Due to irrigation withdrawals, the Crooked River is currently so low as to be impassable around Smith Rocks and the City of Prineville. Once the river reaches the Crooked River Ranch golf course, it is recharged by cold, clean water from a series of springs to the extent that it actually resembles the Metolius River by the time it reaches Lake Billy Chinook. As a result, the bottom stretch of the river has sufficiently high quality water to attract spring chinook through the fish ladder at Opal Springs Dam just upstream from LBC. As of today, 12 chinook have passed through the ladder. That’s the good news. The bad news is that they won’t get far. Let’s hope they can find places to spawn in a very short stretch of water.
If you are a local water policy geek like I am, then it’s time to start hearing about the Deschutes Basin Water Collaborative, of which I am a member. The now complete Basin Study Work Group was a multi-year research project that dove deep into Basin water issues. The Collaborative is an even larger effort to implement some of the solutions that BSWG pointed to. DBWC has been around for a while now, but it’s moving slowly and still getting it’s footing. Some DBWC members presented to the Oregon House Committee On Water 2 weeks ago, and it’s worth watching (it’s the first 40 minutes). The speakers provided a reasonable overview of Basin water issues and collaborative efforts, but were careful to accentuate the positive. I fully acknowledge that some reaches of some rivers and streams are now in better shape than in the past, but the scale of the really fundamental work that needs to be done, at a much quicker pace than currently being discussed, was not addressed.
I’m sure you’re aware by now that most of Central Oregon is currently in “extreme” or “exceptional” drought. As an angler, I’m particularly concerned with flows in local waterways. Here’s a chart from the Oregon Water Resources Department that may be new to you. It shows current stream flows compared to the average. Flows in most of the state are more than 40% below average. Crook County is at 11%! According to the Bureau of Reclamation, reservoirs in Deschutes County are 42% full, which is 55% of the average. In other words, they are normally 76% full at this time of year. Reservoirs in Crook County are at 47% capacity, which is 54% of the average.
The Bend Bulletin ran a version of my recent posts about flows in the Crooked River today. They titled it, Take a new look at water distribution in Central Oregon.
Here’s more on the extreme low flows on the Crooked River which is currently at 9 CFS below Prineville. As of yesterday, 3 adult spring chinook have swam through the fish ladder at Opal Springs near the mouth of the Crooked River. They won’t get far, however, as the river is impassable for fish their size not far upstream. Below are a couple of photos of the river a little below the North Unit Irrigation District diversion near Smith Rocks. Why doesn’t the Habitat Conservation Plan require flows needed for these reintroduced fish? Probably because they are not yet listed as endangered species in the Deschutes Basin, but steelhead are, and their fry need higher, cleaner flows to survive.Read More »
Portland General Electric provided the final reintroduction counts for the 2020-2021 steelhead season last Friday* and once again they were extremely disappointing: a total of 52 steelhead. These are fish from the Upper Deschutes Basin that were captured as out migrating smolts 2 years ago at the Selective Water Withdrawal tower in Lake Billy Chinook, potentially marked and released into the Lower Deschutes River, and which subsequently returned as adults. Last year 57 adults returned. It is almost important to know that the number of all steelhead (wild, hatchery, and reintroduced) captured at the Pelton Trap was very low (1,309).
Once again, I make the case that this is not an issue specifically with the Deschutes River, it is a result of many factors that have led to massive declines in anadromous fish populations throughout the Pacific Northwest. These include global warming which is destroying the food chain in the ocean as well as lowering and warming rivers, dams which remove habitat and impede migration, over fishing, pollution, cross-breeding and competition with hatchery fish, etc. Without large scale reform, wild steelhead in much of the Columbia Basin and beyond are on the path to extinction and hatchery fish could follow.
For those of you who track the reintroduction closely, keep reading.Read More »
That’s the title of an article on OPB.org. As readers know, I have a real fondness for fishing in the Klamath Basin (great fishing, few people), but the extreme multi-year drought they are experiencing is going to dramatically impact fishing, farming, and economies from the upper Basin out to the coast. The quote that really caught by eye was from Craig Tucker, natural resources policy consultant for the Karuk Tribe in California.
“This is 21st century global climate change hydrology,” Tucker said. “This is what the climatologists told us to expect is extreme dryness, followed by extreme wetness, and less snow. “We can’t use 20th century water plans to deal with 21st century climate,” he added.
This applies to the Deschutes Basin as well. Unfortunately, nothing is occurring in either basin at the scale or speed that is needed.
Every 10 years, the National Centers for Environmental Information releases statistics on “normal” weather for the US. This data is used in a variety of ways, for example to say that today is warmer or colder than normal. The problem with this is that it does not capture long term trends, comparing the past decade to the prior one is not as useful as looking at the past 100 years. The chart above does just that. It compares the 30 years from 1991-2020 to the entire 20th century. There’s no doubt about it, we’re heating up. If we looked at just the past 10 years compared to the prior 100 it would look even worse.
Of course, this same problem exists when looking at fish counts. Everyone talks about current numbers relative to the past 10 to 20 years. What we should really be looking at is current population estimates in relation to the past 100+ years. When you do that it is downright depressing.
Tod Heisler at Central Oregon Land Watch wrote a really good post for their blog, “Drought and the Deschutes: Looking at the same river twice“. It succinctly covers a topic I write about a lot: the dramatic difference in flows above and below Bend during irrigation season. I highly recommend it. Here’s some more color to this discussion: many local groups promote the Middle Deschutes as a success story. In fact, just yesterday I was in a meeting where a local prominent NGO and a government employee did just that. Once again, I lost my cool. Historically, the Middle Deschutes as it flows through Bend should be somewhere over 1,200 CFS right now. A few days ago it was at 62 CFS. That’s 5%* of the historical flow. True, 62 CFS is better than nothing, but we have a very long way to go before this stretch of the river is healthy again.
(*Yes, I made a stupid math error in the first version of this post, now corrected. I need a proof reader / editor sometimes.)
We can now make a prediction about how the Crooked River will look for the remainder of the year. The executive summary is that the Wild & Scenic section below Bowman Dam, where most anglers spend their time, down to the City of Prineville (CoP), will have good flows during irrigation season and will have low, but survivable flows in non-irrigation season. Below CoP is another story. Flows below CoP will be extremely low, lethally so at times, during irrigation season but then improve during non-irrigation season. Read on for a detailed explanation.Read More »
The Conservation Angler’s recent newsletter has some really good stuff in it, I suggest you check it out. One slightly off-topic comment: for my day job I have spent a fair amount of time pouring over research on Bitcoin and Blockchain. There is a link in TCA’s newsletter to an article that does a reasonable job of discussing Bitcoin’s environmental impact at a high level, but leaves out something that continues to stun me. Given the enormous computing power required to run the Blockchain and mine new coins, the preponderance of server farms dedicated to this task are located in China due to their cheap, coal-based electricity. The result is that Bitcoin is responsible for about 60 million tons of CO2 emissions annually, an amount that is increasing. It is projected that Bitcoin will soon emit more CO2 than Japan, currently the 5th largest emitter in the world.
By now, we should all be aware of our 20-year drought (I have many posts on this). While I have seen many graphical representations of it, this one in Kyle’s presentation was new to me. The blue bars show actual monthly precipitation over the past 20 years as measured at Wickiup Dam (not average as stated in the chart). The red line shows the cumulative departure from average. Over the past 20 years, Wickiup has seen almost 60 less inches than “average”. Kyle goes on to say in the presentation the cause is normal weather cycles, not global warming. Regardless of the reason, it has been dry over the past 20 years and we have had no changes in water policy or management in response.
For a couple of years I have been attending/viewing presentations put on by the Central Oregon Geoscience Society (COGS). I am not a geologist, but the talks have been educational and are occasionally about topics of particular interest to me like local hydrology and hydrogeomorphology. On April 27, Kyle Gorman, long time Central Oregon Region Manager for the Oregon Water Resources Department, gave a presentation titled, Water in the Deschutes Basin: 2020 Hindsight – What Happened? (Click on the title to see a replay.) Kyle discussed local hydrology and water use by irrigators. His presentation even had a couple of informative slides I had not seen before. (Check out the “CDA” graph at about minute 40.) It was a good overview of water issues many of us have been tracking for years, and I recommend viewing the replay of his talk, and perhaps joining COGS if you are interested in presentations like this.
I was surprised, however, by Kyle’s dismissal of global warming as a causal factor in current water shortages. Keep reading for comments on that.Read More »
Oregon and Washington have released 2021 return projections and associated angling regulation changes. The forecast is somewhat improved for some salmon species. Steelhead returns are again projected to be very low and angling restrictions will be put back in place. It is important to note that even the improved returns are still a fraction of what they should be.
Sadly, as I have written about many times, it is irrigation season and once again the Middle Deschutes below Bend is being killed. According to the US Bureau of Reclamation gauge, the Middle is currently flowing at 64 CFS. Prior to the installation of upstream dams and irrigation withdrawals, this section of river would be flowing around 1,200 CFS. Not only are the flows lethally low, they are erratic (see the chart below). The photo above is from a Central Oregon Irrigation District email last month that provided the irrigation startup schedule to their patrons. I was struck by their use of this image, as I will explain below.Read More »
On April 3rd, the Bend Bulletin ran a very misleading article, Deschutes River level to rise as irrigation season begins, so I am glad they printed Tod Heisler’s response. The Bulletin’s article omitted much and contained inaccuracies, like showing a picture of the river at Sawyer park and claiming that the river will rise there when it will actually fall. Tod did a good job of providing a more complete and accurate description of the irrigator’s impact on the river.
Last week, Advocates for the West hosted a Zoom meeting featuring Idaho Conservation League’s Justin Hayes talking about US Congressman Simpson’s proposal to partially remove the four lower Snake River dams. I thought Justin did a great job diving into the proposal, answering questions, and I learned a lot. You can watch a replay of the meeting on Advocates’ YouTube channel. While informative, the discussion reinforced my concerns about the proposal’s automatic re-licensing of many other dams and a moratorium on related lawsuits in the Columbia Basin. Snake River salmon and steelhead desperately need these dams removed, but not at the potential cost of further endangering anadromous populations further downstream. This concern was acknowledged in the discussion but not adequately addressed in my opinion. Nevertheless, I encourage you to watch the video if you’d like to learn more about the proposal.
In preparation for irrigation season, over the past few days flows were rapidly increased in the Upper Deschutes River with releases from Wickiup Reservoir (which is currently only at 58% of capacity). While you may think increased flows are good, such a rapid increase is very destructive, by washing mud and silt into the river from river banks and bottom that have been exposed all winter. Note that the current flow of 370 CFS will be increased to about 1,800 CFS over the next 30-45 days.
It appears that yesterday was the first day of this year’s irrigation season in Central Oregon. Once again, local irrigators showed their disregard for the Deschutes River, dropping the river below Bend from 470 CFS to 107 CFS in 10 hours. Such a rapid, deep decline in flows strands and kills fish along with the aquatic insects the fish feed on. Of course, this has been going on for over 100 years and is why the Middle Deschutes is in such terrible shape. It also shows, once again, that without the threat of a lawsuit, the irrigators will not change their behavior. (Irrigation season is somewhat variable but partial deliveries start in early April and ramp up through mid May with full deliveries.)
A portion of the revenue from every fishing license goes into ODFW’s Restoration & Enhancement program, funds that are to be spent on projects that benefit anglers. Spending is controlled by an independent board where I have been a member for over 6 years. By statute, most dollars are spent on hatcheries and related projects, but we support other efforts as well, including some pure research. Research projects are a small proportion of the total as they typically do not show direct and immediate angler benefit, but we may fund them if we can see a longer term benefit.
Last week I saw the results of one such research project and believe there could be clear angler benefit. If you are at all interested in the impending removal of the four impassable dams on the Klamath River (the largest dam removal project in US history), love fishing in the Klamath Basin as I do, want to see the reintroduction of anadromous species in the Upper Klamath Basin, and are sometimes frustrated with ODFW, then you should read on.Read More »
A frequent topic of this blog is the dismal state of Columbia Basin anadromous fish, including those in the Deschutes Basin. Among the most desperate are populations in the Snake River where dramatic action must be quickly taken to ensure their survival. The science is clear that without removing the lower four Snake River dams, some Snake River salmon and steelhead populations will soon become locally extinct (or “extirpated”, to use the more accurate term). A proposal has recently emerged to remove the dams, but as I previously wrote, it has some unacceptable provisions. While many conservation groups are ignoring the truly egregious components and rallying support for the plan, two days ago a coalition of other groups came out in opposition. Here’s a brief summary of the issue.Read More »
My latest column appeared in the Bend Bulletin today. Once again, I appreciate their increased coverage of local conservation issues and occasionally letting me submit something. If you don’t have a subscription or have used you your free views for the month, here’s the text.
The Bulletin recently ran a column titled “Central Oregon Crossroads: Are we moving fast enough to protect our waterways?”. I always appreciate water articles and commentary, but the column did not address numerous local issues. Here’s a brief, partial overview.Read More »
Anglers in Central Oregon will lose an important ally when Brett Hogdson, Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Deschutes District Fish Biologist, retires this Friday. You may not know Brett, but his dedication to local fisheries has made your life as an angler better. For many years, Brett managed fish in the Upper Deschutes Basin which includes all the waters that flow into the Metolius, Crooked, and Upper and Middle Deschutes Rivers and all lakes and reservoirs in the Basin.Read More »
As I wrote last December, an application for a private airstrip between Bend and Redmond right next to the Deschutes River in an Exclusive Farm Use Zone has been submitted to Deschutes County. Today, notice was given that the application was denied but is subject to appeal. I believe this is the correct decision. Private airstrips are fine, but not if they are next to a river where people recreate, eagles nest, and mule deer and elk use for winter habitat.
February was a good month for precipitation in Central Oregon. The Upper Deschutes and Crooked River basins are now at 94% of average snowpack, up from 79% last month. Central Oregon is now mostly in “severe” drought, as opposed to the previous “extreme” drought category. Nonetheless, very dry soil is soaking up most of the water, aquifers have a long way to go to be replenished, and reservoir levels statewide remain below normal for this time of year. Let’s hope we get a lot more cold weather and snow!
Snake River dam removal is currently getting a lot of attention. Here’s an old film featuring Ted Trueblood about steelhead fishing a “secret” place, which is pretty clearly Hells Canyon on the Snake. I was amused by the narration and line-in-mouth technique, but steelhead fishing used to be spectacular! Thanks to Aimee Moran, at Advocates for the West, for sharing. Advocates is an excellent organization, worthy of your support.
I have been a member of Central Oregon Flyfishers since 2004. Like so much else in Central Oregon, COF has grown considerably since then, mostly with new members from out of the area. At last month’s COF meeting a question was asked about fishing the Crooked River in the winter during low flows which made me think it was time for another overview of how Bowman Dam and the Crooked River are managed. Here’s a quick recap.Read More »
The Klamath River Renewal Corporation recently emailed their winter 2021 newsletter which had links to two items I enjoyed viewing. The first is a recording of a CalTrout webinar held last December which gave a detailed overview of the status of the project including planned efforts for landscape and tributary restoration. Dam removal is complex, requiring much more than simply tearing them down. The recording is over an hour long, with 39 minutes of presentation follow by Q&A. Removal of all four dams is currently scheduled for 2023. (CalTrout has an excellent web page on this topic was well.) The KRRC newsletter also contained a link to a powerful 14 minute film from American Rivers showing the 20 year effort by the Yurok Tribe to get to this point.
The Klamath Basin may seem off topic for this Central Oregon blog, but it is one of my favorite places to fish. Parts of the upper basin are less than 2 hours away from my home in Tumalo, the fishing can be excellent, and you can get away from people. Removing the dams should make a good thing even better.
Crane Prairie Reservoir was built in 1922 as an irrigation reservoir; the water is held back by the first of many dams on the Deschutes River. Crane is a favorite for anglers in the Central Oregon Cascades targeting large, hard fighting “Cranebows”. These native rainbow trout are either wild, spawning in the Upper Deschutes above the reservoir, or hatchery-raised from originally wild stock. Only triploid (sterile) hatchery fish are now released into the reservoir, eliminating the potential for breeding with wild fish.Read More »
Over the weekend, US Representative Mike Simpson of Idaho released a “concept” for legislation to breach the 4 lower Snake River dams (Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite). Oregon Public Broadcasting has a good story on the proposal as well as related articles. Rep. Simpson understands that Snake River salmon and steelhead are on the path to extinction and he is to be commended for his efforts.
That being said, there is an element in the concept that will be a non-starter for most conservation / environmental groups: it suspends essentially all dam-related lawsuits in the entire Columbia Basin, not only the Snake River, for 35 years. Suspending legal challenges for such a long period of time over such an enormous area will simply be unacceptable for many.
Wildfire management is not my area of expertise, but it is certainly a hot topic in Central Oregon and one connected to water and watersheds. One of the dominate narratives today is that we need to more actively “manage” our forests while the environmental / scientific community states this is misguided for a range of reasons. “First the savior, now the villain: Fire suppression is often overhyped in the American west“, was published today and is another argument that managing forests for fire suppression is more detrimental than beneficial. The line that caught my eye was, “According to tree-ring-based climate reconstructions, this was the wettest century of the past 2,000 years in much of the West.” What does this mean for our local ecosystems? If normal means drier, and global heating adds to that, what does that mean for us? Perhaps, rather than wildfire management, we should be focusing on water management.
That’s the title of the executive summary of a report released last month by the State of Washington. 30 years ago the first salmon in Washington was listed as endangered, many more have been added since then. Today, 14 species of salmon and steelhead are considered at risk of extinction (including those in the Snake River), and others are on the path. This is an excellent, brief, and easy to read report loaded with informative graphics. I encourage you to take a look. Of course, it begs the question, are things better in Oregon? Thanks to The Conversation Angler for alerting me to this report.
The Bend Bulletin has recently published two columns, one from an industry lobbyist and one from two local industry CEOs, arguing in favor of keeping the four lower Snake River dams. Statements in these columns are worthy of scrutiny and debate. One thing is certain, however, according to the best available science, many Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead are on the path to extinction in the not too distant future.Read More »
Winter is approximately 1/3 over, so there’s a lot of time for things to change, but I thought I’d comment on where things stand so far. The short answer is, not good. Central Oregon remains in moderate to extreme drought conditions, we need significantly more than normal snow, probably for multiple years, to get out of it, and so far we are below normal. If you want to dig in more, keep reading. There are many interesting infographics if you like this sort of thing.Read More »
A former colleague of mine back from my time in Silicon Valley who has also transitioned over to water world posted about a new board game called “California Water Crisis“. Follow the link, it looks pretty comprehensive and interesting. Perhaps we need a similar game for Central Oregon.
A few years ago, I was asked to give a presentation on local water issues where I focused on climate change, drought, our dwindling snowpack, and its enormous repercussions on ecosystems, municipal water supplies, and agriculture. I was surprised by the fact that so many in the audience, even those deep in “water world”, had not made the connection between snowpack and local water issues*. There seemed to be a view that we have this enormous aquifer that will provide for us without understanding that a deep snowpack is the source of that aquifer. Today, I read a review of a scientific article on the subject that should scare all of us.Read More »
Contrary to prior press releases and news reports, a final decision on all aspects of the Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan has not been made. Final documents were made available only two days ago (1/11/2021). There’s a ton of material there, some documents have multiple volumes, so have a fresh bottle of wine ready, maybe two. Below is a brief overview. Note that while a “record of decision” has been made to issue an Incidental Take Permit for Oregon Spotted Frog and Bull Trout later this month, the HCP is still under review for issuance of an ITP for steelhead.Read More »
Yesterday, Ochoco Irrigation District notified the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that they were surrendering their preliminary permit to install a hydroelectric facility at Bowman Dam. Simultaneously, Prineville Representative Vikki Breese Iverson introduced House Bill 2610 which could eliminate statewide fish passage requirements for many dams. I simply don’t understand this lack of concern for our environment, rivers, fish, and wildlife. Yes, the cost of providing fish passage at Bowman was projected to be high, but so is canal piping which is getting done with little financial contribution from the applicants. Or, the applicants could provide some other net benefit (e.g., habitat restoration, increased flows, pollution reduction) that would mitigate the lack of passage. OID, the City of Prineville, and Crook County are looking for an easy, one-sided solution to the detriment of the long term environmental health of Oregon.
I was recently forwarded a link to an article published in the North American Journal of Fisheries Management with the wordy title, Rapid Recolonization and Life History Responses of Bull Trout Following Dam Removal in Washington’s Elwha River. We’ve all heard about how quickly various anadromous salmonids moved upriver after the removal of the Elwha Dam, this article said bull trout did likewise. Upon reflection, that’s not too surprising. What I had never heard before is that this is a population of anadromous bull trout who migrate in and out the the ocean and they are not unique in that regard. I guess I should have not been surprised by that, but I was. Learn something new all the time…
Today the Bend Bulletin ran an opinion piece titled “Removal of unproductive dams best for salmon” from an admitted lobbyist for the hydro power industry. While parts of the article were certainly true, it was a blatant attempt to “greenwash*” hydro power. Yes, ocean conditions are an important factor in anadromous fish declines, but so are dams. Yes, unproductive dams should be removed, but to state that the lower Snake River dams are an essential source of clean energy and not a significant contributor to the decline of Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead is simply a fabrication.Read More »
That’s the title of a recent article from NOAA Fisheries. The article speaks for itself. “It’s notable that in five of the last seven years, the California Current system has been dominated by these large marine heatwaves, which are also the largest heatwaves on record for this area.” And, “these warmer conditions have boosted the odds of harmful algal blooms, shifting distributions of marine life, and changes in the marine food web.” Clearly, the decline of salmon, steelhead, and other anadromous fish is due to both freshwater issues (dams, habitat, hatcheries, etc.) as well as heating oceans. We need to urgently work to improve both freshwater and ocean conditions. Time is running out.
I am thankful of the Bend Bulletin’s continuing coverage of local water issues. Unfortunately, the article in yesterday’s paper, Districts make last-ditch effort to conserve water for Deschutes River, was somewhat misleading. While it is true that plans call for over $100M to be spent to install canal piping, those are almost exclusively federal taxpayer funds, not irrigator funds. That should have been highlighted at the beginning of the article, not buried at the end.Read More »
A new 2,000 foot long airstrip adjacent to the Deschutes River between Bend and Redmond is being proposed. The application is for a private airstrip, but commercial use is allowed. Your favorite mapping program will show that 20925 Harper Road is nearly adjacent to the Maston trail system and the flight path will go over other houses. I’m all for property rights, but this is something else. Parts of Maston are seasonally closed to protect nesting eagles. Nearby Cline Buttes Recreation Area is winter range for deer and elk. Hikers, equestrians, and cyclists use these areas year round. It’s not the best fishing, but I’ve hiked down to the river there. Why do the desires of a single property owner supersede the needs of wildlife and the public’s tranquil use of this area?Read More »
The Bend Bulletin recently published an article from the Associated Press titled “Study: Ocean conditions, not dams, reduce salmon runs”. This is misleading reporting of the original study, “A synthesis of the coast‐wide decline in survival of West Coast Chinook Salmon”, published in the Fish and Fisheries journal.
The research study argues that the most prized salmon and steelhead populations along the west coast of North America are in decline, often dramatically so, and that the reasons are complex. Dams are not the sole culprit. This can be a controversial statement in many environmental circles, but it is true. It is well known that anadromous fish are declining in river systems that are not impacted by dams as well as where dams are present. This is not an either-or proposition, however.Read More »
A report published yesterday in the journal Science identifies a toxic chemical in tires as a significant cause of death for salmon. A NY Times article provides some background on how this was discovered. Ever wonder what happens to all the ground down toxic bits of tire that comes off our cars? It is dispersed into the environment where we breath, eat, and drink it. We now know it also kills fish. Just another element in the chemical stew in which we live.
I just love watching big fish move through the ladder. Can you name the three different species? I love catching them all. Enjoy these recent video clips!Read More »
The Bend Bulletin has a short story about a man living in Culver who repeatedly poached bull trout, and bragged about it on social media, before being convicted of the crime. I am always struck when I read stories about poaching, but even more so when it’s an endangered species. I like to catch and eat fish, but this is something else altogether. What was going through the poacher’s mind?
I have been asked why there has been so little discussion about the Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan now that it is final, so here are a few quick comments. It does appear that there have been marginal improvements in the HCP compared to the last draft. There are loopholes, however, so it’s debatable. Regardless, as someone who advocates for fish, wildlife, and river recreation, the HCP remains deeply disappointing. Flows in the Upper Deschutes will be increased far too slowly and remain unstable. There will be no real improvement in the even more disastrous flows in the Middle Deschutes. The Crooked River will continue to suffer from both low flows and high levels of pollution from agricultural runoff.Read More »
Local ecologist and wildfire expert George Wuerthner alerted me to a new report publish by the American Geophysical Union with the unwieldy title “Projected Changes in Reference Evapotranspiration in California and Nevada: Implications for Drought and Wildland Fire Danger“. While Central Oregon is not specifically covered, it is obvious from the report that it applies to us as well. The bottom line is that global warming is going to increase and strengthen the extended state of drought we have been experiencing as well as increase and strengthen local wildfire danger. George asks how will this impact the HCP and our management of local rivers? What breaks when there is not enough water to meet all the defined needs?Read More »
Spectacular news. Today in a live Zoom call it was announced that the states of California and Oregon will replace PacifiCorp / Berkshire Hathaway as co-licensees of the Klamath Dams, which “ensures successful dam removal” and the “biggest salmon restoration project ever”. Dam removal will begin in 2022 and finish in 2023. FERC will have to approve the transfer, but Oregon governor Brown and California governor Newsom said that it will occur. FERC previously asked that PacifiCorp remain as co-licensee in order to provide a backstop in the case of cost overruns, that backstop will now be provided by California and Oregon. Learn more at klamathrenewal.org.
I recently had an extended email exchange with someone who objected to my statements that irrigators do not pay for their water, they pay for the delivery of the water. This may be a subtle distinction, but in my mind it is important. It’s analogous to paying for the delivery of a bale of hay, but not the hay itself. I have had several irrigators insist that they do pay for their water, but this is simply not true. So, here’s a more detailed explanation and why I think this is important.Read More »
It’s not in Central Oregon, but the North Umpqua River is a favorite destination of mine. If the pass is clear it can even be a long day trip. Chasing winter steelhead in the fly water section is some of the toughest fishing I have ever done but it can be rewarding, and the river is beautiful. Of course, as is the case all over the state, steelhead returns continue to decline on the North Umpqua. On this river, however, those declines are partially due to the abysmal condition of the 130-year old, privately owned Winchester Dam. A new lawsuit asking the owners to remove the dam or undertake major repairs is another example of the excellent work being done by WaterWatch of Oregon. Learn more about the dam here.
A reader recently contacted me concerned about low flows in the Crooked River. As I have written about in the past, Prineville Reservoir is currently being managed by Ochoco Irrigation District and the US Fish & Wildlife Service to release 50 CFS during the winter (non-irrigation season). In my opinion, this is in violation of the 2014 Crooked River Act. At the beginning of the irrigation season there was more than enough water in the “fish bucket” to meet the Act’s 80 CFS target over the winter. Worse, they are not even releasing 50 CFS as the river has been at 47 CFS for some time now. 3 CFS might not seem like much, but OID is currently asking to spend tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer money to add 4.8 CFS. Once again, fish, wildlife, and taxpayers are losing.
The Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan was officially made final yesterday. You can read the plan on the US Fish & Wildlife Service website. Local USFWS folks have told me that little changed from the last draft. I have been closely tracking the HCP (reading, going to meetings, making official comments, writing about it, etc.) for over 10 years (!) and can’t overemphasize how disappointing the final product is. At this point, litigation is inevitable. I have years of HCP posts on this blog, but will try to provide an easier to digest summary after I get through the final version (it’s thousands of pages).
I upgraded my WordPress subscription so I could add some cool videos of fish passing through the Opal Springs ladder at the mouth of the Crooked River. Here’s just a sample.Read More »
For Central Oregonians, the “day trip” on the Deschutes is the stretch from Warm Springs to Trout Creek. While steelhead counts on the Columbia are somewhat elevated from last year’s dismal numbers, it has not translated into good returns on the day trip section so far this season. According to fish counts on the PGE website, a total of 186 steelhead have been captured at the trap near the base of the Pelton Reregulating Dam from May through October. Of those, 8 were true wild fish and were returned to the river. 15 of the fish were planted as fry or smolts above Lake Billy Chinook. Most of these will be released into LBC with the hope they will naturally reproduce in the Crooked River or Whychus Creek. The 163 hatchery fish will mostly be used as brood stock for future hatchery production. These are small numbers, but the next three months typically see the most fish arrive. Keep your fingers crossed.
If you want water in rivers and streams in Oregon, then WaterWatch of Oregon deserves your support. Without question, no one has been more effective in preserving and increasing flows, as well as preventing and removing dams, than WaterWatch. I have worked with them for over a decade on a variety of issues in Central Oregon (where they have been very effective) and ask for your support of this worthy group. There will be an online auction October 19th – 25th and an hour long live auction October 24th from 5:00 – 6:00 pm. Short and sweet and certainly deserving of your consideration. Need more convincing? Visit their web site, but also be aware of something that is not listed: their lawsuit is why the Upper Deschutes now has flows of 100 CFS in the winter. That alone is worth at least a small donation.
After almost four hours of testimony and discussion, the ODFW Commission denied the request by Ochoco Irrigation District, the City of Prineville, and Crook County to provide a waiver for fish passage! Get more background information here. I certainly hope that the applicants follow the advice of the Commission and come back with an improved application. Clearly, adding a hydro facility to Bowman Dam has real benefit, but there needs to be real benefit to fish as well.
As I wrote about here and here, Ochoco Irrigation District, the City of Prineville, and Crook County would like to add a hydroelectric facility to Bowman Dam (Prineville Reservoir) without providing fish passage. This would violate the law so they are asking the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife for a waiver. The ODFW Commission will make their ruling this Friday. You can find the meeting agenda here, and sign up to testify (via Zoom) here. Public testimony at prior hearings has been overwhelming against providing a fish passage waiver but the applicants will make their best case for it on Friday so a strong showing by conservationists and fish advocates is essential. Lend your voice to fish, it’s not painful at all.
Ochoco Irrigation District is the latest in Central Oregon to apply for federal funding to upgrade their water distribution system. Details of the proposal as well as information on how to submit comments by September 30th are online. The “Draft Watershed Plan – Environmental Assessment” (Draft-EA) is 155 pages long but easy to read. I encourage you to go through the materials yourself and come to your own conclusions, but here are my comments. Like the previous proposals from other local irrigators, it’s a mixed bag. The common belief is that canal piping is good, and in theory I agree, but the devil is always in the details.Read More »
I get flack from people I respect for being on ODFW’s Restoration & Enhancement Board. Every fishing license includes a small fee that funds projects selected by the R&E board. Some of those are hatchery projects, hence the criticism. R&E also supports projects like habitat restoration, basic science, and fish passage. As I wrote last year, the Willamette Falls fish ladder is in danger of collapse, which would stop all upstream migration of anadromous fish. R&E provided a grant to repair the ladder, which after much delay, is underway.
“Polite conservationists leave no mark save for scars on the Earth that could have been prevented had they stood their ground.” – David Brower
Here are a few things that might be of interest. I have not posted about steelhead returns this season, but as you can see above, total returns (hatchery + wild) to the Columbia River this year are above last year’s dismal numbers. This is clearly welcome news. Note that they remain well under the 10-year average and that average number has been consistently going down for some time. ODFW recently put out this press release on the status of hatcheries that were impacted by the recent and ongoing wildfires. It includes an interesting video, especially if you have never seen how fish are spawned in a hatchery. Finally, here’s a post I made a year ago on the positive impact wildfires can have on wild fish.
This morning the Bulletin covered the sediment flows into the Deschutes from Wickiup Reservoir. It’s worth a quick read.
This morning I received an email titled “The big muddy” with the photo above and this text: “This is a photo of the Deschutes about 5 miles south of Sunriver at about 4:00 pm, September 15, 2020. I’m guessing that the emptying of Wickiup Reservoir has many years worth of sediments, accumulating at the bottom of the reservoir, now washing down stream.” Seems like a reasonable guess to me.
As expected, Wickiup Reservoir has been emptied, all that currently remains is the Deschutes River in it’s historical river bed. The Bend Bulletin had a good story about it in today’s paper. Clearly, this is terrible news for farmers who rely on this water. That being said, look at the charts below for some perspective.Read More »
At the end of 2014, the Crooked River Collaborative Water Security and Jobs Act was passed. Commonly known as the “Crooked River Act”, I was a minor participant in the negotiation of this controversial legislation. Many people whom I respect continue to believe that the Crooked River Act was a giveaway to irrigators and a loss for fish and wildlife. I disagree with them, but the way in which the bill is being implemented does not meet the spirit in which it was negotiated. Read on for an overview of the bill, how it is working, how it is not, and why this is an even more important topic given the impending release of the Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan.Read More »
I know that with all the fire devastation around us, ODFW hatcheries are low on the list of concerns, but this is a water and fish blog so I’m reporting that Marion Forks, Minto, Leaburg, McKenzie, Rock Creek and Klamath hatcheries have all been evacuated. Many fish at these hatcheries will be lost along with some buildings, although the extent of the damage is unknown at this time. Regardless of your opinion on hatcheries, this is going to be another huge hit to a dramatically underfunded ODFW budget which will impact all anglers. Still unconvinced that planet heating is upon us?
This appeared on Nextdoor this morning. No mention of wanting to grow anything, only a statement that they are going to use water just so they don’t lose their water right. This happens all the time. Laws and policies need to be changed to protect the Deschutes River.
As reported by The Bulletin on August 28th, Lone Pine Irrigation District is the latest local district to run out of water to deliver to their patrons. This is terrible news, no one wants to see farmers losing their livelihoods. Water is a complicated topic in Central Oregon with many factors contributing to the shortage. Unfortunately, rather than addressing the real issues, Terry Smith, chairman of the board for LPID, places the blame on the Endangered Species Act.Read More »
Yesterday our county commissioners gave approval for some construction to begin at Thornburgh Resort. I would anticipate continued legal challenges and there will be more approvals required as development continues, but it is clear that our county government is supportive of adding another massive golf community, including lakes for water skiing, to Central Oregon. I understand that we are going to continue to grow but without a significant change in the way that growth is managed we are going to run out of water. It has already happened in other west coast communities and we are not immune.
Counter Punch ran this article today from Bend resident George Wuerthner reacting to the current mismanagement of the Middle Deschutes and asking if we should completely rethink how water should be used.
This is no way to manage a river for fish, wildlife, or recreation. Simply incredible.
Today, the Bulletin covered the current erratic flows in the Middle Deschutes caused by the last irrigation diversion in Bend. I too had been told that the issue had something to do with automatic gate malfunctions from debris clogging the gates or perhaps upstream flow fluctuations from the whitewater park or the PacificPower dam that creates Mirror Pond. I wonder.Read More »
This week has seen multiple, abrupt 50%+ drops in the Middle Deschutes below the last irrigation diversion near the Mt. Washington bridge. Clearly, this is ecologically devastating to aquatic life. It is also arguably illegal. Enough senior water rights have been transferred to the river to keep flows around 120 CFS at this time of year. So far this week the river has been dropped to 48, 53, and 57 CFS. Oregon Water Resources Department says there is an issue with North Unit Irrigation District’s automated gates, but the damage is still being done.
Here’s how our local reservoirs and rivers look as of the end of the day yesterday (click here for a direct link). Crane Prairie still has a lot of water as it is held fairly constant until late summer to maintain endangered species habitat. Haystack is nearly full as it is intermediate storage for North Unit Irrigation District. NUID’s main storage is Wickiup which will most likely be empty before the end of irrigation season. Prineville Reservoir is managed for both irrigation and fish. As of August 5th, it has 41,820 acre feet of irrigation water and 23,380 acre feet of “fish water”.Read More »
I asked Jeremy Griffin, our local water master, what happened yesterday with the flows on the Middle Deschutes. He said the automatic gate for the NUID canal at the North Canal Dam “went wild” for a while. While my concern for the ecological damage that was caused by the huge, rapid drop is justified, I assumed that the drop was purposeful rather than accidental. That assumption was based on watching the irrigators create frequent, sudden drops for many years (although not quite as large). Nevertheless, I should have investigated it before making my post. For that, I apologize. I hope that they can get their equipment fixed, and soon.
Right now, the Middle Deschutes is at 48 CFS. In the 16 or so years that I have tracked flows, this is the lowest I have seen. So much for all the posturing on the part of the irrigation districts about caring for the environment. When push comes to shove, they get all the water. They didn’t even slowly ramp flows down to give fish a chance to move out of side channels. The river dropped from 117 CFS to 48 CFS in only 2 hours. We have known for years that drought and water shortages will come but little has been done to prepare for it.
UPDATE: Since hitting a low of 48 CFS around 9 AM this morning, the flows were returned to around 120 CFS at 12:30 PM. So, it looks like I jumped the gun somewhat in my post. Nevertheless, a 50%+ drop in less than 2 hours was more than concerning and will create environmental havoc. Like I have said so many times before, just like us, fish and other aquatic life need to breathe all the time, not just most of the time. It is also the case that very little has been done to prepare for the hot, dry future that we are going to live in and the irrigators continue to control almost all of the water in the Deschutes from the headwaters almost to Lake Billy Chinook.
Oregon native Dave Hughes is a fly fishing legend. He’s written over 25 books on entomology, fly tying, and fishing techniques. He’s also a noted conservationist. Dave is one of the few real experts in fly fishing. Most simply have a lot of experience and recycle knowledge gleaned from others. I put myself in that later category. I catch a lot of fish, and big fish, but it’s all due to learning from people like Dave and spending an inordinate amount of time on the water. So, I’m really looking forward to this online presentation on Wednesday, Aug. 19th, at 6 pm. Be sure to check out his YouTube fly tying videos as well. I’m not a tyer, but learn a lot about fly selection from watching tying videos. If someone has a well-kept copy of his book on the Deschutes for sale, please let me know.
Yesterday the Deschutes County Commission voted to continue moving forward with the approval of the proposed Thornburgh Resort near Eagle Crest. A final decision on the first golf course is still a couple of weeks away, but their comments seemed to indicate that final approval will be granted. I continue to be concerned with the amount of water that Thornburgh will use, its impact on our aquifer, and the corresponding reduction in surface water (our rivers and streams). Three golf courses, artificial lakes, lodging, and housing will use a lot of water. Below is the email I sent to our commissioners earlier today.Read More »
I’m looking forward to this webinar tonight at 6 PM on dam removal. The author of this book will speak along with the leader of the successful effort to remove dams on the Rogue River here in Oregon. It should be interesting.
One of the primary disagreements between the irrigators and conservation groups is the relative importance between canal piping and improving efficiency in the use of water. For a variety of reasons, the irrigators are focused on piping their main canals. The Basin Study Work Group, however, showed that water could be more cheaply and quickly saved via other techniques including the use of modern irrigation methods and simple water conservation. I saw a great example of this while on a hike along the Deschutes yesterday.Read More »
Tod Heisler has a great column in today’s Bend Bulletin titled, “The fallacy of in-conduit hydropower”. It’s worth reading, but the gist is that hydro power plants installed into piped canals encourages the continued overuse of water, even when it is not needed, in order to keep the power plant running. Of course, this maintains the irrigator’s legacy of keeping water levels in local rivers and streams below what is needed for a healthy ecosystem.
From my perspective, one of the highlights of the Deschutes Fisheries Workshop is the annual report on lower Deschutes fish from ODFW. That presentation did not occur this year, so I talked to Rod French, ODFW Mid-Columbia District Fish Biologist which includes the lower Deschutes. There was a surprise, read on for more.Read More »
I’m looking forward to this free online presentation on July 29th, 6:30 to 7:30 PM. More info here.
“Join bestselling novelist and former Oregon fly-fishing guide John Larison for an interactive lecture on the creative power of water. John will guide you through a brief history of water’s effect on human creativity, from the salty origins of art on the African coast to the enduring role of water in contemporary literature, in his effort to explore the question: “Why do people of all cultural backgrounds feel inspired by water?” John’s talk will welcome participation. If you’re so inclined, be ready to share an example of art you love (sculpture, painting, a poem, etc.) that was inspired by water.”
I have looked forward to attending the annual Deschutes Fisheries Workshop for many years. It has been the place to hear the latest, best available science on what is happening in the Deschutes River, some of its tributaries, and anadromous fish reintroduction efforts. I found the online event yesterday to be disappointing, however. Part of that is due to the lack interaction with others in the hallway, during a meal, or at the bar. The organizers are not to blame for that, they have no control over the pandemic, but they could have provided a lot more content. Here’s my summary and criticism of the 26th annual meetingRead More »
I’m on the email list that discusses water releases from Bowman Dam into the Crooked River. You can get more details by reading prior posts on the topic (see the Crooked River section), but the executive summary is that the water is supposed to be released for irrigators as well as the “maximum benefit” of fish. How that actually occurs is the subject of constant discussion. The latest email contained the graphic above that really illustrates the operation well.Read More »
Four dams are slated to be removed on the Klamath River, re-establishing hundreds of miles of habitat to anadromous fish. The long-negotiated plan was to transfer ownership of the dams from PacificCorp to the Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC), a non-profit formed exclusively to oversee removal. Yesterday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved transfer of ownership but with the stipulation that PacificCorp remain a co-licensee. I listened to the FERC meeting, read their ruling, and was enthused by FERC’s desire to have the dams removed. I also understand their caution to ensure sufficient funding is available to complete removal once started.Read More »
All public comments pertaining to the requested fish passage waiver are part of the public record. I requested a copy of them, which you can see here. There is some grey area as a few were not perfectly clear, but by my count there were 171 letters in opposition to the waiver and 12 in favor. (In other words, the overwhelming majority asked that fish passage be provided.) I thought the letters made for interesting reading and recognized many of the writers. The final decision is scheduled to be made in September.
This is a little out in the weeds for most folks, but next Thursday at 7 AM Pacific is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission meeting where the final decision will be made to transfer ownership of the dams on the Klamath River to the Klamath Renewal Corporation. This is the final hurdle before the dams can be removed. You can watch the meeting live here. I certainly plan to have it on in the background.
Two recent stories caught my eye. This article in The Guardian states that 23% of all water in the US is used to grow feed for cows and is a primary driver of water shortages. Hay is the primary crop in Deschutes and Crook counties. This NY Times article examines a problem we are all too familiar with: dwindling snowpack and the threat of a mega drought cycle. Both articles could have been written about Central Oregon.
This year’s workshop is being held online on July 23rd. Before COVID these workshops were 1.5 days and filled with great information. I have been going for years and always learn from them. This year will be much shorter but still the place to get the latest info on anadromous fish reintroduction efforts. See the agenda and sign up here.
“The Deschutes River’s beauty hides problems”, was an editorial in yesterday’s Bend Bulletin. I continue to be pleased with the paper’s new commitment to environmental coverage. The problems facing the Deschutes River are numerous, complex, and often rooted in decisions made a century ago. Few people, or even some organizations claiming to be advocates for the river, really have a grasp of the broad range of interwoven issues: water law and rights, hydrology, global heating, tax policy, groundwater recharge, mitigation, economics, biology, etc. It really is a fascinating area that I have been studying for over a decade. In that context, I think the Bulletin’s editorial did a fine job of skimming the surface of a few current high-profile issues. In the future, I hope they can provide broader and more nuanced coverage.Read More »
Surface water (rivers & streams) in the Deschutes Basin has been fully allocated since the early 1900s, primarily to irrigators. To accommodate for continued growth, groundwater pumping became the primary source of new water supplies. In the 1990s studies showed that this pumping was impacting surface water. In the Deschutes Basin, snowmelt in the Cascades seeps through porous volcanic rock, slowly replenishing the aquifer. As the aquifer overfills it releases the water via springs, which create our local lakes and rivers. Variability in snowpack and pumping impacts the aquifer and therefore stream flow.Read More »
Recently, I have spent far too many hours researching the proposed Thornburgh Resort. This project is a great example of how confusing and illogical planning laws and regulations can be. For example, did you know that when you pump water out of an aquifer that you only “mitigate” for a portion of it? Or that the mitigation water may or may not actually be measured? I could go on. Arguing and litigating about these issues is why it can take over a decade to reach decisions. (For an example of just how convoluted it is, see this legal summary of the various court cases that have been brought against the project.) Rather than wade into that thicket, I decided to take a different approach in my comments to Deschutes County Commissioners on the Thornburgh project. Here is the email that I sent today.Read More »
Yesterday, Karen and I took our canoe out to Little Cultus Lake along the Cascade Lakes Highway for a late afternoon, escape-the-heat excursion. Given the drought and heat wave I was not too surprised to see algae starting to form, but it was disappointing. As anyone who has lived in Central Oregon for any amount of time knows, algae blooms are occurring more frequently. This excursion reminded me that in April I was given this report on algae in Odell Lake and am way overdue for a post about it.Read More »
Yesterday I was interviewed for a story on the proposed Thornburgh Resort, an experience I always find frustrating. We spent 20 minutes discussing local water issues relating to the resort and the reporter picked something that I guess was a good sound bite, but a minor element of what I was trying to convey to her: the fact that we are dramatically overusing water. In any event, raising the profile of this issue is a good thing and I am thankful it is being covered.
Note: I state in the interview that 9+ CFS of water was for the first phase of development only. In fact, 9.28 CFS is for the entire development. I sincerely regret the error, although it does not change my position on the matter.
Since 2005 there has been an effort to develop a new destination golf resort just southwest of Eagle Crest Resort near Redmond. The proposed Thornburgh Resort will include multiple golf courses, lakes, temporary lodging, and detached housing. It is controversial, with multiple appeals and lawsuits, including one that will soon be heard by the Oregon Supreme Court. The developer continues to push forward, however, and last Wednesday, June 17th, was the initial public hearing by the Deschutes County Board of Commissioners on the Site Plan Review for Phase A golf course development. You can watch video of the hearing here, it starts at about 3:34:00 and continues for approximately 3 hours. I watched it live and was fascinated with the tension between growth and development with land use laws, water availability, affordable housing, etc.Read More »