing groundwater. “How Central Oregon groundwater sells to the highest bidders” is an excellent article that details the impacts of excessive groundwater withdrawals and the lengths to which the Thornburgh Resort is going to secure water. I highly recommend reading it. It is jaw dropping how our politicians and agencies are failing us. The article does not mention our country government, but it is guilty too.
This blog does not talk about politics, but politicians certainly impact the way in which water is managed in our state. Last Sunday the Bend Bulletin had an interesting editorial which provided excerpts from interviews with the three major candidates for governor on the topic of water. I am thankful that the Bulletin has made water a focus area. I encourage you to read the excerpts if water is a factor in your governor selection process. Keep reading for my commentary on the candidate’s statements, if you are so inclined.Read More »
Readers of this blog have seen many posts about groundwater issues and wells going dry. It is good to see that it is finally getting some news coverage. The Source Weekly recently published this story which is worth a quick read. There’s no new information in it if you have been following my posts, but it is a good, top-level summary. (I do wonder, however, why they have not published a letter I sent them a while back about this very topic.)
It’s the time of year when spring chinook come into the Deschutes River to spawn. As of yesterday morning, 28 of them have moved through Opal Springs Dam into the Crooked River. Right now there are survivable flows in the Crooked below the North Unit Irrigation District diversion just above Smith Rocks. When the flows out of Bowman Dam are reduced to 10 cfs in August, however, any remaining adults, their eggs, and any fry that have hatched will be in mortal peril.
I have heard that folks have been reaching out to the Bureau of Reclamation and elsewhere on the planned reduction of flows in August to 10 cfs in the Crooked River. While the BoR has been unresponsive, public awareness and pressure is a good thing. Keep contacting them and spreading the word! For those of you interested in digging into the details of how this can be allowed to happen, keep reading.Read More »
Brett Hodgson retired from ODFW last year after spending decades as a fish biologist in Prineville and Bend. In my experience, he the most knowledgeable source of information on local fisheries issues and stays active as a volunteer with ODFW. I called him yesterday to get his take on the plans to reduce flows in the Crooked River to 10 cfs next month. It was an interesting conversation, keep reading for more.Read More »
I’ve been camping and off the grid for the past 6 days but I’m back online and see that last Sunday the Bend Bulletin finally printed a column about groundwater I submitted to them about a month ago. They rejected the first version, I don’t know why, so I resubmitted with some of the sharper comments omitted. (Those comments are in my blog posts, look in the groundwater section). They didn’t believe many of my claims, so I submitted source material, and they also contacted the City of Ashland and the Thornburgh Resort developers to confirm that I was telling the truth. To be honest, this can be frustrating, but I do appreciate their fact checking and adherence to journalistic principals. We need a lot more of that.
Every month a group of local, state, and federal government agencies, Ochoco Irrigation District, the Confederate Tribes of Warm Springs, and others meet to discuss water releases out of Prineville Reservoir into the Crooked River. The minutes of that meeting are distributed to a wider audience, including yours truly. The June 1 minutes were released a few days ago and I had the chance to read them today. If you care about the Crooked River you should be extremely concerned. I encourage you keep reading and to contact Gregg Garnett, the Bend Field Office Manager of the Bureau of Reclamation at email@example.com or (541) 389-6541 x226.Read More »
There has been a lot of talk in various forums about domestic wells going dry. A recent post on NextDoor stated, “Just a heads up neighbors. I live near Barr Rd. and Cline falls. My well just went dry. My well is about 450 ft.” A response from a person in Tumalo was, “Mine and all neighbors wells have all gone dry too.” Another comment was, “I spoke to one of the larger well and pump providers in C. O. and they have been getting multiple calls per day the last 2 weeks on domestic wells. I am sire not every one is dry but that s still a huge rate.” (sic) This sort of talk has been popping for a couple of years. So, I spent some time on the Oregon Water Resources Department well report mapping tool to try to get some real data for Deschutes County.Read More »
Reader of this blog are familiar with the science showing that releasing hatchery anadromous fish has failed to increase returns while negatively impacting the survival of native, wild fish. OPB and ProPublica have released a good article detailing the failure, one of many that have been written over many years. On a related note, as I assumed would occur, the recent decision to stop hatchery steelhead releases on the North Umpqua was appealed to the Marion County Circuit Court which ordered ODFW to release the fish. Not surprisingly, ODFW immediately complied. After all, ODFW management wanted to do this all along regardless of the effectiveness of the program. So much for having an independent ODFW Commission make these sort of decisions.
Last month I wrote about ODFW’s plans to close the Deschutes River to steelhead fishing, yesterday they made it official. The entire lower river is closed until at least August 15. If more steelhead return than is anticipated, steelhead fishing may be opened after August 15. I’m not holding my breath. ODFW is maintaining a pretty good website on this topic which I encourage you to visit.
On May 23rd the first spring chinook of the season was passed through the Opal Springs fish ladder. I hope there is enough water in the Crooked River for it. Recently, the river has been as low as 12 cfs below the NUID diversion. For most of the past 2 months, the Crooked has been around 2 to 4 cfs below the OID diversion. I took a photo when I walked across the river near the City of Prineville wetlands project when it was at 4 cfs. As you can see, in the deepest spot the water barely went over the top of my feet.
On May 4th, Deschutes County Commissioner Phil Chang held a virtual town hall meeting titled “Improving Drought Resiliency in the Deschutes Basin”. I commend Commissioner Chang’s concern with water but found his talk troubling.Read More »
I camped last Sunday through Tuesday on the Lower D, one of my favorite annual trips. In my opinion, camping is the only way to fish the stonefly hatch. The fishing is best early and late when there are few other anglers, I spend the middle of the day at camp, maybe have a beer and watch the insane crowds float by, and have a relaxing, productive trip. I caught 23 redbands, the biggest I measured at 19″. My fishing partner Scott, did equally well and landed a 21″ bull trout. If you pick a spot where you can row across the river you can fish many miles of water on both sides so you don’t have to bring your own rock to stand on. BTW, the river is in great shape. Don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise.Read More »
The 2021-2022 Deschutes summer steelhead season officially ended April 30. While steelhead can start appearing in the lower most sections of the Deschutes in June, most don’t arrive at the upper stretches until winter with stragglers arriving in March and April. According to Portland General Electric, the final reintroduction count for this past season is 46 steelhead. (Look at the spreadsheets from May 2021 through April 2022.) The 2020-2021 season saw 52 adult returns and the total for the season prior to that was 57. Clearly, the return of only 46 adult steelhead from the Upper Deschutes Basin is disappointing. On the other hand, the return of wild and hatchery adults in the entire river has been plummeting.Read More »
Last week was a typical example of how the Crooked River is managed by the Bureau of Reclamation and local irrigation districts with no concern for fish and wildlife. In only 45 minutes on April 26th, releases from Bowman Dam into the Crooked River rose from 144 cfs to 240 cfs. This started at 5:45 am and ended at 6:30 am. I hope no anglers or wildlife were wading in the river early that morning. Of course, a sudden surge of this magnitude will have stirred up considerable spawning bed clogging sediment.Read More »
I would have bet big against this, but on a 4-3 vote the Commission directed ODFW to stop summer hatchery steelhead releases on the N. Umpqua. This was against the recommendation of ODFW staff. Am I glad I am not on the Commission. It was about 5 hours of testimony on both sides and a lot of people are going to be very angry. Wow. Just wow.
The Bureau of Reclamation has launched a new website tracking Prineville Reservoir water management. For those of you like me who like to dive into the weeds, it’s worth a quick look. The primary content is the letter to “Prineville Reservoir Storage Contractors”. It states that at 27% full, Prineville Reservoir has never been this low at this time of year, is not likely to fill more, and will likely be empty by the end of irrigation season. Most water right holders (“storage contractors”) will receive at most 49% of their water allocations. The big users will receive even less. Ochoco Irrigation District will receive 42% of their water right and North Unit only 27%. This is bad news for irrigators but fishing in the Wild & Scenic section this summer should be fine. The big unanswered question is where will the water for the 50 cfs of winter releases required by the Habitat Conservation Plan come from? Without adequate winter release and a huge snowfall next winter the Crooked River will be in very bad shape. At what point do the needs of fish and wildlife come into consideration?
Last night around 9 pm one of Central Oregon District’s main canals breached. Per COID, at the time water was flowing around 250 cfs. “The Pilot Butte Canal conveys water to 17,338 acres along 25 miles between the north end of Bend, through Redmond to Terrebonne.” The breach is near my house, so I took a look. At 9:30 this morning much of the water had drained away, but there was still plenty left. It looks to me that around 3 houses were flooded along with multiple outbuildings and fields. COID says that the cause of the breach is burrowing animals. It seems to me that would make homeowners along the canal who oppose piping reconsider their position.Read More »
By now I’m sure you are all fully familiar with the Bureau of Reclamation graph of local reservoirs and rivers used to irrigate the high desert. In non-drought years the reservoirs are full early in the irrigation season, but only Crane Prairie and Haystack are near that level today. Haystack is an intermediate reservoir used by North Unit Irrigation District to temporarily hold water from Wickiup and Crane Prairie is kept full early in the season for Oregon Spotted Frog habitat as required by the Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan. What is less well known is the dramatic change in river levels caused by irrigation diversions, a change which is lethal to many forms of aquatic life.Read More »
Last night the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife held a webinar on the outlook for wild steelhead in the Columbia River and Oregon tributaries like the Deschutes. The bottom line is that wild returns in many rivers were the lowest on record last year and are forecast to be even lower this year. For example, only 480 wild steelhead are projected to pass above Sherars Falls on the Deschutes River this year! (Talk about depressing.) While management decisions have not been finalized, the current recommendation is to close all steelhead fishing on both the Deschutes and John Day rivers until returns exceed certain thresholds. Keep reading for more information and a little commentary.Read More »
Today the Bend Bulletin published an excellent opinion piece from Tod Heisler on water management in the Deschutes Basin. Tod is the former executive director of the Deschutes River Conservancy, currently with Central Oregon LandWatch, and is one of the most knowledgeable people around on water issues. The themes he writes about are well known to readers of this blog but they need to be repeated until action is taken. We are in a crisis that our “leaders” continue to ignore.
As I discussed here, ODFW is anticipating another year of poor steelhead returns in the Columbia Basin including tributaries like the Deschutes. Hopefully you read that prior post and took the angler survey. Next Tuesday, April 19th, ODFW is hosting a webinar at 6 pm where “ODFW fish biologists throughout the Columbia Basin will discuss summer steelhead management, what was learned from the survey, decision frameworks for fishery restrictions and more”. The seminar will be live on ODFW’s YouTube channel. If you fish for steelhead on the Deschutes, or used to, this should be on your calendar.
I believe that the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife is the only state agency that solicits public feedback while planning their budget. The 2023-2025 budget request is being prepared and now is the time to weigh in if you are so inclined. I have been a member of ODFW’s External Budget Advisory Committee for a few budget cycles, and was an individual commenter before that, and have found the process simultaneously interesting and frustrating. An important portion of ODFW’s funding is from license sales and there can be conflict between stewardship of our fish & wildlife and the need to generate revenue. Also, the voices of a few groups dominate the discussion rather than individual license holders. I encourage you to let yours be heard.
First, you need to review the budget materials here. At least a high level understanding the proposed budget is important to making useful comments. You can make comments directly to ODFW by attending one of their online “listening sessions” this week or via email to ODFW.Commission@odfw.oregon.gov by May 25.
Last week, ODFW held an online seminar to go over their recent research concerning summer steelhead returns on the North Umpqua River. You can watch the replay here and read the entire 143 page report here. The presentation is worth watching, I also suggest reading at least the summary of the report and scanning the rest. This work was hastily done in response to the extremely low steelhead returns last summer and calls by many in the fly angling community to curtail hatchery steelhead releases. No management decisions have been made, only the data was reviewed, but based on the report I would anticipate little or no changes to hatchery practices. That decision will be made at the ODFW Commission meeting on April 22, you can get information on how to view that meeting here (it’s the last item on the agenda). Keep reading for my comments on the report.Read More »
Like many of you, I have been watching the Bureau of Reclamation graph for Prineville Reservoir and the Crooked River. I also receive notes from the monthly planning meetings that occur between the Ochoco Irrigation District and various agencies. I have been waiting to write about this, but a reader asked about it today and irrigation season starts soon, so here’s what I know and what I anticipate will occur.Read More »
The Bend Bulletin published my latest guest column today, “Oregon could learn a lot from Arizona”. You really should have a subscription, a local newspaper is critical to having a well functioning local government, but if you don’t, I’ve reproduced it below. My last column in the paper was about hope not being a plan for solving our water crisis. Today the paper ran two stories on water, one of which quoted a state official stating “I was hoping for a much better winter this year, a recovery”. Last week I had an email exchange with a federal agency involved in controlling releases from Prineville Reservoir in the Crooked River asking about their plans. The response was they were waiting to see what happens during the remainder of the spring. Once again, hope is not a plan and right now we have no plan. Arizona does. Here’s my column in today’s paper.Read More »
Part 2 of Oregon Public Broadcasting’s series on groundwater depletion is now available. Local anglers should take note: Ana Reservoir and Ana River are in peril of going dry from excessive pumping by hay farmers in nearby Christmas Valley. The Oregon Water Resources Department is aware of this but is not taking action to prevent it. As noted in the article, “State regulators don’t track how much water Fort Rock basin farmers use. About 99% of the wells in the area aren’t required to measure and report what they take out of the ground”. Worse, these farmers are essentially exporting water when they sell their hay to international markets. Of course, water is owned by all Oregonians, but we are not all getting benefits. It’s no wonder why a member of the public recently stated in a OWRD Commission meeting that the agency’s actions are “criminal”.
As you already know, 2021 steelhead returns to the Columbia Basin, including the Deschutes River, were the lowest on record. Prior to the start of the season, the forecast was for 101,400 wild & hatchery steelhead to return. In fact, only 69,669 did. For perspective, from 2001 to 2010 the average return was 406,375 fish. The 2022 forecast is for 99,700 steelhead. We’ll see if this forecast is more accurate than last year. Many biologists believe that some Columbia Basin steelhead are on the path to near-term extinction if dramatic changes are not quickly made. ODFW is currently soliciting input on how to manage fishing regulations in anticipation of another historically low return year. Keep reading for more and how you can get involved.Read More »
In an extremely surprising but welcome move, last January ODFW sent this letter to Deschutes County regarding Thornburgh. Yesterday, I was pleasantly shocked to learn that after many requests over many years, ODFW has weighed in on the topic of Thornburgh’s use of water. Read the letter yourself, but the bottom line is that they do not believe that Thornhurgh has proven they have adequate cold water to properly mitigate the damage their pumping will do to the Middle Deschutes. Of course, this has been a primary objection many of us have made for some time. Now the question is, what will Deschutes County do with this information? The law says that Thornburgh cannot pump water without ODFW approving the mitigation but the County has not let that get in the way in the past.
Oregon Public Broadcasting published the first of a series of articles on groundwater yesterday. It is well worth reading. As many have been saying for a long time, Oregon’s water, which is owned by all of us, is horribly mismanaged by our government. I hope the rest of the series is as revealing as this first installment.
The North Umpqua River is not in Central Oregon but it is close enough that I have spent a considerable amount of time there over the years swinging flies for steelhead. It is difficult fishing but until the past few years it has been rewarding. It is still beautiful, although recent fires did burn some of the landscape. Like so many other rivers in Oregon the steelhead numbers have plummeted, especially the summer run which saw only 450 adult returns last year. These iconic fish in one of the west coast’s most storied steelhead rivers are clearly in peril. As a result, ODFW has been asked by some fishing groups to stop the release of hatchery steelhead in the river which have been scientifically proven to have a detrimental impact on wild fish. ODFW is now considering what actions to take and is soliciting public feedback. Keep reading for how to get involved.Read More »
The ODFW Restoration & Enhancement Board, where I am a member, had another interesting and productive meeting today. Today, we helped fund a number of projects, including two local ones. $20K was allocated for another summer of netting tui chub and brown bullhead catfish in local high lakes. This effort has been critical to maintaining healthy sport fishing in places like East Lake for many years. In addition, $101K was given to the Deschutes Land Trust’s Ochoco Preserve, contributing to their $1.7M project. This project should be of interest to anyone who fishes the Crooked River or who is interested in anadromous fish reintroduction in the Upper Deschutes Basin.Read More »
9 fish in 2.5 hours of fishing today and the only other angler I saw was my friend Scott. You can still find these productive, beautiful places close to home with a little effort. A quick trip to break up a weekend of chores.
Central Oregon LandWatch is asking for public comments on the next significant development at the proposed Thornburgh Resort near Eagle Crest. You can read all the details here including ways to take action. In summary, Thornburgh wants to buy public lands that are in the proposed resort. Like so many others, I oppose this resort. It will use a massive amount of groundwater, impacting springs that feed local rivers and the fish and wildlife that depend on them. The resort is in the middle of important winter mule deer habitat. A popular hiking area will be closed to the public. Increased traffic and congestion will also accompany the resort. I believe that Thornburgh Resort will be detrimental to most Central Oregonians. Please make your voice heard on this important topic.
Last night the Deschutes Land Trust hosted what I found to be an extremely thought provoking talk by Dr. Sarah Jaquette Ray. I highly recommend watching the recording. I had not previously been exposed to the study of the intersection of mental health and global warming. My mind is wired so that when I see a problem, no matter how large or daunting, I think analytically and disconnect my emotional state from it. (My daughter the therapist says I am weird.) I had not seriously considered what fear of a less inhabitable planet could do to the mental well being of others. Turns out this is a big problem. My bad. Really interesting talk. Keep reading if you want more opinion on this from me.Read More »
Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Research has a group focused on “thematic investing”. These are trends, developments, and problems with a high probability of occurring that could also become interesting opportunities, although not fully realized today. This group writes fascinating reports on a wide range of topics. Their most recent 135-page, fully documented report is titled, “The World Is Not Enough – Scarcity Primer”. It is concerning to say the least. The report begins, “We will need 2x Earth’s resources to keep up with the current usage rate by 2030. Today less than 1% of the planet’s water is fit for human use and we could run out of freshwater by 2040.” There are 10 themes in the report, below are bullet points from some of them that are relevant to this blog. It’s not a happy list.Read More »
The Deschutes County Planning Commission is currently examining water issues in preparation for the Comprehensive Plan Update (Deschutes 2040), which will be initiated in Spring 2022. Here’s my post about their first water panel presentation which occurred on February 24th. Today I sent commission members an email with my comments about this meeting and suggested actions. You can make comments by sending an email to PlanningCommission@deschutes.org. Keep reading to see my comments.Read More »
At the recent Deschutes County Planning Commission meeting on water, Kyle Gorman of the Oregon Water Resources Department showed a new graph. It is from an OWRD water monitoring well between Bend and Redmond, east of the intersection of Highway 97 and 61st Street. It’s a new 700 feet well, completed late January 2020. Between 3/13/2020 and 10/5/2021 it dropped 3.47 feet! That’s a huge decline in only 19 months, and people tell me I am being overly dramatic when I say we are in a water crisis. You can see all the data here.
Yesterday, the Deschutes County Planning Commission hosted a panel discussion to “thoroughly understand the major water resource issues currently facing Central Oregon from a scientific, regulatory, and environmental perspective.” Panelists were from the US Geological Survey, Oregon Water Resources Department, and the US Fish & Wildlife Service. You can watch a recording here, it begins around minute 8 and ends at 1:34:00. It’s lengthy but worth watching. A second panel discussion is planned for April 14. I am thankful that this important commission is starting to think about the issue. As their questions illustrated, they need a lot more discussion of this topic.
The Oregon Water Resources Department sends out a weekly email with this report covering statewide water conditions. Now that we recently passed the half-way mark for winter, I thought I would share it. I’m sure you are familiar with some of this data, but there are some less known charts as well. As we should all know by now, most of Central Oregon is in a severe to extreme drought. What is less discussed is the current state of our groundwater and streamflow percentages, which are very concerning. The bottom line is that it will take multiple years of above average snow pack to return us to anything close to what used to be “normal” levels. You can sign up to get this report here.
Central Oregon is experiencing a water crisis. Despite intermittent years of good snow fall, Central Oregon has been in some level of drought for more than 20 years. As we reach the middle of winter we should all be concerned. Local reservoirs and lakes, not just Wickiup, are at historic lows for this time of year. It is unlikely they will fill. Rivers are at extreme lows as well. Domestic wells are being deepened to maintain access to water as the aquifer drops, even wells adjacent to the Deschutes River. Some springs that feed the Metolius River are almost dry. Parts of the most productive farmland in Central Oregon will again be fallowed this year due to lack of water. Fish and wildlife will suffer the most.Read More »
There has been a fair amount of press recently on the water bank pilot being implemented by Central Oregon Irrigation District, North Unit Irrigation District, and the Deschutes River Conservancy, including another column in the Bend Bulletin today. As I detailed in a prior post, this is a great concept although many implementation details need to be addressed. The core problem is that the water bank will only work if it is structured so that COID patrons sign up for the program in large numbers, which does not seem to be occurring. As reported in this Bulletin article, “more than 100” COID patrons have agreed to participate in the program. COID’s website states they have over 4,000 “accounts”, 100 participants in the program is a small fraction of that. A water bank is a great idea and needs to start somewhere, but a lot more work needs to be done for it to have a meaningful impact given the severity of our ongoing drought. I’m glad that the DRC has received the funding to continue that work.
Like many in Central Oregon, I live in an unincorporated area and rely on a well for my water. After hearing many reports of domestic wells failing, I recently had my water level measured. It has dropped 22’ since it was drilled 16 years ago, a rate of approximately 1.4’ a year. I live 2.4 miles east of the Deschutes River. Friends who live directly adjacent to the river in Tumalo have seen their well drop 50’ in the past 36 years, also a rate of 1.4’ a year. They now need to deepen their well at an approximate cost of $30,000. It is incredible that a well a very short distance from the river is also being impacted and points to the widespread severity of groundwater declines.Read More »
Tomorrow I leave the country for a 10-day “bucket list” fly fishing trip and thought I would leave you with a few brief glimpses of steelhead swimming up the Opal Springs fish ladder. The latest counts are from December 21 through January 10 when 70 fish of all species were detected, including 54 redbands and 4 steelhead. Steelhead returns remain very low, but a few are now in the Crooked River. Flows in the river are well under targets established by the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife for healthy habitat, but the river is not dry in places like it was last year when spring chinook arrived. Let’s hope these steelhead find spawning partners and a place to lay their eggs!Read More »
You’ve probably already read about the announcement yesterday from ODFW that a new state record whitefish was caught last month on the Lower Deschutes near Warm Springs. Congrats to Alex Dietz, it must have been fun. This is another example of the fact that the Lower Deschutes is in great shape and that fish are bigger since PGE’s Selective Water Withdrawal tour became operational. To be clear, there are ongoing issues but its past time for the misinformation campaigns to stop.
“Water banking”, also known as “water marketing”, is a well understood method of applying economic principles to water allocation. In short, it allows water rights holders to sell or lease their water to others who could derive more economic value from it. After significant effort, the Deschutes River Conservancy is establishing a voluntary pilot program for Central Oregon Irrigation District patrons to temporarily allocate their water to North Unit Irrigation District. The Bend Bulletin had a good story on this topic last week which was later picked up by Oregon Public Broadcasting. Here’s additional discussion including some areas that need work.Read More »
On December 23, 2021, the Oregon Water Resources Department sent the final version of their 5-year review of the Deschutes Basin Groundwater Mitigation Program to the state legislature. As expected, little was changed in this widely criticized and often misleading document. As you can see in the attachments to the report, significant objections were submitted by other state agencies, the Tribes, NGOs, and individual citizens. Many of these objections have been raised and ignored by OWRD for the entire time the DBGMP has been in place. They portray themselves to the legislature as successfully executing their duties while Central Oregon continues to suffer from lack of effective water management. Such is the nature of government. For more on this topic, see the Groundwater category on the right.
Yesterday, the Bulletin published my column on Facebook’s use of water in Prineville and its impact on the Crooked River. Another part of the Bulletin article to which I was responding briefly mentioned the Ingram Meadow Restoration Project in the Ochoco Mountains stating it was a Facebook project that is benefitting our local environment. Clearly, restoring natural habitat is a worthy endeavor to be supported. It is not at all clear, however, what role Facebook played in this US Forest Service project or how it helps offset their significant use of water many miles downstream. If Facebook, or Apple, really want to provide benefit that directly offsets the impact of their data centers on the Crooked River there is a restoration project in their backyard they should fund.
Update: I have been told that Facebook donated $30K to the National Forest Foundation which was then forwarded to the USFS for the Ingram Meadow Project. The total spent on “Meadow and Riparian Enhancement” was $150K.Read More »
Thornburgh Resort, the water monster that just won’t go away, is up for its next Deschutes County hearing. Comments are due by 6 pm on January 4. Central Oregon LandWatch has an excellent discussion of the topic as well as information on how to comment on their website. Water is at the heart of the matter. Below are the comments I have submitted.Read More »
The Bend Bulletin recently reported on an aquifer recharge project by the City of Prineville which has received funding from Facebook and Apple, who use significant amounts of water to cool servers at their data centers in Prineville. Here’s a more complete and balanced explanation of the project and its environmental impacts. Facebook and Apple are trying to reduce their water footprint, but there’s more to the story than reported.Read More »
As you have probably already heard, on Friday the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife Commission voted 5-2 to continue to allow the killing of wild steelhead on some southern Oregon coastal rivers. I spent much of the day on Thursday and Friday with the Commission meetings playing in the background while I did my “real” job and have a few observations I would like to share. I would have voted for catch-and-release only fishing, as 2 commissioners did, but I don’t think there were any good or bad guys in this vote. It was a reflection of how ODFW is run, how information is presented to commissioners, and most importantly, how different types of anglers perceive wild fish.Read More »
High Country News is running a series they call “Tapped Out: Power and water justice in the rural West”. Yesterday I posted about an article in HCN covering Klamath Basin water management that originally appeared in The Counter. Here’s an article in HCN from Columbia Insight about water banking. (I had not heard of Hood River-based Columbia Insight, its worth a look.) Water banking is being touted as a key tool for solving water management issues in the Deschutes Basin. It has been used effectively in some areas to move water from low-value uses to higher-value ones, but is increasingly being seen as an investment opportunity for financiers hoping to profit from buying and then reselling water at higher prices. Clearly, this is extremely problematic and yet another example of how our political leaders are failing us – we need to get in front of this issue with proper regulations to allow water banking to work for us in the beneficial way that it can.
As readers of this blog know, I spend a fair amount of time fishing all around the Klamath Basin and have been educating myself on its water and fisheries issues for many years. I think this area should be of interest to Central Oregon residents as the extreme water woes of our neighbors to the south are likely to be visited upon us as well. High Country News currently has a long, somewhat wandering article about water management in the Klamath Basin that might be worth scanning. The part that motivated me to write this post was the mention of “critical groundwater areas”. Coincidentally, I listened to a call by the Oregon Water Resources Department yesterday on the topic of critical groundwater areas, a concept we should all pay attention to.Read More »
Here’s an email I sent to Oregon Water Resources Department Commissioners today following their meeting last Friday. In a prior life I spent time as an executive and board member in the private sector and always tried to be cognizant of how information was filtered and presented – what board members hear is not always what they should hear. Perhaps the OWRD Commissioners will consider my thoughts, but I’m not holding my breath.Read More »
I spent the day watching the OWRD Commission meeting which was largely devoted to groundwater issues, including a review of the Deschutes Basin Groundwater Mitigation Program. It was frustrating at best. OWRD acknowledges that both groundwater and surface water are over appropriated throughout the state but that 70% of all new groundwater applications are routinely approved even with the knowledge that withdrawals are already lowering water tables, causing domestic wells to go dry, and negatively impacting surface water. OWRD is now saying they need to start looking into this. START? One public commenter stated that their well has gone dry due to nearby over pumping and that OWRD’s behavior on this issue has been “criminal”.Read More »
I have been troubled by my last post from 3 days ago on the N. Umpqua. Did I really say what I felt or was I trying to be polite to an organization where I have volunteered for many years? Well, I caught up on some reading yesterday, including the latest version of The Osprey, and my error was crystal clear. I have written about The Osprey many times, as usual the latest issue has many excellent articles, but the tour de force was Pete Soverel’s, “For Wild Salmon and Steelhead, Time is Running Out – For Real”. I strongly encourage you to read this well informed frontal attack on West Coast fisheries management. The gloves are off for good reason. The end is near and fisheries managers are doing nothing useful to change course.
Which gets me back to the N. Umpqua. If the summer run was at 350 fish, 10% of a 10-year average that is already low compared to historical numbers, and there is no scientific basis for believing that the winter run will dramatically improve above 10%, then why is the river being opened to fishing on December 1? At a minimum, ODFW should wait until they can confirm significantly improved returns. The sad truth is that ODFW is actively managing our rivers to minimize angler complaints, not for the long term survival of our anadromous fisheries.
I have been a angler for over 50 years but a steelhead junkie for only about the last 15, so I merely had a taste of what it could be like in Oregon before the populations started plummeting. It was enough. For a few years I even parked a small trailer near Glide all winter so I could leave Bend early Saturday morning, fish my way down the fly water section of the North Umpqua and fish my way back the next day. It was exhausting but always rewarding, even when I did not touch a fish. Of course, the N. Umpqua has been closed recently due to fires and low fish returns so I was interested to see that ODFW announced it will reopen on December 1.Read More »
The Deschutes Land Trust is one of the first organizations to which I donated after arriving in Central Oregon in 2004. Their work restoring Whychus Creek and efforts to preserve Skyline Forest were, and continue to be, compelling. Work started in 2017 on the Crooked River is exciting as well. Recently, the DLT has had turnover in some key positions so I was excited to have the opportunity to meet with them and tour their Priday Ranch acquisition last week, a project that should be of interest to steelhead anglers. I am happy to report that the DLT remains in competent hands and Priday Ranch looks like it will be a great acquisition and benefit to anglers on the Lower Deschutes.Read More »
I’ve had a lot of success trout fishing the past month or so, but today was another story. I tried a different spot and the water was high and cold (40 degrees), so the fish did not want to play. No regrets for me as it was a very pretty hike and I was all alone enjoying the many signs of beavers and other critters. Even with all the growth around here you can still find places like this nearby with just a little effort.
That’s the title of a recent article from Oregon Public Broadcasting containing a high level overview of the drought recently delivered to Oregon lawmakers. Testimony touched on themes that should be familiar to readers of this blog. We have been in some level of drought for over 2 decades. Temperatures have been above normal. Snow pack has diminished and melted more quickly. It will take a long period of above average precipitation for recovery. The drought is having significant detrimental impact on fish and wildlife as well as on people. The article is worth the quick read. I’m glad that our lawmakers are becoming informed, I hope that they finally take some real action. It is possible and long overdue.
The Southern Oregon coast is not my area of focus, but I thought I would plug this campaign by the Native Fish Society and others asking ODFW to stop the harvest of wild steelhead in coastal rivers. Steelhead are struggling to survive and I believe we need to err on the side of conservation. It’s easy to take action.
For me, fly fishing is complicated. I consider myself a sportsperson. The point is not to catch as many fish as possible, but to master the art of catching them in a difficult manner, to do it with style and grace, and to mostly release my catch unharmed so that the next angler can have a similar experience. Fly fishing is also my gateway to the outdoors and a calling to conservation. So, when I read “November an ideal time to fish the Crooked River” in the Bulletin, I was simply dumbfounded. How is fishing the Crooked River at 50 cfs, a level that is barely survivable for fish, an honorable pursuit? How is promoting “fishing in a bucket” honorable? It has been many years since I fished the Crooked, and I understand it’s allure for less skilled or less physically able anglers, but I simply cannot understand the promotion of targeting fish at their most vulnerable in cold, low water conditions. Does that make me elitist or conservation minded? I hope the later. I’ll see you on the Metolius and Middle Deschutes for the next 3 months.
My recent post of an email conversation with a Redmond resident received a lot of interest. Here is the 3rd email exchange I have had with him. The 2nd exchange did not add much to the conversation, but I think some readers might get something out of this one. Once again, another great example of how polarized we are and how much work needs to be done.Read More »
In response to my post a few days ago regarding the Wyeth boat ramp on the Upper Deschutes, John Butler sent me photos taken in October 2015 when the flows out of Wickiup were at 10 cfs. These photos are illustrative in many ways.
This photo shows just how deteriorated the ramp is and why the US Forest Service asked for funds to help repair it. There is broken concrete everywhere. Of course, no one would use the ramp at these extreme low flows, but even at higher flows the ramp was not safe to launch much more than a kayak.Read More »
I am not a social media user and do not allow comments on this blog as those forms of communication are mostly unproductive. I do get emails with some regularity, however, as my email address can be easily found. Further, if someone takes the time to write I always respond. The majority of emails are complementary, but every now and then I get one that gives me pause. Below is a missive I received yesterday and my response. This is another example of how polarized we are and how much work needs to be done.Read More »
The latest newsletter from WaterWatch contains a short item written by yours truly about the extreme low flows on the Crooked River last summer. It’s a more complete version of a post I made last July on the same topic. It’s one of a handful short articles that should be of interest to anglers and those otherwise interested in water in Oregon.
KTVZ recently had a story about the Wyeth boat ramp on the Upper Deschutes River being rebuilt. I am on the ODFW Restoration & Enhancement Board which provided a significant amount of funding for this ramp so thought I would share some background. During irrigation season the Deschutes River from Wickiup Reservoir to Pringle Falls is filled with water moving at a quick pace, but it is calm and easy to navigate. It is primarily used by people in kayaks, paddle boards, and similar as the fishing is mediocre at best. This is due to the very low water levels outside of irrigation season which provides minimal over wintering habitat for fish. For this reason, I was initially opposed to using dollars from angler licenses to rebuild the ramp. Given the plan to increase winter flows below Wickiup, however, I ultimately voted in favor of it. The R&E board has limited funds and I really struggled with this vote. If you are not familiar with this area, the Wyeth ramp is the closest to Pringle Falls, the Tenino ramp is nearest Wickiup, and the Bull Bend ramp is between the two. Last spring I put in at Tenino in an unsuccessful attempt to catch fish, I hope that this section of river will improve in the years to come.
Today the Bend Bulletin published my opinion piece on North Unit Irrigation District’s outline of a proposal to pump water out of Lake Billy Chinook for irrigation. The column in the paper is a variant of a post I made in September. I was going to let this issue go, but NUID published a guest column in the paper and I felt it needed a response. For those of you who do not have a subscription (which you should), here is the column:Read More »
While there are many organizations in Oregon that are worthy of your support, I believe that if you are an angler WaterWatch should be at the top of the list. No other group has done more to restore flows in Oregon rivers. Click on the graphic above to learn more and register for their annual auction. If you value wild, native fish, they need your help.
The Bend Bulletin has recently had a couple of good articles on the end of irrigation season which I wanted to comment on. “Deschutes River users brace for annual ramp down of water” discusses how Central Oregon Irrigation District has turned off their water deliveries as they prepare for additional main canal piping. “Water flows to some farmers cut off from irrigation due to drought” discusses how water is being turned on for the next 2 weeks to both North Unit Irrigation District and Arnold Irrigation District. While these are well written articles, and I appreciate the Bulletin’s continued coverage of local irrigation water issues, I believe some clarification and discussion is warranted.Read More »
Desperate times require desperate measures. ODFW did the right thing yesterday by closing the entire Deschutes River to all steelhead fishing for the rest of the year. They also closed the river below Moody Rapids to all fishing. I think that the entire river should be closed to all fishing, but the section below Moody is the most important, and I am thankful for the actions ODFW has taken. The problem is that there have been widespread reports of (selfish, short-sighted, unethical) anglers targeting steelhead while claiming to be fishing for salmon or trout. Hopefully, that will soon change. See ODFW’s press release below.Read More »