Today the US Fish & Wildlife Service held a public update meeting on the Habitat Conservation Plan status. I’ve written extensively on the HCP in this blog but, briefly, it is an application by Central Oregon irrigation districts and the City of Prineville to continue to withdraw water from local rivers while incidentally “taking” (killing) endangered species like bull trout, steelhead, and the Oregon Spotted Frog. The meeting had a wealth of information but the shocker for me was an admission by the irrigation districts that they have been badly mismanaging flows in the middle Deschutes.
I recently posted about the latest massive withdraw of water from the middle D. This happens in the fall after irrigation season ends, they start refilling the reservoirs on the upper Deschutes, and thereby lower flows in the river. This reduces flows in the middle D but they are reduced to a very damaging level during “stock runs”. This when the canals are filled to allow water right holders to divert to their ponds. Those ponds could be used for livestock or, in the case of hobby farmers, private water features.
Today the irrigation districts said that their HCP application will include minimum flows of 250 cfs in the middle D in the winter. Without a doubt this is welcome news but it means that they could be doing it already. Their commitment to maintain 250 cfs is not contingent on more canal piping or any other conservation measures. It can be accomplished with more careful management of their existing infrastructure. Specifically, by spreading out the stock runs to different parts of their system at different times rather than the entire system at once.
Why haven’t they already implemented this? Why do they continue to precipitously drop the river stranding fish and exposing the river bottom to freezing temperatures which kills macroinvertebrates and pants? It is simply unconscionable.