As you probably already know, Ochoco Irrigation District and the Bureau of Reclamation began reducing flows in the Crooked River two days ago. I guess we can be thankful that they did not immediately drop it all the way to 10 cfs so that fish and other aquatic life can try to find deeper pools, but in the long run it will not matter. The river is going too low. Today the Bend Bulletin ran a story on the declining flows that was a little premature in my mind, I am waiting until the flows are fully reduced before heading out to see the damage and take photos. The story contained the normal platitudes from local officials expressing how terrible it is they had to take this drastic action due to factors beyond their control. The typical drivel, once again unchallenged in the article. One comment was particularly misleading, however.
Per the story, OWRD stated that the Crooked River would commonly fall to around 10 cfs prior to Bowman Dam being built in the early 1960s. The truth is more complicated. Stories from Native Americans, written accounts from early settlers, and biological evidence tell us that the Crooked River was a healthy aquatic environment year round. A mature and diverse riparian ecosystem would absorb water like a sponge in wet months and release cool, clean water in the dry months. This provided excellent habitat for fish, other aquatic life, birds, and terrestrial wildlife.
Of course, development of the region radically altered the natural systems. Clearing land, logging, farming, ranching, wells, water diversions for irrigation, etc., dramatically altered the entire Crooked River watershed. So, it may be true that in the brief period of time between the significant development of Crook County and the installation of Bowman Dam there were periods of the Crooked River going dry, it was not the natural state of things. It was because we had drained the river.
Since we caused the water problems in the Crooked River, don’t we have an obligation to fix them? Ochoco Irrigation District, Oregon Water Resources Department, and the Bureau of Reclamation don’t seem to think so and the Bulletin does not think that its readers want a fuller explanation of local issues.