One of the most important issues for anglers and river lovers in the Deschutes Basin is restoring flows in the upper Deschutes River. This is a complex topic where I will spend significant time posting with explanations and analysis, but last week the eight Central Oregon irrigation districts and the City of Prineville presented the outline of their proposed Habitat Conservation Plan for the upper Deschutes Basin. There were a few reasonable ideas presented but overall it was bad news for the upper Deschutes.
It’s a complicated plan, and further posts will provide commentary, but the bottom line for the upper Deschutes is that the irrigators propose to take 21 years to get to a minimum flow of 400 cfs in the river.
The US Fish & Wildlife Service released a biological opinion in September stating that the river needed minimum flows of 600 cfs to meet the needs of resident endangered species. Decades ago ODFW concluded that a minimum of 300 cfs was needed for viable fisheries habitat (not viable habitat for all river dependent species). The irrigators propose to take 11 years to get to 300 cfs, and then 10 more years to get to 400 cfs.
Equally concerning is the complete lack of commitment to improving water quality. Improved flows are needed for river health but the flows must be of high quality. Warm agricultural runoff into the middle Deschutes and Crooked Rivers makes its way down to the lower Deschutes, an issue that impacts anglers that never make it to the upper Basin.