Please comment on the latest IWRS

The State of Oregon is working on a revision to the Integrated Water Resources Strategy and is looking for public comment. Please take the survey before June 15. I have been highly critical of past versions of the IWRS, and based on the questions in the survey remain so. Once again, fish and wildlife are secondary concerns at best. This is not surprising given that the lead agency is the Oregon Water Resources Department which has a long history of serving agriculture, municipalities, and industry while ignoring input from the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. I will say that OWRD seems to be getting better but they have a very long way to go to effectively balance consumptive use with environmental needs.

2022-2033 steelhead reintroduction final count

Attempts to reintroduce summer steelhead into the Upper Deschutes Basin above the Pelton Round Butte hydroelectric project on the Deschutes River have been ongoing for over a decade. This past season saw 131 returning adults moved up into Lake Billy Chinook, the largest number so far, where they will hopefully naturally spawn. 131 adult fish remains a disappointing number, but it is two to almost three times the count over the past few years, and it points to the success fisheries managers at Portland General Electric are having adapting their management strategies in the face of the deteriorating outlook for steelhead over much of the west coast of North America.

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Bad news for fish in the Crooked and Middle Deschutes Rivers: CORRECTED

It’s irrigation season and, as usual, the Middle Deschutes is getting killed.  Below are graphs showing flows in the Deschutes just below the Central Oregon Irrigation District and North Unit Irrigation District diversions at the North Canal Dam just upstream from the Mt. Washington bridge in Bend.  As you can see, over the past two weeks fluctuations in the river have been abrupt and dramatic.  This strands fish and other aquatic life and stirs up sediment that chokes spawning beds. (CORRECTION: in the section below on gas bubble disease, I missed a zero. Gas bubble disease is a real problem around 3,000 cfs, not 300 cfs as originally stated and now corrected. Sorry about that. Flows this morning out of Bowman Dam are are 2,020 cfs with inflows at 4,500 cfs.)

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Columbia Basin steelhead presentation

If you are a fellow steelhead junkie, last night’s presentation by ODFW was excellent. You can see a recording by visiting their “Steelhead management in Columbia & Snake river basins” webpage. There was a ton of good information in the hour long talk, but here’s very brief summary. ODFW is currently working with forecasted returns for the upcoming season, which are lower than last year’s returns, but will watch actual returns and update regulations as needed. The current plan is to open the Deschutes for steelhead fishing on May 1 but to close it on August 15, prior to most fish getting above Sherars Falls. This is the opposite of what happened last year when the river was closed but opened on August 15 when actual returns exceeded the forecast. The John Day river is most likely to remain closed for a third straight year. Further east, the Grande Ronde and Imnaha rivers are projected to be open, although fish counts will be very low and they expect correspondingly low angling effort.

2023 ODFW Columbia Basin summer steelhead regulations

ODFW will host a webinar discussing the upcoming summer steelhead season on April 18. “For 2023, anglers should anticipate summer steelhead fishing restrictions and closures in the mainstem Columbia River and tributaries similar to previous years—including broad area and time closures, one-steelhead bag limits when open, and thermal angling sanctuaries near Oregon tributary mouths upstream of Bonneville Dam.” Get more information here.

“Pulse Flow” on the Crooked starting April 17

Here’s a message from ODFW: “The USFWS and NOAA have decided to release some water from Bowman Dam next week as a smolt pulse to help steelhead smolts move downstream.  We’re trying to let as many constituents know as possible to help minimize inconveniences.  The pulse flow will start on April 17 where they will slowly increase the amount of water released throughout the day to ramp up at an appropriate rate.  The full 250 cfs pulse will be released all day on the 18th and 19th, and then will slowly be ramped back down to base flow on the 20th.  We are uncertain at the moment what base flow will look like at that time since OID has indicated they may start releasing irrigation water on the 17th.  Irrigation flows usually average about 200 cfs so the total amount of water could be anywhere from 250 cfs to 450 cfs.”

I would avoid fishing the river during the pulse flows. Given the low amount of water in Prineville Reservoir combined with continued uncertainty about timing and amount of snow melt and runoff into the reservoir, this is a pretty significant event.

The start of irrigation season and water outlook

Central Oregon Irrigation District has announced that their main canals will “turn on” starting April 10.  North Unit Irrigation District is scheduled to start April 15.  Nonetheless, I drove over a main canal today and it has water in it.  So, here are some thoughts about the outlook for this irrigation season and its impact on local fisheries.  We have been very lucky with late season snowfall, but it’s not as good as it is often portrayed to be. Our reservoirs, lakes, and rivers will need a lot more than one decent winter snowpack to return to healthy conditions.

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Thornburgh Update

The latest in a series of Deschutes County commission meetings that have occurred over many years occurred last Wednesday, March 29.  The current issue is appeals to a county hearings officer’s determination to deny Thornburgh’s request to modify their Final Fish & Wildlife Master Plan.  The FWMP must be modified to accommodate changes that have been made to Thornburgh’s development plans.  Thornburgh argues that the changes are minor while others argue that the changes are significant, and the entire plan must be resubmitted.  The hearings officer denied Thornburgh’s request to make changes to the FWMP.  If upheld, Thornburgh would be in violation of their approved development plan.

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Bipartisan Drought Relief and Water Security Package

I am a frequent critic of local and statewide politician’s lack of attention to water use and scarcity but a small step in the right direction is currently being considered in the legislature.  HB3124, titled the “Bipartisan Drought Relief and Water Security Package”, has elements that would begin to address important issues.  It would direct the Oregon Water Resources Department to “study” drought (really, the legislature needs to direct OWRD to do this?) and include strategies for drinking water, agriculture, fish, and water projects.  Locally, it would allocate $2 million to the Deschutes River Conservancy.  The next public hearing and work session is on April 3rd.  Keep reading for background information, some resources, and my criticisms (of course).

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Another beautiful day on Lake Billy Chinook

I only fish Lake Billy Chinook for a few weeks in the early spring for bull trout but really enjoy the time. Today was beautiful and it ended up being shirtsleeves weather. To top it off, I was able to get three bull trout in a morning of fishing. A great day. I went alone so did not have anyone to take any photos, but here is one from three days ago when a couple of friends were in the boat. We live in fishing paradise.

Global warming and fish hatcheries

Fish hatcheries are an intractable source of controversy in the angling community.  Without them, most of the fishing that Oregonians enjoy would disappear since sportfish did not exist in most of our lakes prior to stocking.  On the other hand, it is a scientific fact that hatchery fish released into rivers are an important contributor to the decline of wild fish.  Speaking for myself as a wild, native fish bigot, I think there is an important role for hatcheries, but I wish that hatchery fish were not released into rivers where they can interact with wild, native fish.  As a recent report commissioned by the Oregon Depart of Fish & Wildlife reveals, that may have to occur in some places in the coming years, but it is not necessarily good news for wild fish.

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2 more years of chub removal

I have good news if you fish local high lakes. At the ODFW Restoration & Enhancement board meeting this last Thursday and Friday we funded a bunch of good projects including tui chub removal this summer and next in local high lakes and Diamond Lake. No, ODFW does not consider this a high enough priority project to entirely fund themselves. Brown bullhead catfish reduction in Crane Prairie is also going to happen, but this is being dictated by the Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan. Cat fish eat endangered frogs. BTW, if you know how to catch a brown bullhead on a fly, please let me know.

“Central Oregonians file more objections to Thornburgh resort proposal, but some feel helpless”

That’s the title of a OPB story that ran last week. It’s worth reading. I find it unbelievable that, as stated in the story, the developers of the resort continue to characterize it as something that is environmentally friendly and will actually benefit wildlife. Even a cursory glance at the Thornburgh website will correct any thinking person of that notion. Equally baffling is that our county commissioners and at least one local water-oriented nonprofit have drank the Kool-Aid. (I had the Executive Director of a prominent local non-profit recently tell me that Thornburgh won’t be that bad since they’ll only use a small amount of the total available groundwater, completely ignoring ODFW’s position that Thornburgh will have a negative impact on fish & wildlife.)

Spring chinook and Crooked River flows

The middle of the Crooked River at 4 cfs just below Prineville on 5.26.2022. The water barely covered my feet.

The Deschutes Valley Water District maintains a spreadsheet that identifies and counts the fish that pass through the ladder at Opal Springs Dam on their way up the Crooked River. It’s pretty interesting to see how many and how many different types of fish use the ladder. I had never even heard of a chiselmouth before seeing thousands of them in the spreadsheet heading up river to spawn in the spring. Anyway, I have been thinking about drought and local river levels and went back to correlate flows with spring chinook returns last summer. It was as bad as I expected.

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Klamath Dam removal update

I spent the last three days at the annual meeting of the Oregon Chapter of the American Fisheries Society.  It’s a scientific conference attended by fisheries biologists from the public and private sectors, but they let in me as well.  One of the day long tracks on Thursday had to do with Klamath Dam removal, the largest dam removal project in history.  Some of it was well over my head, like the talk titled “Responses of invertebrate hosts of salmon parasites to Klamath River flow events”, but there was a ton of useful information for anglers who treasure the Klamath Basin and look forward to what could be an improved fishing opportunity.  Last month I was on the Klamath River in California below the dams and was impressed by the number of winter steelhead I hooked.  If it can get even better it will be amazing.  Keep reading for a very brief summary of the dam removal project.

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It’s time for bull trout on Lake Billy Chinook

As readers of this blog know, the pursuit of bull trout using fly fishing gear dramatically changed with the reintroduction of steelhead and spring chinook salmon in the Upper Deschutes Basin.  Prior to this, fly anglers would target bull trout chasing kokanee smolts in late winter and early spring as they moved out of the Metolius River. (The Metolius arm of LBC opens March 1, be sure to get your tribal permit.)  Since reintroduction efforts began, however, salmon and steelhead have been planted in the Crooked and Middle Deschutes Rivers and their tributaries, making those arms of LBC attractive places to fish as well.  This year there will be no salmon smolts planted due to insufficient hatchery production.  100,000 steelhead smolts will be released, however, half into the Crooked and half into the Deschutes.  The first release is scheduled for tomorrow, February 23rd, in a tributary of the Crooked River. There will be 10 releases in total, the last occurring on April 27th.

Water is back in the opinion pages

A couple more good opinion pieces have appeared in the Bulletin. Jerry Freilich’s excellent column, “Perfect Balance ad was out of balance“, was published on February 15. It was a thorough dismantling of the disinformation contained in the recent half page advertisement from a group of irrigators calling themselves “Perfect Balance”. Today Tod Heisler had a column titled “Water distribution is based on fiction“. Tod summarized one of the topics that many of us have talked about for years, but which needs frequent repeating: we are in a period of water scarcity, the water we have has been over appropriated, and it needs to be reallocated. I agree 100% but also know that there is no political will to do this and the legal challenges would be played out over decades. My solution is to charge for water which will force many hobby farmers to give up their rights and allow real agriculture continued and improved access.

“Perfect Balance”?

On January 12 the Center for Biological Diversity announced their intent to sue the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Reclamation over the Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan. Shortly thereafter, the Bulletin published a column I wrote agreeing that the HCP has flaws but questioning the CBD for claiming that there are better solutions “that would help the frog and provide assurances to farmers down the road” without stating what they might be. Frankly, I am tired of environmental groups pointing out problems, which are real, without proposing solutions. I proposed a solution in my column. It has been an interesting few weeks since then.

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2023 steelhead forecast: another bad year

Yesterday ODFW announced a preliminary forecast for “upriver” Columbia Basin summer steelhead returns. These are fish that migrate past Bonneville Dam to places like the Deschutes River and further inland. They believe that “returns will continue to be poor, marking what would be the 8th consecutive year of low returns.” ODFW warns anglers to expect continued angling restrictions in 2023. The primary issue is that while ocean conditions for some anadromous fish have improved, Columbia Basin steelhead move into waters that continue to be too warm to be productive. These early forecasts are notoriously inaccurate but the overall trend remains deeply concerning. I encourage you to read ODFW’s web page on this forecast, it is well written and filled with interesting information.

2022-2023 Deschutes River steelhead return puzzle

We all know that 2021-2022 returns were disastrously low for wild steelhead in the Deschutes and most of the Pacific Northwest.  ODFW estimates that only 523 wild steelhead made it above Sherars Falls, compared to 1,935 the year before.  The current 2022-2023 Deschutes steelhead return year still has a few months to go but surprising data is emerging.  Wild steelhead counts have improved but are still low, barely above the threshold for survivability as established by ODFW.  Upper basin origin reintroduced steelhead, however, are likely to have their best return year ever.  With a few months to go, returns this year are already almost 3 times last year.

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Thornburgh update

It’s been a while since I wrote about Thornburgh Resort since it seems to be in an endless loop. Today was the latest Deschutes County Commission meeting where no decision was made after 3 hours of testimony. The specific topic of this meeting is really secondary to the ongoing theme. Lawyers and experts for the developer are in a never ending argument with lawyers and experts for Nunzie Gould, the woman who has been suing to stop Thornburgh for 15 years. Add in the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife who says that Thornburgh has not proved they are meeting their obligation for no net loss of water. The new development today was the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs now wants to get involved. I’m sure that other groups, most notably Central Oregon LandWatch, will soon put out a great description of the specific issues now being debated, but the bottom line is there is no end in sight. Regardless of what the County Commissioners decide in a month it will be appealed and the drama will go on. The good news is that there seems to be near universal public opposition to Thornburgh which has not always been the case. If you are a masochist you can watch a recording of the hearing here.

Exclusive farm use, water waste, and taxes

The Bulletin recently had an article and an editorial on a topic I have been writing about for a very long time. I first had an opinion column in the paper about how property taxes can encourage water waste about 6 years ago. It took the paper a while to fact check what I wrote, like most everyone they had not previously heard about this issue, but they did publish it. I wish I kept a copy of that column, but here’s a quick summary, followed by a discussion of the pros and cons of the bill recently introduced in the Oregon State Legislature intended to fix the problem. As always, the devil is in the details.

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For salmon in the North Pacific, has the ocean reached its limit?

My friend George Wuerthner forwarded an interesting article titled “Trouble at Sea: For salmon in the North Pacific, has the ocean reached its limit?” It was published in bioGraphic, an online publication I had not previously heard of. We’ve all read plenty about deteriorating ocean conditions and declining salmon stocks. An anomaly has been record returns of Bristol Bay sockeye. It turns out there is more than meets the eye in Bristol Bay, however. For example, there is an inverse relationship between overall run size and the size of individual fish which could lead to a variety of negative long term consequences.

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“Water is life. And the findings in this advisory report are shocking.”

On 1/26/2023 the Oregon Secretary of State released a report titled “State Leadership Must Take Action to Protect Water Security for All Oregonians”. Per the press release announcing the report,

“Water is life. And the findings in this advisory report are shocking,” said Secretary of State Shemia Fagan. “Not only are many families in Oregon dealing with water insecurity today, many more are at high-risk of becoming water insecure in the very near future. What’s shocking about this report is it shows that we don’t have a plan to address the problem.

I have been stating for years that we are in a water crisis and don’t have a plan for addressing it, a statement that continues to be denied by local cities and politicians. It’s well past time for political leadership on this topic and I am grateful that some are finally taking it seriously. The report itself is 73 pages long, but the press release provides a good high level summary and I encourage you to at least read it.

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CO Daily News and Prineville water policy

A few days ago Central Oregon Daily News ran a story on the “award winning” way the City of Prineville stores water by pumping it into an aquifer for later use. Aquifer recharge is a tool that is getting a lot more interest as our planet heats. Storing “excess” water in the ground for use later is conceptually a good idea. It is a lot less expensive and controversial than building new reservoirs. As usual, when it comes to water, however, the devil is in the details. I wrote about Prineville’s plan over a year ago and pointed out the serious ecological problems it creates for the Crooked River and the fish and wildlife that depend on it. Read the post for a longer discussion, but in summary, there is no excess water in the Crooked River. The aquifer being drawn down is naturally recharged in the winter when flows may be higher and the water is naturally released in the summer providing cool water when the river needs it. Pumping down that naturally recharged aquifer and moving the water to another “contained” aquifer for storage, water that is not released back into the river but is used by data centers, helps the Prineville economy and municipal water system but further degrades the Crooked River which has been on life support for many years.

NUID piping: a more complete discussion

A few days ago the Bend Bulletin ran a story on a recently approved piping project in the North Unit Irrigation District. Like most stories about water and fish in the paper it could have been greatly improved with a more complete discussion of the issue*. Make no mistake, I am a proponent of canal piping, but the manner in which it occurs and its cost benefit are important. As I detailed in this post from last August, I opposed this piping project during the public comment period. Many others did as well and in response NUID made some small concessions in their application, but this project remains a massive public subsidy mostly for private benefit.

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Water outlook

We are far to early in the winter to make any predictions about what the water year will look like. I typically don’t start writing about it for a couple more months, but today COID sent out an “outlook” email from Kyle Gorman, our local region manager for the Oregon Water Resources Department, that contained an important reminder. By now we should all be familiar with the map on the left showing snow water equivalent for various basins as of today. Kyle points out that these percentages are misleading. The Deschutes Basin at 100% of average over the past 20 years is not as encouraging when you consider that the past 20 years has been a period of mostly drought. To get out of the drought we are still in we need a lot more snow for at least 3 more months and for a few years in a row.

Column in the Bend Bulletin

The Bulletin ran a shorter version of my post about charging hobby farmers for water. I received some emails in support of my column and a couple of comments / questions that I thought would be worth briefly mentioning here. As I expected, people are in support of simply reallocating water to real agriculture and taking it away from hobby farmers. That was my position as well for a long time but it is simply not going to happen. Current laws would not allow it and our politicians are too spineless to write new ones. Others believe that water should be taken away from rights holders who do not beneficially use the water without waste. Again, I agree but it is not going to happen for the same reasons. Water rights were granted with the idea that they would promote the development and growth of the Central Oregon economy, but over the years beneficial use without waste has morphed into meaning essentially any use of water: a private pond, a huge lawn, watering weeds and rocks, etc., all currently qualify. Again, a complete lack of leadership from our elected officials is to blame. Hence, the need to charge for water. As someone pointed out, we are charged for so many other public resources, why not water, especially when it is being used for private benefit?

Thoughts on a HCP lawsuit

I have closely tracked the Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan from the very beginning. Well over a decade ago I submitted comments in support of listing the Oregon Spotted Frog as an endangered species. While the OSP is important, more important to me was the understanding that an ESA listing would force the irrigation districts to release more water into the Upper Deschutes River during the winter, parts of which had been essentially drained dry almost every winter for decades. For years, I attended seemingly endless meetings studying the Upper Deschutes with government agencies, NGOs, and irrigation districts which helped inform the creation of the Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan. Through all this I was often deeply disappointed and was certain that the HCP would be challenged in court. Now that a lawsuit appears imminent, I have mixed feelings. How can more water flow in the river without harming real agriculture in Central Oregon, especially given our increasingly hot climate? How can a lawsuit affect a meaningful outcome and not create a lengthy cycle of litigation?

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Deschutes Basin HCP notice of intent to sue

Yesterday the Center for Biological Diversity notified the Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of their intent to sue for Endangered Species Act violations in the Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan. You can read the entire 53-page notice here. In summary, CBD contends that the HCP will not provide adequate protection for the Oregon Spotted Frog, an ESA-listed species. While there has been much talk about potential litigation over the years, I was surprised by this development. Conversations I have had with conservationists in Oregon for some time could be summarized as frustration with the HCP but a belief that the drought precluded any ability to materially increase flows without significantly harming irrigators which they were reluctant to do. My greatest personal frustration with the HCP is centered mostly on the lack of meaningful protection of flows in the Crooked River, home for steelhead and salmon, but this is not mentioned in the notice.

ODFW report on the Crooked River: not good

Photo: ODFW. Exposed stream channel, dying aquatic vegetation, and a dead 16″ trout on September 23, 2022

The Wild & Scenic section of the Crooked River below Bowman Dam is prized by anglers from all over Oregon who target abundant wild, native mountain whitefish and redband trout. The Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife annually surveys fish populations in the river in June. Unsurprisingly, over the years ODFW has recorded a direct connection between river levels and fish health. Specifically, flows below 35 cfs have been shown to have strong negative impact on trout abundance.

The period from mid-September to November 1, 2022 witnessed an unprecedented reduction in flows in the Crooked to approximately 10 cfs. In response, ODFW conducted a survey in October to get a preliminary idea of the impact. We really won’t know what has happened until the survey next June, but it should not be surprising that the initial results do not look good.

You can read the entire draft report yourself*, but as predicted by ODFW, and obvious to anyone who has spent any time fishing the Crooked River, it has been dramatically impacted. I’ll get into the details below, but first there is a massive caveat that you must be aware of.

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My kind of New Year’s Eve party!

Yesterday evening I looked at the weather and made a last minute decision to spend the final day of 2022 floating the Deschutes River from Warm Springs to Trout Creek. I rarely get to fish alone and looked forward to using my pontoon boat for the first time in over a year. It’s absolutely the best way to fish the Lower Deschutes, you can get into places that you can’t in a drift boat and there are spots where you can simply stand up in the middle of the river. As you can see, it was very cold when I launched, my boat was covered in ice, and the fog was very thick. As my Swedish ancestors would say, there is no bad weather only bad clothes. I have good clothes and it turned out to be a very good day.

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High lakes tui chub removal

I’m in my 8th and final year on ODFW’s Restoration & Enhancement Board, an experience that I have truly enjoyed. I’m proud of the fact that we have been able to fund a wide range of projects that directly benefit anglers all over the state including boat ramp and dock installation and repair, habitat restoration, dam removal, and some interesting scientific studies in support of activities like Klamath River dam removal. Of course, I have lobbied to fund projects that benefit Central Oregon like the annual effort to control invasive tui chub and brown bullhead catfish in East Lake, Paulina Lake, Crane Prairie Reservoir, and Lava Lake. See this 2022 project completion report for some interesting photos.

Klamath River habitat restoration

As I predicted, now that some of the Klamath River dams are scheduled to be removed, everyone who ever made any comment about it is claiming partial credit. Dam removal was primarily a business decision by PacifiCorp. To the extent that outside influence played a role, credit should go to various Tribes whose ancestral homes were along the river and to Trout Unlimited. Based on some of the things they have done (or not done) in Oregon, I have a mixed view of TU but they deserve credit here. They are also seeing this effort through to the end by working with NOAA, PSMFC, and others to plan and implement the massive amount of habitat restoration that will need to occur in the “reservoir reach” of the river. This is unheralded work that must be done once the dams are removed. Here’s one page overview and here’s a great site if you want to dive into this wonky subject some more. (Take a look at page 3 of this document to see who is really working this issue.)

Bull redfish in Louisiana

I don’t write often about my personal fishing trips, but last week I did something really fun that should be on your bucket list if you are a fly angler: bull redfish. It was easy to get to and affordable for a saltwater trip but had all the thrill of sight fishing for big, powerful fish that put a heck of a bend in a 10wt rod. I got at least one fish like this every day we went out. We stayed at the Dogwood Lodge, a liveaboard boat on the water, and were met by guides with skiffs every morning. Follow the link for all the info you need to plan your own trip. It was really fun. I’ll definitely go back.

2022 Columbia River steelhead returns

The Conservation Angler has a good blog post on 2022 Columbia River steelhead returns, which obviously includes all Deschutes River steelhead. You should read the post, but the bottom line is that Columbia Basin steelhead remain in terrible shape. 2022 returns of wild fish were only 30% of the 2001 to 2010 average. While I was certainly tempted, I refrained from fishing for steelhead on the Deschutes this year, remain dumbfounded by people who did, and am disappointed with TCA’s comment that it has been enjoyable to fish for them. Of course, this is an all too common human trait: short term satisfaction at the cost of long term benefit.

The Klamath River Dams really are coming out

As you have probably already heard, yesterday the final hurdle for removing four dams on the Klamath River was overcome when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the plan submitted by the Klamath River Renewal Corporation.  Here is a good overview of the project and some of the controversy around it.  As is typical with major events like this, a lot of groups are going to attempt to take partial credit, but as this story makes clear, dam removal was primarily a business decision by PacifiCorp.  It was simply going to cost too much to add the now required fish passage to the four dams*.  FERC did not initially approve dam removal as PacifiCorp did not pledge sufficient funds to ensure removal and restoration.  California, and to a lesser extent Oregon, subsequently stepped in with financial backstops which lead to FERC’s approval. A lot of work still needs to be done but this is fantastic news. (*Two other dams on the Klamath River are not being removed as they have functional fish passage. The effort to remove dams on the Snake River is different in that they have fish passage, albeit ineffective.)

Faulty reading on the Crooked River gauge

A reader asked me to look into what appears to be a very concerning rise in the Crooked River yesterday. Jeremy Giffin, our local water master, explained that this is a faulty reading as the recorder is being replaced this week and readings won’t be reliable for a while. The plan is to continue flows at around 50 cfs for many more months. Thanks to the reader who alerted me and to Jeremy for promptly responding to my inquiry.

More is not always better

For decades in both my personal and professional investing I have favored areas with lower negative environmental impact.  Not only have I been able to achieve good returns, but this style of investing supports my personal values.  Herman Daly, one of the first economists to discuss the need for sustainable development, recently passed away.  The NY Times has an obituary that is worth the quick read.  Thankfully, while not universally accepted, his line of professional inquiry is no longer broadly dismissed as economic quackery.  I remained dumfounded that the well-established economic concept of “the tragedy of the commons” is not applied to ecosystems as a foundation of economic policy.

Who and what deserves access to groundwater?

Groundwater availability is finally getting the broader attention it deserves in Central Oregon and Salem.  The Oregon Water Resources Department is now considering implementing a rule that would require water to be available prior to approving new groundwater permits (no, this has not been required in the past).  This proposed rule is inadequate in my opinion, but it is a welcome step in the right direction.  Not surprisingly, Central Oregon cities are not supportive of this change and in September released a whitepaper titled “Understanding Upper Deschutes Basin Groundwater Levels”.   They think domestic wells and the environment should not be considered when allocating water.

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Crooked River flows back up

Flows out of Bowman Dam into the Crooked River have been raised to almost 50 cfs, the target until irrigation season begins next April. Unfortunately, they were raised abruptly. I was not there to watch but am certain this caused a significant amount of sediment to be moved, which only adds to the suffering of fish and wildlife that depend on the river. We won’t know the status of the fish until ODFW’s annual fish sampling next spring, but let’s hope for the best. (Note that the flows were around 10 cfs until a little over a week ago when they were raised to about 23 cfs.)

Mirror pond fish passage, is it back? Guest post.

If you’ve been around Bend for any amount of time you probably recall a few years ago when there was extensive discussion of dredging Mirror Pond and the potential of adding fish passage to the Mirror Pond dam. Despite considerable effort no action was taken. Last year an advisory committee was formed to look at the issue again, some design work was done, and it is now time for public input at a meeting being held on November 7th from 9 to 11 am. Here is a link to official background material. Here is the link to attend the meeting via Zoom. KTVZ has a brief story on this. Mike Tripp, a member of the advisory committee, alerted me to all this and provided background material and his perspective on the issue, below. My 2 cents is that wild, native fish must be able to move freely up and down rivers in order to access food, spawning habitat, and pockets of cold water in the summer to maximize their health and abundance. Adding passage to the dam that creates Mirror Pond is an excellent idea.

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A silver lining to current geopolitical conflict?

This post is slightly off topic for this blog, but relevant from a big picture perspective. By avocation I am a fisheries and water geek. By vocation I am a financial advisor. In that role, I have found myself in the somewhat strange position of telling clients that I think there is an interesting silver lining in the ugliness that defines current geopolitics. Clearly, we must rapidly wean ourselves from petro-dictators both for our national security as well as to combat global warming. It has been apparent to me for some time that current conflicts will most likely hasten our transition to a new energy economy. Today, a report came out from our research department stating exactly that. Here’s a paragraph from the executive summary:

The new geopolitical world order emerging could be the net zero missing link, in our view. Environmental goals are now aligned with political interests to achieve energy security. The economics of renewables and clean technologies continue to be favorable, decreasing by as much as 90% since 2010, becoming the most economical choice, or with a clear pathway to get there with greater scale. Moreover, the incentive to reshore supply chains even faster and secure resource independency has grown. Europe aspires to replace 40% of its gas formerly imported from Russia; the US aims to balance China’s dominance of Cleantech and critical minerals, such as 60% of rare earth production.

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Annual fish rescue: another viewpoint

For decades the Upper Deschutes River (above Bend) has been dewatered when irrigation season ends and water is held back to refill Crane Prairie and Wickiup Reservoirs. The dewatering is less severe now that the Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan has been finalized and 100 cfs of water is kept in the river through the winter, a dramatic improvement from the previous 20 cfs. Nevertheless, there are places where fish still get stranded and volunteers now organized by the Deschutes River Conservancy work to rescue them. This effort is lauded in local media. As with all things in water world, there are passionately held viewpoints from a different perspective, as evidenced in this recent column and the comments it generated.

OWRD: time to start measuring groundwater?

As I noted in this post, the Oregon Water Resources Department is currently seeking input on their intent to “modernize” their approach to groundwater allocation.  Historically, over 70% of all applications for new groundwater wells have been granted statewide.  Worse, 80% of all applications in areas of “groundwater concern”, like the Deschutes Basin, are approved.  These approvals have occurred even when there is no understanding of available groundwater levels or trends.  A change in the default policy to approve new wells is welcome and long overdue.  Unfortunately, there are some serious shortcomings in what OWRD is proposing so I encourage you to read the rest of this post and make a comment to OWRD.

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“A fifty year perspective on wild steelhead”

That’s part of the title of the lead article in the latest issue of The Osprey. I encourage you to read it. I’m in my 6th decade and have become more and more aware of the power of age and personal perspective. Things that I have seen and know to be true are just not understood or appreciated by people who do not have the same lived experiences. The article is a powerful example of this from someone who has dedicated his life to steelhead fishing and preservation. I hope that all the shops, guides, and individual anglers who seem determined to catch the few remaining wild steelhead read and consider it.

“Raise the Deschutes” groundwater presentation

The Deschutes River Conservancy is hosting a series of educational seminars on local water issues called Raise the Deschutes.  You can watch recordings of presentations and get notifications of upcoming seminars by visiting their site.  Earlier this week the DRC hosted a seminar with a speaker from the Oregon Water Resources Department titled “Groundwater in Central Oregon: How is it all Connected?”.  If you have not spent years reading the scientific reports, attending the meetings, and otherwise becoming a water nerd, I encourage you to watch the recording.  It was a good, high level, overview of the geology and hydrology of the Deschutes Aquifer.  That being said, I do have some criticisms. 

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NOAA: the Snake River dams must be removed

The latest in the long running saga of the Snake River dams is that NOAA fisheries has finalized the draft report I discussed in this post. The September 30, 2022 report says that much needs to be done, especially habitat restoration, but that dam removal is the key action that must be taken to avoid the extirpation of many Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead runs. And time is running out. You can read the entire report here. The question is, will action be taken? Scientists have known all this for years, and the courts have ordered action multiple times, but nothing effective has been done so far. What’s that myth about Sisyphus?

Presentations on YouTube

I’ve had people contact me with questions about presentations of mine they have seen on YouTube. Really? I had no idea what they were talking about. After the latest email today, I searched and saw that two online presentations I gave earlier this year to Sunriver Anglers were recorded and uploaded to YouTube. One on fishing the Williamson River and one on fishing Lake Billy Chinook for bull trout. I clearly need better lighting and to speak more slowly at times. This month I am giving presentations on streamer fishing to Southern Oregon Fly Fishers and Central Oregon Flyfishers. Show up if you are in the area.

30 seconds of TV fame (?)

Brooke Snavely of Central Oregon Daily News interviewed me today on the banks of the Crooked River. I don’t know how long the story will be archived on their site, but below is the accompanying text. It’s always a strange experience to see myself on video and to try to understand the thought process behind a fair amount of talking on camera getting edited down to a few seconds. But, Brooke did a fine job of squeezing a lot into a 2 minute story.

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Cue the dirge…

It’s almost time for a funeral for the Wild & Scenic section of the Crooked River. It took a few days, but yesterday evening Ochoco Irrigation District and the Bureau of Reclamation reduced the river below Prineville Reservoir 12 cfs. Today I went to pay my respects and take some photos. It is so sad. Don’t forget, the river below the City of Prineville has been in even worse shape, running at 1 to 2 cfs for weeks*, at a time when over 80 spring chinook have been attempting to move up to spawning grounds. Today I left my office in Bend early and drove to the Prineville Reservoir and then down to the bottom of the Wild & Scenic section. Below are photos, videos, and some commentary.

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OWRD groundwater meetings

I frequently criticize the Oregon Water Resource Department for what so many of us perceive as their lack of stewardship of our publicly owned resource. Their default mode of operation has been to approve any request for additional water use with no regard for its impact on ecosystems. That does appear to be changing, however, which is a welcome development although it has taken a crisis to spur it. OWRD is now conducting a series of in-person and online public outreach meetings on the subject of groundwater. One of the meetings will be in Bend on September 28th. Here are all the details. This is your chance to learn about their plans and make your voice heard.

Golden ticket, anyone?

Its one week until the WaterWatch auction in Portland. As I have written before, if you care about water in rivers in Oregon there is no more deserving organization of your support than WaterWatch. Head over to their website for examples of the great work they do. If traveling to Portland is not in the cards, you can participate in the online auction starting on Monday, the 19th. I will be floating down the Grande Ronde river during the auction, but I have purchased a Golden Ticket. If drawn, it will allow me to pick one of the live auction items before bidding begins. Pretty good deal.

Crooked River ramp down underway

Photo from the Bend Bulletin of the Crooked River on Friday. Note the angler in the background. Unbelievable.

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.

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Middle Fork Willamette

Like many, I just have to swing a fly for steelhead this time of year so a friend and I headed over to the middle fork of the Willamette River yesterday. Historically there were no steelhead in this river but there is a reasonable run of hatchery fish, so I had no problem going after them and harvesting a couple in just a morning of fishing. These will be in my smoker very soon. It’s about the same distance from Bend as Maupin and, surprisingly, we only saw a handful of other angers on a Saturday. Easy floating, easy wading, and lots of good swinging water.

John Day River to close September 15

Yesterday ODFW announced the closure of steelhead fishing on the John Day as of September 15.

“Wild steelhead returns were looking more positive earlier this summer,” said Stephan Charette, ODFW John Day district fish biologist. “Unfortunately, we have since seen wild passage slow down, though numbers are still improved from the record low return observed last year.”

Here’s the full press release.

Deschutes steelhead return update

Graph as of September 6, 2022.

As the graph shows, adult steelhead returns over Bonneville Dam are looking better this year than last. Note that this is for all steelhead: wild, hatchery, and destined for a number of rivers. Improved ocean conditions have been very helpful. Turning to the Deschutes, the only counts we have are at the fish trap at Sherars Falls. Only a small percentage of steelhead moving up the river head into the trap, so it is not a full count but a way of comparing years. From July 14 through September 2, 9 wild and 16 hatchery steelhead have entered the trap. During the same period last year 7 wild and 12 hatchery fish were counted. So, this year is seeing a slight improvement on the Deschutes, but the numbers are still very low. Be careful with your catch and release practices if you plan to go after any of these fish. Also remember that ODFW believes that 100% of all wild fish in the Deschutes are caught at least once, with about a 10% mortality rate and reduced fecundity. Is it really worth it? There are a lot more steelhead in the Rogue this year…

UPDATE: Here’s another reason to pay attention to the Sherars counts. If the river is still open to steelhead fishing and 60 or fewer wild steelhead are captured at the trap by October 31, the fishery will close November 15.

Crooked River flow update

Yesterday I spoke with Bridget Moran of the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the agency that worked with local irrigation districts and the City of Prineville on the Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan. Due to the cooler and wetter than anticipated spring, Ochoco Irrigation District was able to move their irrigation shut off date from August 15 to September 15. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the plan is now to keep flows at 10 cfs from shut off until November 1, not October 15.

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Clueless two times in a row

It’s better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt. – Mark Twain

For the second time in as many columns, Gary Lewis demonstrated that he has not read Mark Twain. Mr. Lewis is great at describing trips where guides take him fishing but he has an inexplicable need to comment on issues he does not understand. His latest column has this statement about steelhead fishing:

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28th Annual Deschutes Fisheries Workshop

A spring chinook passing through Opal Springs Dam on 7/26/22 and heading up the Crooked River during a time of extremely low water.

For over a decade I have been attending the annual Fisheries Workshop hosted by Portland General Electric and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, the owners of the Pelton Round Butte Hydroelectric Project.  This workshop discusses the efforts to reintroduce anadromous fish above Lake Billy Chinook with presentations by a wide range of scientists, agencies, and NGOs.  The last one was on July 14th. I have been waiting to write about it until the materials were online and I had the chance to get through them.

As I have written for years, reintroduction results continue to fall far short of the goals of the project.  Efforts to make improvements continue, however, and I remain hopeful that they will ultimately prove fruitful.  The good news is that trout continue to thrive on the lower Deschutes River.

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Bulletin articles on water

Yesterday the Bend Bulletin ran two stories on water that did a good job summarizing this complex topic (read them here and here).  I applaud the Bulletin for their continued coverage of local water issues.  The articles did contain a couple of factual errors, one of which was corrected today, and an omission that is important for a fuller understanding of the local water issues.

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Thinking of steelheading on the Deschutes?

As I wrote 2 weeks ago, steelhead returns to the Deschutes are better than last year but still very low. This post from The Conservation Angler adds more to that discussion and notes that while July returns to the Columbia River were good enough to get ODFW to lift the closure on the Deschutes, since the end of July the returns have plummeted. As of August 10, the steelhead returns are 34% below the last 10-year average. Wild steelhead returns are 45% below. As I have asked many times in this blog, is the thrill of catching one of these fish worth the impact, even with best catch and release practices, when they are barely holding on?

UPDATE: Today ODFW released updated fish counts at Sherars Falls below Maupin on the Deschutes. So far this year a total of 4 steelhead (2 wild and 2 hatchery) have been counted. Last year at this time 12 fish (9 wild and 3 hatchery) had been counted. Again, not all steelhead go up the ladder at the falls, so these numbers are best used as a year to year comparison. Thus far, that comparison is not good.

20th annual celebration of Oregon rivers

If you value water in rivers and streams in the state of Oregon you should be a supporter of WaterWatch. There really is no organization that has done more to protect and restore flows in our state. If you live near or like to visit Portland, you should consider attending this event on September 24th. Learn more about WaterWatch here and register to attend here.

Proposed NUID piping project: no public benefit

Yesterday the Bulletin had a story on North Unit Irrigation District’s latest proposed piping project. Unfortunately, the story left out a critical element of this proposal: no water savings will be returned instream. This is unprecedented for a local piping project that is to be primarily funded by public dollars. In contrast, 100% of the water saved by Central Oregon Irrigation District piping projects has been returned instream. This only makes sense, if the public is going to pay for conserving water we should get the benefit for fish, wildlife, and recreation. The public comment period on this project is open until August 10. Learn more here and please take the time to make a comment. Personally, I am not in favor of public financing for purely private benefit. For other ideas on how to use this money, keep reading.

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Gary Lewis, the Bulletin, and standards of journalism

As readers of this blog know, I regularly have opinion pieces published in the Bend Bulletin.  When I submit columns, I do so with extensive documentation of my claims, a sometimes tedious process but one I respect.  Fact-based journalism is one of the pillars of our democracy.  Unfortunately, these same standards are not applied throughout the Bulletin as evidenced by Gary Lewis’ most recent column, “Deschutes River steelhead by the numbers”.

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The Snake River dams must be removed

Update on 8/4/2022: Today the Bend Bulletin printed this post I made 2 days ago.

Despite the claim that dams are a form of clean, renewable energy they are being removed in many places across the country due to their lack of cost effectiveness and dramatic negative impacts on ecosystems. Four power generating dams on the Klamath River are slated to be removed next year, the largest dam removal project in US history.  The Bend Bulletin recently published an opinion column stating that dams on the Snake River should not be removed.  Here’s a different viewpoint.

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Thornburgh’s DSL land acquisition withdrawn

I’m sure that we will be hearing a lot more about this soon, but last Friday (July 29) Thornburgh notified the Department of State Lands that they were terminating their application to purchase land to add to the resort currently under construction. I doubt that this will make any real difference to the development and water use of the resort but it is good to see that public pressure is starting to make some impact on this water sucking monster that won’t go away. I wish our county commissioners would grow backbones and stop the continued approval of development permits for this massive water project that is already causing local wells to go dry. Kudos to Nunzie Gould and Central Oregon LandWatch for their continued leadership in the campaign against Thornburgh.

Critical time to take action for Snake River anadromous fish

It’s not in Central Oregon, but Snake River steelhead and salmon should be of concern to all of us. Yet another study has recently come out, co-authored by scientists from ODFW, Oregon State University, and US Fish & Wildlife, among others, stating that the dams must be breached to avoid local extinction (extirpation) of these fish as well as pacific lamprey. This follows a draft report from NOAA which came to the same conclusion. Of course, dam lobbyists are fighting back hard and attempting to have the NOAA report altered. Public comments on the report are open until August 10. Here’s an easy way to make your voice heard on this matter.

Lower Deschutes opening to steelhead fishing Aug 15, but…

As expected, yesterday ODFW announced that unmarked summer steelhead counts over Bonneville Dam have surpassed the minimum threshold to open the Lower Deschutes to steelhead fishing on August 15. That is good news, but while the run on the Columbia is “improved”, it is still extremely low and the outlook for Columbia Basin summer steelhead remains dire. So far, counts on the Deschutes at Sherars Falls are worse than last year which saw record low returns. As of July 27 a single steelhead has been counted at that trap, it was a wild fish*. Over the same period last year there were 7 fish, 6 wild and 1 hatchery. It’s also important to know that ODFW believes that every wild fish in the Deschutes is caught at least once. Even using the best catch and release practices there is an estimated 10% mortality rate and reduced fecundity among caught fish. So, be careful out there.

*Not all steelhead go into the fish trap at Sherars Falls. This number is best used as a comparison to other years, not to estimate the total number returning adults. Also note that if 60 or fewer wild steelhead are counted at the trap by October 31 the river will be closed again.

Help needed backpacking fish into high lakes

ODFW has come up a little short of volunteers needed to backpack trout fry into a couple of local high lakes next Wednesday, August 3rd. You will need a backpack that can accommodate 30lbs of fish and water and the ability to carry that either 1.1 or 2.1 miles one way. I have always enjoyed doing this sort of thing in the past and look forward to helping again next week. If you want to come out and play, please contact Jen Luke at

My 5 minutes of TV fame (infamy?)

Yesterday morning a client called asking about the “old, scruffy” guy on TV talking about fish the day before. Well, about 3 weeks ago I was interviewed by Central Oregon Daily about the plans to reduce the Crooked River to 10 cfs and realized they must have finally run the segment. At the time of the interview Ochoco Irrigation District and the Bureau of Reclamation were planning to reduce flows around August 15, now they are targeting September 1. Otherwise, I think the interview remains factual. The flows will be reduced until October 15 when the Habitat Conservation Plan requires flows of 50 cfs through the winter. I know of a couple of attempts help alleviate this disaster but at best they are unlikely to succeed.

I would have made this post last night but I was presenting to the local chapter of Project Healing Waters about local water issues. I continue to be pleasantly surprised by people wanting to learn about how water is controlled in Central Oregon and their concern with its mismanagement once they get the facts.

Bulletin article on Crooked River flows

The Crooked River above Prineville Reservoir. Source: Bend Bulletin.

It took three weeks from the time I first alerted the Bend Bulletin on the disaster that is going to happen on the Crooked later this summer, but I am thankful that they did finally run a story. Unfortunately, they did not go into much detail on just how devastating it will be for fish and wildlife. The quote from ODFW, “at this point, the scope of the impacts are unknown and difficult to predict”, is unfathomable. We know what is going to happen and it will be ugly. It seems all the people involved are simply going to watch it happen.

Mental health days

We all need mental health days, I’m just back from 3 of them. That’s my fishing buddy Scott with a wild, native redband trout. We estimate it was right around 8 lbs. I love fishing around here, but you don’t catch trout like that in Central Oregon. The bonus was we only saw a few other anglers in 3 days. Here’s yours truly with a smaller, but still more than respectable fish. I hope you had a great weekend of fishing.

Race to the bottom: Thornburgh

Today OPB published the 3rd article in their “Race to the bottom” series about diminishing groundwater. “How Central Oregon groundwater sells to the highest bidders” is an excellent article that details the impacts of excessive groundwater withdrawals and the lengths to which the Thornburgh Resort is going to secure water. I highly recommend reading it. It is jaw dropping how our politicians and agencies are failing us. The article does not mention our country government, but it is guilty too.

Governor candidates views on water

This blog does not talk about politics, but politicians certainly impact the way in which water is managed in our state. Last Sunday the Bend Bulletin had an interesting editorial which provided excerpts from interviews with the three major candidates for governor on the topic of water. I am thankful that the Bulletin has made water a focus area. I encourage you to read the excerpts if water is a factor in your governor selection process. Keep reading for my commentary on the candidate’s statements, if you are so inclined.

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Source Weekly article on local wells going dry

Readers of this blog have seen many posts about groundwater issues and wells going dry. It is good to see that it is finally getting some news coverage. The Source Weekly recently published this story which is worth a quick read. There’s no new information in it if you have been following my posts, but it is a good, top-level summary. (I do wonder, however, why they have not published a letter I sent them a while back about this very topic.)

Spring chinook entering the Crooked River

It’s the time of year when spring chinook come into the Deschutes River to spawn. As of yesterday morning, 28 of them have moved through Opal Springs Dam into the Crooked River. Right now there are survivable flows in the Crooked below the North Unit Irrigation District diversion just above Smith Rocks. When the flows out of Bowman Dam are reduced to 10 cfs in August, however, any remaining adults, their eggs, and any fry that have hatched will be in mortal peril.

Some history on the Crooked at 10 cfs

I have heard that folks have been reaching out to the Bureau of Reclamation and elsewhere on the planned reduction of flows in August to 10 cfs in the Crooked River. While the BoR has been unresponsive, public awareness and pressure is a good thing. Keep contacting them and spreading the word! For those of you interested in digging into the details of how this can be allowed to happen, keep reading.

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More on the Crooked at 10 cfs

Brett Hodgson retired from ODFW last year after spending decades as a fish biologist in Prineville and Bend. In my experience, he the most knowledgeable source of information on local fisheries issues and stays active as a volunteer with ODFW. I called him yesterday to get his take on the plans to reduce flows in the Crooked River to 10 cfs next month. It was an interesting conversation, keep reading for more.

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My latest column in The Bulletin

I’ve been camping and off the grid for the past 6 days but I’m back online and see that last Sunday the Bend Bulletin finally printed a column about groundwater I submitted to them about a month ago. They rejected the first version, I don’t know why, so I resubmitted with some of the sharper comments omitted. (Those comments are in my blog posts, look in the groundwater section). They didn’t believe many of my claims, so I submitted source material, and they also contacted the City of Ashland and the Thornburgh Resort developers to confirm that I was telling the truth. To be honest, this can be frustrating, but I do appreciate their fact checking and adherence to journalistic principals. We need a lot more of that.

Crooked River disaster on the horizon? UPDATED

Every month a group of local, state, and federal government agencies, Ochoco Irrigation District, the Confederate Tribes of Warm Springs, and others meet to discuss water releases out of Prineville Reservoir into the Crooked River. The minutes of that meeting are distributed to a wider audience, including yours truly. The June 1 minutes were released a few days ago and I had the chance to read them today. If you care about the Crooked River you should be extremely concerned. I encourage you keep reading and to contact Gregg Garnett, the Bend Field Office Manager of the Bureau of Reclamation at or (541) 389-6541 x226.

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How many wells are going dry?

There has been a lot of talk in various forums about domestic wells going dry. A recent post on NextDoor stated, “Just a heads up neighbors. I live near Barr Rd. and Cline falls. My well just went dry. My well is about 450 ft.” A response from a person in Tumalo was, “Mine and all neighbors wells have all gone dry too.” Another comment was, “I spoke to one of the larger well and pump providers in C. O. and they have been getting multiple calls per day the last 2 weeks on domestic wells. I am sire not every one is dry but that s still a huge rate.” (sic) This sort of talk has been popping for a couple of years. So, I spent some time on the Oregon Water Resources Department well report mapping tool to try to get some real data for Deschutes County.

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Yet another article on how hatcheries are failing anadromous fish

Reader of this blog are familiar with the science showing that releasing hatchery anadromous fish has failed to increase returns while negatively impacting the survival of native, wild fish. OPB and ProPublica have released a good article detailing the failure, one of many that have been written over many years. On a related note, as I assumed would occur, the recent decision to stop hatchery steelhead releases on the North Umpqua was appealed to the Marion County Circuit Court which ordered ODFW to release the fish. Not surprisingly, ODFW immediately complied. After all, ODFW management wanted to do this all along regardless of the effectiveness of the program. So much for having an independent ODFW Commission make these sort of decisions.

First spring chinook of the season

On May 23rd the first spring chinook of the season was passed through the Opal Springs fish ladder. I hope there is enough water in the Crooked River for it. Recently, the river has been as low as 12 cfs below the NUID diversion. For most of the past 2 months, the Crooked has been around 2 to 4 cfs below the OID diversion. I took a photo when I walked across the river near the City of Prineville wetlands project when it was at 4 cfs. As you can see, in the deepest spot the water barely went over the top of my feet.

A spring chinook won’t swim through this!

3 days on the Lower Deschutes

I camped last Sunday through Tuesday on the Lower D, one of my favorite annual trips. In my opinion, camping is the only way to fish the stonefly hatch. The fishing is best early and late when there are few other anglers, I spend the middle of the day at camp, maybe have a beer and watch the insane crowds float by, and have a relaxing, productive trip. I caught 23 redbands, the biggest I measured at 19″. My fishing partner Scott, did equally well and landed a 21″ bull trout. If you pick a spot where you can row across the river you can fish many miles of water on both sides so you don’t have to bring your own rock to stand on. BTW, the river is in great shape. Don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise.

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2021-2022 steelhead reintroduction final count

The 2021-2022 Deschutes summer steelhead season officially ended April 30. While steelhead can start appearing in the lower most sections of the Deschutes in June, most don’t arrive at the upper stretches until winter with stragglers arriving in March and April. According to Portland General Electric, the final reintroduction count for this past season is 46 steelhead. (Look at the spreadsheets from May 2021 through April 2022.) The 2020-2021 season saw 52 adult returns and the total for the season prior to that was 57. Clearly, the return of only 46 adult steelhead from the Upper Deschutes Basin is disappointing. On the other hand, the return of wild and hatchery adults in the entire river has been plummeting.

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The Crooked River is an irrigation ditch

Last week was a typical example of how the Crooked River is managed by the Bureau of Reclamation and local irrigation districts with no concern for fish and wildlife. In only 45 minutes on April 26th, releases from Bowman Dam into the Crooked River rose from 144 cfs to 240 cfs. This started at 5:45 am and ended at 6:30 am. I hope no anglers or wildlife were wading in the river early that morning. Of course, a sudden surge of this magnitude will have stirred up considerable spawning bed clogging sediment.

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Prineville Reservoir and Crooked River flows update

The Bureau of Reclamation has launched a new website tracking Prineville Reservoir water management. For those of you like me who like to dive into the weeds, it’s worth a quick look. The primary content is the letter to “Prineville Reservoir Storage Contractors”. It states that at 27% full, Prineville Reservoir has never been this low at this time of year, is not likely to fill more, and will likely be empty by the end of irrigation season. Most water right holders (“storage contractors”) will receive at most 49% of their water allocations. The big users will receive even less. Ochoco Irrigation District will receive 42% of their water right and North Unit only 27%. This is bad news for irrigators but fishing in the Wild & Scenic section this summer should be fine. The big unanswered question is where will the water for the 50 cfs of winter releases required by the Habitat Conservation Plan come from? Without adequate winter release and a huge snowfall next winter the Crooked River will be in very bad shape. At what point do the needs of fish and wildlife come into consideration?

COID Pilot Butte Canal breach

Last night around 9 pm one of Central Oregon District’s main canals breached. Per COID, at the time water was flowing around 250 cfs. “The Pilot Butte Canal conveys water to 17,338 acres along 25 miles between the north end of Bend, through Redmond to Terrebonne.” The breach is near my house, so I took a look. At 9:30 this morning much of the water had drained away, but there was still plenty left. It looks to me that around 3 houses were flooded along with multiple outbuildings and fields. COID says that the cause of the breach is burrowing animals. It seems to me that would make homeowners along the canal who oppose piping reconsider their position.

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Irrigation season in full swing, rivers getting killed (again)

By now I’m sure you are all fully familiar with the Bureau of Reclamation graph of local reservoirs and rivers used to irrigate the high desert. In non-drought years the reservoirs are full early in the irrigation season, but only Crane Prairie and Haystack are near that level today. Haystack is an intermediate reservoir used by North Unit Irrigation District to temporarily hold water from Wickiup and Crane Prairie is kept full early in the season for Oregon Spotted Frog habitat as required by the Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan. What is less well known is the dramatic change in river levels caused by irrigation diversions, a change which is lethal to many forms of aquatic life.

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ODFW webinar on steelhead in the Columbia Basin

Last night the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife held a webinar on the outlook for wild steelhead in the Columbia River and Oregon tributaries like the Deschutes. The bottom line is that wild returns in many rivers were the lowest on record last year and are forecast to be even lower this year. For example, only 480 wild steelhead are projected to pass above Sherars Falls on the Deschutes River this year! (Talk about depressing.) While management decisions have not been finalized, the current recommendation is to close all steelhead fishing on both the Deschutes and John Day rivers until returns exceed certain thresholds. Keep reading for more information and a little commentary.

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Tod Heisler in the Bulletin

Today the Bend Bulletin published an excellent opinion piece from Tod Heisler on water management in the Deschutes Basin. Tod is the former executive director of the Deschutes River Conservancy, currently with Central Oregon LandWatch, and is one of the most knowledgeable people around on water issues. The themes he writes about are well known to readers of this blog but they need to be repeated until action is taken. We are in a crisis that our “leaders” continue to ignore.