Cooler, cleaner water?

W 8.11.18 27in

I got back from my latest fishing excursion (that’s a measured 27” wild, native rainbow trout) and saw The Bulletin published an editorial last Friday about the Deschutes River Alliance’s lawsuit being dismissed.  What bothered me in their editorial was the use of the DRA’s tagline of cooler, cleaner water for the Deschutes.  The facts on this topic are well established.  The quantity of water in Lake Billy Chinook is not sufficient to keep the lower Deschutes “cooler” for the entire summer and “cleaner” is largely a function of agricultural and urban water runoff. 

The cold water released from Lake Billy Chinook ran out in the summer before the operation of the SWW and it runs out now as well.  The difference is when.  Prior to SWW operation the cold water ran out around the middle of summer and now it runs out in late summer.  Global warming and recent droughts are reducing the availability of cold water.

As you probably know, the change in cold water releases into the lower Deschutes is due to the use of surface and bottom water by the Selective Water Withdrawal tower in Lake Billy Chinook to match a temperature profile that would exist if the Pelton Round Butte complex were removed.  There are a number of ecological benefits to this, including a change in the macroinvertebrate life cycle which has inconvenienced some anglers and fishing guides.

The way to make the river cooler over the entire summer is to increase the amount of cold water being delivered into Lake Billy Chinook. The only way to do that is to increase the flows in the upper and middle Deschutes and Crooked Rivers.  90% of the water in the upper Deschutes River is diverted by irrigators.  By the time the Crooked River reaches the final irrigation diversion below Prineville it is reduced to a warm trickle.

Regarding the “cleaner” aspect, that can be accomplished by reducing the amount of pollutants flowing into the rivers from agricultural and urban runoff.  Global warming plays a role here as well as many lakes & reservoirs in Central Oregon are seeing increased algae blooms.  All of this is outside the control of PGE/CTWS.  I am not an apologist for them, but I am interested in science-based inquiry and decision making.

I await the results of the latest comprehensive water quality study which will further add to our knowledge of the topic.  The draft study is complete and is currently under peer review.  I have no idea what this study will state, perhaps I will need to change my view of the subject.  Until then, however, I believe it’s best to rely on the current best available science, as did the judge who dismissed the DRA’s lawsuit.