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.
While the Tribes acknowledge the need for protecting the Oregon Spotted Frog in the upper Deschutes, they state this should be done with increased habitat restoration, not significantly higher winter flows. This is due to their focus on salmon and steelhead recovery as well as protecting bull trout. The Tribes have fished for these species “since time immemorial” and argue that the proposed action prioritizes OSF recovery over the fish that are of significance to them. The Tribes go as far as to state that “the Oregon spotted frog has regrettably hijacked the HCP and prevented the Applicants from considering the Deschutes Basin from a holistic perspective”.
The problem they see with the proposed solution is that increased winter flows in the upper Deschutes may necessitate increased withdrawals from the Crooked River by North Unit Irrigation District, particularly early in the irrigation season. Prior to the construction of the dams at the Pelton Round Butte hydroelectric project, the Crooked River was historically the primary spawning grounds for spring chinook and summer steelhead in the upper Deschutes Basin and adequate flows are needed for successful reintroduction of these anadromous fish.
I am in complete agreement with maintaining healthy flows in the Crooked but believe that goal should be accomplished by conservation measures and water transfers from other irrigation districts to NUID. As I have documented more than once in this blog, many Central Oregon irrigators are not what anyone would reasonably consider “farmers” while those in NUID certainly are.
Among other things, the Tribes also state that:
- The proposed solution does not address pollution from agricultural runoff, particularly in the Crooked River and Lake Billy Chinook. (My submitted comments detailed this issue.)
- The irrigators need to guarantee funding of their proposal.
- There should be increased funding for habitat restoration.
- Further, “resources currently allocated to canal piping could be better deployed to other conservation measures”.
- More consideration should be given to water availability in the face of climate change.
Regrettably, after 11 years of discussion it does not seem we are nearing an agreement on a water plan for the Deschutes Basin.