Ochoco Irrigation District Canal Piping Post – Another Boondoggle?

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.

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Willamette Falls Fish Ladder Update

https://www.dfw.state.or.us/news/images/2020/091820_willamette_falls_fishway_4_odfw.jpg

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.

Grab Bag

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.

“The Big Muddy”

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.

The Crooked River Act, 6 Years Later

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.

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ODFW Hatchery Fires

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?

Another Water Waste Example

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.

Irrigator Water Shortages: Who is to Blame?

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.

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Thornburgh Approval Granted

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.

Middle Deschutes Carnage Continues

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.

Local Reservoir and River Levels

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”.

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Mea Culpa

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.

Middle Deschutes Carnage! – UPDATE

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.

Online Seminar with Dave Hughes!

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.

Thornburgh Resort Moving Forward

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.

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Piping vs Water Conservation

Excess irrigation return, not a creek.

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.

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“The fallacy of in-conduit hydropower”

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.

Lower Deschutes Fish Update

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.

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The Creative Power of Water

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.”

2020 Deschutes Fisheries Workshop Recap

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 meeting

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Wonky: Bowman Dam / Crooked River Water Accounting

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.

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Klamath Dams: Progress or Setback?

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.

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Bowman Dam Fish Passage Waiver Public Comments

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.

2020 Deschutes Fisheries Workshop

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”

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.

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Deschutes Groundwater Mitigation 101 and Thornburgh

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.

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Email to Deschutes County Commissioners re: Thornburgh

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.

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Why All the Algae Blooms?

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.

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KTVZ Story on Thornburgh (Corrected)

Annotation 2020-06-25 083611

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.

Thornburgh: Growth vs Water Security (Corrected)

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.

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My Email to ODFW Opposing the Fish Passage Waiver

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 »

Fish Passage Waiver at Bowman Dam? Not so fast.

Bowman Dam

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 »

H2O: The Molecule That Made Us

Annotation 2020-05-21 093856

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.

2019-2020 Steelhead Season Reintroduction Final Count

“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 »

Not a Pretty Picture

5.18.20 SNOTEL

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 »

COVID-19 Stops Chub Removal

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.

Opal Springs Fish Ladder Update

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 Piping

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 »

More on Water Shortages and Marketing

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?

 

 

“$1 billion is too much to give irrigation districts in these times”

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.

 

It’s Irrigation Season

Middle D 4.14.20

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 »

A Quote Worth Reading Again

20200412_134723

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

 

ODFW’s 2021-2023 Biennium Budget

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 »

What about the Middle Deschutes?

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 »

Largescale Suckers

Sucker

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 »

Cows! 

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 »

Middle Deschutes Killed Again

Middle D 4.1.20

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.

More on Cold Water Refugia for Columbia Steelhead

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 »

Cold Water for Columbia Steelhead?

Deschutes River Plume

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 »

Conservation Hatchery on the Klamath River?

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 »

City Club HCP Presentation and the Titanic

The Titanic

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 »

Upper Basin Steelhead Return Update

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.

Klamath River Dam Removal Controversy

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 »

Klamath Basin Fish Populations

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 »

Oregon River Levels

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.

Zapata Cuba

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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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2019 – 2020 Steelhead Counts: Getting Worse

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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 »

$42M to Pipe 7.9 Miles of Canal!

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…

Middle Deschutes Flows

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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 »

Warming Oceans Driving Whales Closer to Shore and Danger

Whale Entanglements

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.

Weather is not Climate

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 »

ODFW Strategic Plan & Funding

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 »

Opal Springs Update

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!

Next Phase COID Canal Piping

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.

Capitalism to the Rescue?

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 »

Feliz Ano Nuevo…

…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.

CTWS Comments on the HCP and EIS

CTWS Logo

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 »

Good Outlook for the Crooked River this Winter

Crooked 12.18.19

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.

Good News for Willamette Steelhead

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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.

Opal Springs Passage is Working!

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.

Deschutes Basin HCP Comments

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.

 

Some Things Never Change

Bulletin 4.28.59

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.

 

Opal Springs Fish Ladder Operational!

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The fish ladder is under the walkway, the spillway for downstream migration is to the right.

For over 20 years a wide range of companies, organizations, agencies, and individuals have been working on the reintroduction of steelhead and salmon into the upper Deschutes Basin above Lake Billy Chinook.  This includes the middle Deschutes, the Crooked River, the Metolius Rivers, and their tributaries.

To the surprise of fish biologists who had anticipated that Whychus Creek and the Metolius Rivers would be the primary destinations, the great majority of the returning steelhead and Chinook salmon have attempted to head up the Crooked River to spawn.  The overwhelming preference for the Crooked has been the case every year there have been anadromous fish returns.  Unfortunately, until last week a dam at the bottom of the Crooked River had largely blocked upstream passage for these returning anadromous fish. Read More »

Good News, Bad News

The Blob 11.7.19A rare but welcome bit of good news is the hot water “Blob” off the Pacific NW coast has shrunk in size and moved off shore.  “Low salmon returns to many West Coast rivers in the last few years have been linked to the Blob, which reduced the availability of food when the salmon first entered the ocean as juveniles.”  The Blog is still huge, however.  “The question is, where does it go from here?”

But, are we simply rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic?  Another scientific report was recently released stating that we are currently in a “climate emergency”.Read More »

A Great Read on the HCP

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George Wuerthner has published another great article on the environment, this time on the Habitat Conservation Plan.  It’s a worthwhile read.

Why are irrigators legally permitted to degrade our river? Every year tens of thousands of fish are killed in the Deschutes River due to Ag water withdrawal, not to mention the overall degradation of the river ecosystem from sedimentation, channel widening, and radical changes in flow regimes. If a fisherman or fisherwoman were to keep one or two extra fish over the daily limit, they would be fined for “poaching,” but if irrigators kill tens of thousands of fish and destroy the river channel, they suffer no legal consequences.

Klamath Lake Land Trust

Wood River 11.2.19

I like to spend as much time as possible in the Klamath Basin, it has incredible fishing and relatively low pressure.  Above is a photo of the Wood River I took yesterday during a hike in the Wood River Wetlands, it was beautiful as always.  Below is a photo of my friend Matt with a 26 inch trout he caught when we were fishing there last August.

Matt 26in 8.23.19

I spent yesterday evening at the Klamath Lake Land Trust’s annual dinner and fund raiser.  The KLLT is a small, woefully underfunded group working to preserve places on the Sycan and Sprague rivers where steelhead and salmon may spawn once the impassable dams on the Klamath are removed in 2022.  I was glad to see a number of Klamath residents open their wallets for this worthy goal.

The spectacular fishing in this part of the state may soon be even better.

 

September Osprey

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The September issue of The Osprey is out.  I’ve written about this publication in the past.  It is an excellent, if technical, source of articles on the status of steelhead and salmon in the Pacific NW.  This issue is the usual mix of mostly bad but some good news, including the dramatic improvements in the Rogue River after removal of a number of dams (thank you WaterWatch).  I encourage you to take a look and donate to this cash-strapped publication.

It’s Past Time to Remove the Snake River Dams

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The four dams on the Snake River are not in Central Oregon, but they have an enormous impact on Columbia River Basin (which incudes the Deschutes Basin) steelhead and salmon.  These iconic populations are currently on the path to extinction.  Recently, two tribes joined the chorus of voices calling for the removal of the dams.  Last week 55 scientists released a letter that did likewise.  Also last week, E&E News published another article detailing how these dams no longer make economic sense – hydro power is no longer cheap when compared to alternatives – and it would actually be cheaper to remove them than continue their operation.  I would love to see the same analysis of the PGE/CTWS dams on the Deschutes River.

What about Water Quality in the Habitat Conservation Plan?

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Last June, Portland General Electric released a comprehensive, multiyear water quality study of Lake Billy Chinook, the rivers that supply it, and the lower Deschutes River into which water is released.  Among other things, the report showed that the Crooked River contains significant amounts of pollution.  This pollution combined with sunlight generates suspended algae on the surface of Lake Billy Chinook which is subsequently released into Lake Simtutus and then the lower Deschutes River.  Algae blooms are increasing in occurrence, leading the Oregon Health Authority to warn last June that “harmful algae blooms” could “routinely develop in the lake”.

One of the shortcomings in the Habitat Conservation Plan is lack of adequate consideration for water quality.  Clearly, high temperatures and pollution can have adverse impacts on fish and the aquatic environment, including mortality (“take”).  Irrigation return flows are “covered activities” but the HCP does not adequately examine impacts on water quality from agricultural runoff or provide for minimum standards in covered waterways.Read More »

Irrigation does NOT Mean Agriculture in Deschutes County

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The US Department of Agriculture performs periodic nationwide surveys of agriculture that are broken down to the county level.  The latest survey was released in April with data as of 2017.  It clearly shows that most irrigators in Deschutes County are not “farmers” in any traditional sense of word.

This detailed report says that there are 1,484 farms in Deschutes County, 1,269 are irrigated.  Half of these farms are under 11 acres in size.  Only 216 are over 50 acres.  685 of the farms have annual sales of less than $2,500.  The average farm had losses of -$12,866.  Irrigators currently take 90% of the water in the upper Deschutes but in Deschutes County farming is often a lifestyle choice or hobby, not the viable production of agricultural products.Read More »

Credit Where Credit is Due

Jake

I have been a frequent critic of the US Fish & Wildlife Service over the past few years, and will continue to be if the HCP is not improved, but they did something good this past week.  As I posted here, the Bureau of Reclamation had planned to stop all flows out of  Crane Prairie Reservoir in the upper Deschutes on October 30, draining it dry down to  Wickiup Reservoir.  USFWS got them to keep a flow of 20 cfs to provide some minimal protection for endangered species.  This will also protect fish like the one in the photo above that was caught in that reach.  Of course, this begs the question, why did the BoR plan to drain it dry in the first place?

 

The HCP and the Future of the Deschutes

The long awaited Habitat Conservation Plan for the Deschutes Basin was recently released.  Like many in the environmental community, I find the HCP to be deeply flawed.  Below is a high level summary.  The HCP will be the subject of a series of posts over the next two weeks, each providing detail on a particular part of this complex topic.  Here is the official web site.  It is hard to overstate the importance of the HCP as it will determine the fate of most rivers in Central Oregon for the next 30 years.Read More »

Bureau of Reclamation Plans to De-Water Part of the Upper Deschutes

Jake

The Bureau of Reclamation plans to stop all water flowing out of Crane Prairie Reservoir for up to 8 hours later this month, tentatively on October 30th, de-watering the Deschutes River for about 1.5 miles down to Wickiup Reservoir.  This is to perform an inspection of the dam.  It  will also kill a section of the river that is important for spawning and holds some nice fish.  See the photo above of my friend Jake with a nice brown trout from this stretch.Read More »