Thus far, 19 steelhead have swam from Lake Billy Chinook up the Opal Springs fish ladder into Lake Billy Chinook. Historically, the greatest number of steelhead arrive at the Pelton Fish trap in January and February, so I certainly hope the numbers get even better. Along with the steelhead, 90 rainbow, 53 whitefish, 10 brown trout, and one bull trout have been detected in the ladder, mostly moving upstream. Connecting the Crooked River to the Deschutes and Metolius rivers is excellent news for these fish species as well. So far, so good!
Central Oregon Irrigation District continues to move forward with piping their main canals. Two days ago a public review meeting for the next section was announced. There are clearly good things about this proposal. Piping a leaky canal will save water that can be shared with farmers in North Unit Irrigation District. Nevertheless, I remain a critic. We taxpayers are funding this improvement project for the benefit of private interests. Further, it is not the most efficient way to spend our money. More water can be saved, cheaper, and more quickly using other approaches. This particular train seems to have left the station, however.
Global warming is one of the topics I occasionally cover for the simple fact that it is impacting anglers in Central Oregon. Our rivers and ocean are heating, fish are being impacted, and fishing closures due to heating are becoming more frequent. The impacts on anadromous fish (salmon, steelhead) are the most dramatic, but they are only the canaries in the coal mine. While our government continues to ignore this critical issue there is a growing awareness in many parts of the business community that action must be taken, and soon.Read More »
…from Los Barriles, Baja California Sur, Mexico. My first fish of the new decade. The dorado is tonight’s dinner, the skipjack was released to live another day. I’d rather be steelhead fishing but this is not a bad replacement. Pretty fun on a 10wt rod.
I have read many of the substantial comments on the Draft Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan and associated Draft Environmental Impact Statement. The comments from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs illustrate just how tangled an issue this is. Like many others, the Tribes are extremely critical of the draft HCP and EIS, but in a unique way. While most critical comments ask for more water more quickly in the upper Deschutes in the winter, the Tribes want LESS water than proposed. Keep reading to understand why.Read More »
While the winter has started out somewhat dry in Central Oregon, things look good for the Crooked River this winter. Prineville Reservoir was not drawn down to very low levels over the summer and is currently 57% full. The majority of that is “fish water”, meaning it is not earmarked for irrigation use, and can be released for fish and wildlife. 93 cfs is currently being let out into the Crooked, which provides reasonable habitat for fish, and this amount should be maintained throughout the winter. Some fish water may even be left over. Of course, higher flows will likely occur if the reservoir completely fills over the winter. So, right now it looks like next spring and summer could be good for fishing on the Crooked.
The Association of NW Steelheaders has an article in their December newsletter stating that Willamette River steelhead have significantly increased in numbers since ODFW “removed” (killed) 33 California sea lions that were living in and near the Willamette Falls fish ladder. The sea lions were eating about 25% of the total adult steelhead run, now down to an estimated 9%. While steelhead populations continue to be under serious pressure, California sea lion populations are robust, perhaps at all time highs.
The new Opal Springs fish ladder became operational on Nov. 15 and an automated fish detection system was installed 4 days later. In the first 13 days (11/19 to 12/1) 23 trout, 28 whitefish, and 3 steelhead have been counted. That’s an excellent start.
Yesterday was the last day to file comments on the proposed Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan. You can now see all 1,681 of them here. You can also sign up to get email updates. I scanned the list and it looks like the majority were form letters. Nothing wrong with that, it shows the public is concerned. I look forward to finding and reading the comments from organizations like WaterWatch, Central Oregon Land Watch, ODFW, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, etc.
The Bend Bulletin ran a story today on the Opal Springs fish ladder. It’s worth a quick read. I’m glad to see the new ownership of the local paper paying more attention to environmental news.
Here’s an editorial from 1959, written by the editor of The Bulletin, discussing why a new irrigation dam should not be built on the upper Deschutes at Benham Falls. The arguments about water for agriculture versus other uses have not changed in 60 years. Mr. Chandler states that ag wastes too much water and is not as valuable as other economic uses. Same as it ever was.
Here is a short video of the first steelhead in the new Opal Springs fish ladder. First volitional passage in almost 60 years. So very cool.
For over 20 years a wide range of companies, organizations, agencies, and individuals have been working on the reintroduction of steelhead and salmon into the upper Deschutes Basin above Lake Billy Chinook. This includes the middle Deschutes, the Crooked River, the Metolius Rivers, and their tributaries.
To the surprise of fish biologists who had anticipated that Whychus Creek and the Metolius Rivers would be the primary destinations, the great majority of the returning steelhead and Chinook salmon have attempted to head up the Crooked River to spawn. The overwhelming preference for the Crooked has been the case every year there have been anadromous fish returns. Unfortunately, until last week a dam at the bottom of the Crooked River had largely blocked upstream passage for these returning anadromous fish. Read More »
A rare but welcome bit of good news is the hot water “Blob” off the Pacific NW coast has shrunk in size and moved off shore. “Low salmon returns to many West Coast rivers in the last few years have been linked to the Blob, which reduced the availability of food when the salmon first entered the ocean as juveniles.” The Blog is still huge, however. “The question is, where does it go from here?”
Why are irrigators legally permitted to degrade our river? Every year tens of thousands of fish are killed in the Deschutes River due to Ag water withdrawal, not to mention the overall degradation of the river ecosystem from sedimentation, channel widening, and radical changes in flow regimes. If a fisherman or fisherwoman were to keep one or two extra fish over the daily limit, they would be fined for “poaching,” but if irrigators kill tens of thousands of fish and destroy the river channel, they suffer no legal consequences.
I am a member of the ODFW Restoration & Enhancement Board. Most anglers don’t know this, but a small portion of every license is set aside to be spent by the R&E board on projects that benefit anglers. We help fund docks, ramps, habitat restoration projects, dam removal, invasive species control, etc. This short video from Central Oregon Daily features yours truly.
I like to spend as much time as possible in the Klamath Basin, it has incredible fishing and relatively low pressure. Above is a photo of the Wood River I took yesterday during a hike in the Wood River Wetlands, it was beautiful as always. Below is a photo of my friend Matt with a 26 inch trout he caught when we were fishing there last August.
I spent yesterday evening at the Klamath Lake Land Trust’s annual dinner and fund raiser. The KLLT is a small, woefully underfunded group working to preserve places on the Sycan and Sprague rivers where steelhead and salmon may spawn once the impassable dams on the Klamath are removed in 2022. I was glad to see a number of Klamath residents open their wallets for this worthy goal.
The spectacular fishing in this part of the state may soon be even better.
The September issue of The Osprey is out. I’ve written about this publication in the past. It is an excellent, if technical, source of articles on the status of steelhead and salmon in the Pacific NW. This issue is the usual mix of mostly bad but some good news, including the dramatic improvements in the Rogue River after removal of a number of dams (thank you WaterWatch). I encourage you to take a look and donate to this cash-strapped publication.
The four dams on the Snake River are not in Central Oregon, but they have an enormous impact on Columbia River Basin (which incudes the Deschutes Basin) steelhead and salmon. These iconic populations are currently on the path to extinction. Recently, two tribes joined the chorus of voices calling for the removal of the dams. Last week 55 scientists released a letter that did likewise. Also last week, E&E News published another article detailing how these dams no longer make economic sense – hydro power is no longer cheap when compared to alternatives – and it would actually be cheaper to remove them than continue their operation. I would love to see the same analysis of the PGE/CTWS dams on the Deschutes River.
Last June, Portland General Electric released a comprehensive, multiyear water quality study of Lake Billy Chinook, the rivers that supply it, and the lower Deschutes River into which water is released. Among other things, the report showed that the Crooked River contains significant amounts of pollution. This pollution combined with sunlight generates suspended algae on the surface of Lake Billy Chinook which is subsequently released into Lake Simtutus and then the lower Deschutes River. Algae blooms are increasing in occurrence, leading the Oregon Health Authority to warn last June that “harmful algae blooms” could “routinely develop in the lake”.
One of the shortcomings in the Habitat Conservation Plan is lack of adequate consideration for water quality. Clearly, high temperatures and pollution can have adverse impacts on fish and the aquatic environment, including mortality (“take”). Irrigation return flows are “covered activities” but the HCP does not adequately examine impacts on water quality from agricultural runoff or provide for minimum standards in covered waterways.Read More »
The US Department of Agriculture performs periodic nationwide surveys of agriculture that are broken down to the county level. The latest survey was released in April with data as of 2017. It clearly shows that most irrigators in Deschutes County are not “farmers” in any traditional sense of word.
This detailed report says that there are 1,484 farms in Deschutes County, 1,269 are irrigated. Half of these farms are under 11 acres in size. Only 216 are over 50 acres. 685 of the farms have annual sales of less than $2,500. The average farm had losses of -$12,866. Irrigators currently take 90% of the water in the upper Deschutes but in Deschutes County farming is often a lifestyle choice or hobby, not the viable production of agricultural products.Read More »
I have been a frequent critic of the US Fish & Wildlife Service over the past few years, and will continue to be if the HCP is not improved, but they did something good this past week. As I posted here, the Bureau of Reclamation had planned to stop all flows out of Crane Prairie Reservoir in the upper Deschutes on October 30, draining it dry down to Wickiup Reservoir. USFWS got them to keep a flow of 20 cfs to provide some minimal protection for endangered species. This will also protect fish like the one in the photo above that was caught in that reach. Of course, this begs the question, why did the BoR plan to drain it dry in the first place?
The long awaited Habitat Conservation Plan for the Deschutes Basin was recently released. Like many in the environmental community, I find the HCP to be deeply flawed. Below is a high level summary. The HCP will be the subject of a series of posts over the next two weeks, each providing detail on a particular part of this complex topic. Here is the official web site. It is hard to overstate the importance of the HCP as it will determine the fate of most rivers in Central Oregon for the next 30 years.Read More »
The Bureau of Reclamation plans to stop all water flowing out of Crane Prairie Reservoir for up to 8 hours later this month, tentatively on October 30th, de-watering the Deschutes River for about 1.5 miles down to Wickiup Reservoir. This is to perform an inspection of the dam. It will also kill a section of the river that is important for spawning and holds some nice fish. See the photo above of my friend Jake with a nice brown trout from this stretch.Read More »
I have written about the “Blob” in the past (most recently, here and here). It is the much higher ocean temperatures in the North Pacific which have disrupted food chains and imperiled many historic fish runs. An argument can be made that ocean heating is currently the most worrisome of all the conditions leading to the drastic declines in salmon and steelhead populations in the Pacific Northwest. Here is the first part of a three-part article from NOAA discussing the Blob. Below is a graphic showing the re-emergence of the Blob this year. It could be worse than the original one, it already has more area of the most extreme warming, and is still forming.
Today the Bend Bulletin printed a response to my recent letter from Kurt Miller, the Executive Director of Northwest RiverPartners, a group that lobbies for hydroelectric facilities on the Columbia River. Predictably, Mr. Miller takes issue with my inclusion of hydro power dams in the list of reasons that anadromous fish populations are collapsing in the Columbia River Basin.Read More »
Yesterday, the Bend Bulletin printed a guest column I wrote on the grim outlook for steelhead and salmon in the Columbia Basin (including the Deschutes River). Above is a graphic that illustrates the problem. Here’s a NY Times article on the same topic. Whether some of these fish have 10 years left as I have read in some places, or 20 as reported in the NY Times, it is not a hopeful picture.
Three federal agencies (Bureau of Reclamation, National Marine Fisheries Service, and US Fish & Wildlife) manage water releases out of Prineville Reservoir into the Crooked River. As of last week, they believe flows for fish and wildlife can be maintained through the winter. Prineville Reservoir has a capacity of 148,640 acre feet of water, approximately half of which is guaranteed for irrigation. Water in excess of that at the beginning of irrigation season is “fish water” to be released for the “maximum biological benefit” for fish and wildlife. Irrigation season ends in a month and Prineville Reservoir is still 66% full, leaving plenty of fish water to release during the winter. Keep reading for more details.Read More »
George Wuerthner is one of the most interesting ecologists and activists I have met, and certainly the most prolific writer. He has written dozens of books and many more articles on wildfire, predators, and the environmental impact of ranching, along with water and fishery issues. His views are often controversial, especially regarding fire, but compelling when carefully considered. In short, George believes that forest thinning does not help catastrophic wildfire control. He argues we should focus on creating fire resistant buildings, establishing defensible borders, and leaving forests alone. The explanation for this is beyond the scope of this post, but here’s a video he sent me on the beneficial nature of fire in stream and river systems. It’s worth a quick view.
Oregon Public Broadcasting reported yesterday that another warm water “blob” is forming off the Pacific Coast. This blob is likely to be as large as the last one which collapsed much of the food web that many cold water marine species rely on. “Scientists expect the heat wave to hurt salmon populations and the fisheries that depend on them.” Of course, chinook salmon and steelhead have not recovered from the last blob and returns this year in the Columbia basin (including the Deschutes) are at perilously low levels.
While the operation of the hydro power dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers is not directly a Central Oregon issue, it certainly impacts us as anglers. Below is a good overview of something I’m sure you have heard about before, upper Columbia basin salmon (and steelhead) are on the path to extinction. Lesser known is that the Bonneville Power Administration is going broke.Read More »
Irrigation season in Central Oregon continues into mid October, but the picture is already an interesting one. As this graph makes obvious, many local “lakes” are actually irrigation reservoirs and local rivers are used as irrigation canals. What is also obvious is the difference between water levels in Wickiup and other reservoirs.Read More »
I am a member of the ODFW Restoration & Enhancement Board. You may not be aware of this, but a portion of every fishing license is directed to the R&E board where we decide how to spend it. About half the funds are earmarked for the repair of ODFW fish hatcheries and the rest toward improving fishing opportunities. This could be anything from boat ramps and docks, to dam removal, to habitat projects, to invasive species removal, some basic science, etc. It’s a very interesting board to sit on with some great tours of projects all over the state. Our next meeting is in Bend on September 6th with a tour on September 5th. Both are open to the public.
The ODFW Commission oversees the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife and sets policies and regulations. A majority of the Commission is new this year and for the first time in decades a Central Oregon resident is a member. I had the pleasure to spend an hour with Mark Labhart yesterday and found him to be quite informed about statewide fishing. Mark has an impressive background in public service, recently relocated from Tillamook to Sisters, and is eager to dive in to learn local issues. I’m looking forward to working with and learning from him.
David Moskowitz of The Conservation Angler sent me this report on current run counts. It’s only two pages and worth reading. As of August 15, the numbers are even worse than the very low pre-season forecast. Only 40,080 total steelhead (wild and hatchery) passed through Bonneville Dam from July 1 through August 15. That’s 27.1% of the past 10 year average. It’s important to note that the 10 year average is low to begin with as the past 10 years have seen declining runs. It’s only 19.4% of the best ten year average since counts started. As I wrote here, we anglers have to question targeting these fish at all given the path to extinction they could be on.
David Moskowitz, the Executive Director of The Conservation Angler, is a frequent but welcome critic of my work. Today we spoke about my post yesterday stating that fishing for steelhead is now a moral issue. He was largely in agreement and wanted me to be aware that the closure was in response to public testimony he made at the August 2nd ODFW Commission meeting. You can see his testimony here (go to 1:40 in the video). It does seem that this was not an issue being considered prior to Dave’s testimony. It’s an interesting interaction and I am happy to give credit where it is due. Dave agreed that summer steelhead on the Rogue seem to be doing fine but wanted to point out that summer steelhead on the Umpqua are not. He is absolutely correct on that point. I only fish the winter run which is doing fine but was not clear about that in my prior post.
Here’s a final comment on the recent PRB Fisheries Workshop. While I respect the earnest effort being put into the reintroduction effort there is just no getting around the fact that results remain dismal. A total of 36 upper basin origin adult steelhead returned in the 2018/2019 season (17 the year before), 5 spring chinook returned in 2018 (20 in 2017, the numbers are going to be better but still low for 2019), and 38 sockeye returned in 2018. This is simply depressing numbers but it doesn’t mean the reintroduction effort should be abandoned or ridiculed. Anadromous fish were denied passage since the mid-1960s and re-establishing them is going to take time. Short of tearing out the dams, the efforts based on the best available science are being made to establish viable upper basin populations and a roadmap for doing so can now be found on PGE’s website. (Go to 2019 Fisheries Workshop Resources / Reintroduction Roadmap.) They have a long way to go but an honest and determined attempt is being made.
ODFW has closed the bottom 3/4 mile of the Deschutes River to all fishing starting today through September 15. “The closure is to protect wild summer steelhead and follows several other regulatory steps ODFW and WDFW have taken to protect wild steelhead this year. Returns of ESA-listed wild Snake River steelhead this year are forecasted to be similar to the extremely poor return of 2017, and there are ongoing concerns about the potential effects of angling on wild steelhead that may gather in cooler water near tributary mouths like the Deschutes.”Read More »
The July 24th Source Weekly contained a guest column by Greg McMillan, president of the Deschutes River Alliance, that needs a response. It is absolutely true that attempts to reintroduce salmon and steelhead into the upper Deschutes basin above Lake Billy Chinook have been extremely disappointing. It is important to understand, however, that adult returns for salmon and steelhead have been plunging in the entire Columbia River basin and much of the Pacific Northwest. The truth is that many anadromous fish runs are on the path to extinction due to habitat loss, dams, over harvest, hatcheries, and the heating of the Pacific which has led to the collapse of the food web in many areas. This has nothing to do with local reintroduction efforts.Read More »
The fish ladder at the Opal Springs Hydroelectric Project at the mouth of the Crooked River is nearing completion. Scheduled to go online this fall, volitional passage could be a huge shot in the arm for reintroduction efforts as the overwhelming majority of adult steelhead and chinook passed into Lake Billy Chinook try to go up the Crooked. The Crooked River Watershed Council has released this video about the passage project which is worth viewing.Read More »
Rod French, ODFW’s Mid-Columbia District Fish Biologist, presented at last week’s Fisheries Workshop. This annual presentation by ODFW has been largely unchanged for years, which is excellent news. Trout have been surveyed in the lower Deschutes since the 1970s and there have been no observed negative impacts on them from the operation of the Selective Water Withdrawal tower in Lake Billy Chinook. If anything, trout are larger and more abundant now, which is to be expected given the more natural temperature profile of the river. Below are a lot more details, or take a look at Rod’s presentation.Read More »
The 25th annual Pelton Round Butte Fisheries Workshop was the past two days. I have been going for years and, as usual, it was an overwhelming amount of information. I plan to follow up with some of the presenters to get a better understanding of their data and hope to have more detailed posts soon. In the meantime, here’s a quick list of the highlights from my perspective.Read More »
That’s the title of an article that came out earlier this month. It’s well written and worth a read. It mirrors some of the themes I have been visiting for some time now. Less snow pack combined with heating will lead to water insecurity in Oregon for which we are not ready or planning. At the same time, demand is growing along with our population. We continue to waste water and don’t even really know who is using it or how much of it. Agriculture remains the primary culprit in this, most users have no conservation plans and do not report usage while using over 85% of all water. To add insult to injury, agricultural interests routinely challenge any attempt to restore flows in rivers. At least we could charge them for use of our water (all water is owned by the public). That would solve the inefficiency problem very quickly.
Last night I attended the Bend premier of Artifishal, “a film about people, rivers, and the fight for the future of wild fish and the environment that supports them. It explores wild salmon’s slide toward extinction, threats posed by fish hatcheries and fish farms, and our continued loss of faith in nature”. Produced by Patagonia and heavily promoted in the Pacific NW by the Native Fish Society, I found the film to be visually and emotionally powerful but lacking in nuance. Clearly, hatcheries are a problem for wild fish, but they are only part of a complex web of issues.Read More »
Portland General Electric’s long awaited lower Deschutes River water quality study was recently released. At over 600 pages it took me some time to get through, here are my initial impressions. This study is critically important to the ongoing effort to reintroduce anadromous fish into the upper Deschutes Basin and the operation of the Selective Water Withdrawal tower. Also note that the Deschutes River Alliance’s lawsuit against PGE/CTWS (dismissed but under appeal) is based on allegations of water quality violations. The author of the water quality study will present and answer questions at the upcoming Fisheries Workshop. Read More »
I don’t write much about kokanee and sockeye, but they are part of the effort to reintroduce anadromous fish into the upper Deschutes Basin. The tribes frequently talk about the cultural significance of sockeye but they seem to be of secondary importance in reintroduction efforts. As a fly angler who likes to target large fish, I am also very aware that kokanee are the primary food source for bull trout in Lake Billy Chinook.Read More »
The annual Pelton Round Butte Fisheries Workshop is rapidly approaching so I have been reviewing notes from last year along with updates since then. I’ll make a few posts from that review over the next week. Like I have said before, if you are interested in learning about what is really happening in the lower Deschutes River, Lake Billy Chinook, and anadromous fish reintroduction efforts, you should attend.
Portland General Electric has recently been talking about above average returns of reintroduced spring chinook this year. I first saw mention of this in their June newsletter, then there was this story on KTVZ, and then today’s story in the Bend Bulletin. I hesitated to write about these returns but given the coverage, here’s my two cents. Without a doubt this is good news but with a total of 46 adult fish so far this year returns remain dismal. PGE is crediting the improvement to operational changes, specifically releasing hatchery reared smolts rather than fry along with nighttime operation of the Selective Water Withdrawal tower during out migration periods. I certainly hope these are the reasons. Time will tell, however, if this is an aberration, like the recent one year spike in Sockeye returns that has not repeated itself, or the beginning of a true recovery. I’m hopeful, but cautious.
For years I have argued that Central Oregon water rights currently favor less productive lands, leave the most economically viable farmlands at risk, and should be redistributed in a way that offers the most societal value. There are ways to do this that would not leave current rights holders “high and dry”. I have also argued that the beneficial use standard must be clearly defined, simply spreading water on the ground so that it is green should not qualify. So, I was pleasantly surprised to see the guest column in the Bend Bulletin this morning from a farmer in Madras making essentially the same arguments.Read More »
As I have written about repeatedly in the past, if you want to hear the latest science and updates on what is happening in the Lower Deschutes, you should attend the Pelton Round Butte Fisheries Workshop. The 25th annual workshop is next month, July 17 & 18, at The Riverhouse Convention Center in Bend. You can sign up and get the agenda here. This meeting should be especially interesting. Along with the normal updates on salmon and steelhead reintroduction efforts, the results of the long overdue water quality study will be released. You can read the latest PGE/CTWS newsletter via the link above. The complete water quality study will be posted on their site on June 20, so come to the workshop prepared to ask questions. I hope to see you there and, as usual, will post my summary of the meeting.
Water in Central Oregon is a critical issue for people, fish and wildlife, our recreation and tourism industry, farming, etc. To their credit, the Bend Bulletin frequently publishes opinion pieces on this topic from a variety of individuals, including myself. My submissions are thoroughly fact checked and I often have to provide supporting materials for statements I make. I wish the same journalistic principles had been applied to an opinion piece titled “Collaboration on water is harder than picking a fight”, published on June 7th.Read More »
Well, that’s an acronym filled title. Here are Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife’s comments on Ochoco Irrigation District’s Pre-Application Document to build a hydro electric facility on Bowman Dam. It’s 37 pages and filled with questions about how the facility and it’s transmissions lines will impact fish and wildlife on the Crooked River. Some are pretty basic, like how will flows be ramped up and down so as to not negatively impact fish? Even a cursory reading shows that it is far too early in the process to give a blanket endorsement to this project, even if you agree (like I do) that the idea seems to have merit.Read More »
As I wrote about last November, Ochoco Irrigation District is in the preliminary stages of applying for a FERC license to add a hydroelectric plant to Bowman Dam. Here is OID’s “Pre-Application Document“. The first of multiple comment periods ends on Monday. There is a significant amount of design work left to be done, studies that need to be undertaken, and many unanswered questions about how this project will impact the Crooked River below Prineville Reservoir. A fair amount of negotiation will need to take place between OID and various agencies before final approval is granted. Nevertheless, the latest Central Oregon Flyfisher newsletter states that the board voted to send a letter of support for the project which will include language that throws away the most important bargaining chip for the conservation community.Read More »
That’s the title of a short article in The Atlantic magazine. It’s a short read. Among other things, chemicals are disrupting salmon migrations. Of course, this impacts humans as well. Here’s an excerpt:
Waterways can contain traces of many drugs—among them antifungals, antimicrobials, and antibacterials, as well as ones for pain, fertility, mood, sleeplessness, and neurodegenerative diseases. If current trends persist, scientists estimate, the volume of pharmaceuticals diffusing into fresh water could increase by two-thirds by 2050.
I recently went on one of my favorite cross county mountain bike rides and dropped down to see how the Tumalo Irrigation District Feed Canal piping is progressing. Here is a photo of a section that has been finished. The old canal is now lined with a pipe buried under all that dirt.
That is the title of a guest column that appeared today in the Bend Bulletin. It was written by Tod Heisler who lead the Deschutes River Conservancy for 15 years where he attempted to cooperatively work with irrigators to more efficiently use water and return savings to local rivers and streams. While Tod and the DRC had some minor success in this endeavor it has not yielded the needed results. The upper and middle Deschutes continue to be significantly damaged by irrigation practices that have largely remained the same for a hundred years. Tod has now joined Central Oregon Land Watch in a new attempt to initiate change from outside the system. I agree with the viewpoint in this column and welcome him to the community agitating for water reform in the Deschutes Basin.Read More »
I just heard from Brett Hodgson, ODFW district fish biologist, that they were able to capture about 600 bass in Davis Lake this week. Bass are invasive at Davis so an attempt is made annually to capture and move them to other locations. This year’s bass were mostly moved to Prineville Reservoir but also to Bend’s Pine Nursery, Prineville’s Youth Pond, and Redmond’s Fireman’s Pond.
Immediately after making my River & Drought Outlook post on Monday I contacted the Bend Bulletin and told them that “there has to be a story in there for you”. Today they did publish a story about the rapidly diminishing snowpack but, not surprisingly, completely omitted any mention of impacts on fish & wildlife or water recreation. The story was all about what it means for local business, irrigation districts, and fires. It’s no wonder that the paper is bankrupt (again), they just don’t seem to understand the mindset of the rapidly changing local population. We have have a lifestyle economy, people want to recreate outdoors, and healthy rivers and lakes are a key element of that.
Yesterday ODFW released their projections for 2019 summer salmon and steelhead returns for the Columbia River basin. The outlook is for another bleak year. “Due to the low projected returns for upriver summer steelhead, additional protective regulations are needed this fall including a one steelhead daily bag limit and area-specific steelhead retention closures. The rolling 1-2 month closures start in August and progress upriver following the steelhead return to reduce take of both hatchery and wild fish. These closures affect the mainstem Columbia and the lower reaches of specific tributaries.” This includes the Deschutes below Moody where only one hatchery steelhead may be kept all year (June 16 – December 31) but none from August 1 to September 31.
Headwaters of the Deschutes at Little Lava Lake on 5/12/19. A dry river.
Without a doubt, current water conditions are dramatically improved from the beginning of the year. All is not well, however, and work to conserve water and improve river flows should remain at the forefront of every angler’s agenda if we hope to continue to enjoy our sport at a high level. As of yesterday, Little Lava Lake is very low, is not spilling into the upper Deschutes, and there is essentially no snow to be seen in that area.Read More »
Last month a team of scientists from the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife released a report on redband trout genetics in the Deschutes River below Wickiup Reservoir down to Steelhead Falls. As you would expect, they found pockets of fairly distinct genetics in various reaches bordered by falls and dams, near the few still viable spawning beds, and in tributaries like the Little Deschutes. They also found evidence of breeding between wild populations and hatchery fish. I called Erik Moberly, Assistant Deschutes District Fish Biologist, for some more background information and had an interesting conversation.Read More »
Before the local trout fishing season gets into full swing I headed out for a little saltwater fly fishing. After catching a bunch of bone fish like this…
…I switched over to blue fin trevally for a little more excitement.
This was not the biggest, but I could get my camera out of my pack for a photo. (It swam away just fine.) The big trigger fish and giant trevally’s were even more fun, but the most impressive was this 5′ barracuda.
Talk about teeth! Wow. A fun diversion before salmon fly season gets going. The sad part was seeing all the coral reefs that had recently died from bleaching.
Yesterday, Jeff Perin of The Fly Fishers Place in Sisters had a Facebook post about flows out of Prineville Reservoir into the Crooked River being too high. They are certainly too high for any fishing. The flows into the reservoir are 1,625 cfs but the flows out are 2,662 cfs. So, what gives? I have not talked to anyone at the Bureau of Reclamation (BoR) about this, and am loathe to defend them given their record of almost never adequately considering fish and wildlife in their release decisions, but I don’t think that the current release level into the Crooked is too high for the current conditions – although it certainly reached what could be disastrous levels for trout just a few days ago.Read More »
Today the Bend Bulletin published an opinion piece I wrote after they previously rejected a more pointed version. I was not surprised by the rejection, as that version pointed out that the success of irrigation districts as a special interest group comes from extensive contributions to politicians, which is not the sort of thing that The Bulletin wants to touch. Thankfully, they did publish my softened column as well as this excellent letter yesterday from George Wuerthner which also addresses local water issues.
Today the US Bureau of Reclamation is increasing flows out of Prineville Reservoir into the Crooked River from 93 to 250 cfs and to 500 cfs tomorrow. Flows will likely be raised higher in the coming days and stay that way for some time. There is a large snowpack in the Ochoco Mountains and it is raining. Flows into the reservoir are now at 2,500 cfs and the BOR is switching to flood control mode.
The official Deschutes steelhead season is from April 1 to March 31, so the 2018/2019 season is now over. Today, PGE released their March monthly newsletter which stated that a total of 35 upper basin origin adult steelhead returned and were passed above the Pelton Round Butte project and released into Lake Billy Chinook. Clearly, this is a dismal number. You can see the number of smolts that were released downstream here. Assuming that adult returns were from 2016 smolts that’s a return rate of only 0.87% (not 8.7%, I missed a decimal point in the original post). There is hope for some improvement in the adult return count, however, if not the percentage. In 2017 and 2018 steelhead smolt counts were much higher. 2017 was a better water year and in both years more smolts were planted. Starting next year only smolts will be planted. Read more about this here.
Today the Bulletin ran a story echoing what I have been writing about for some time, there will be water shortages this summer for some irrigation districts. Unfortunately, the wrong ones in my opinion. North Unit Irrigation District supplies real farmers around Madras who are going to have to fallow some lands. Central Oregon Irrigation District has senior water rights but primarily supplies hobby farmers and will see no shortages. This is just wrong.
This spring marks the last stocking of fry as part of the upper Deschutes Basin salmon and steelhead reintroduction effort. Yesterday I was part of the crew helping with the final chinook salmon fry stocking and backpacked fry into the lower Crooked River canyon as well as where Alder Springs meets Whychus Creek not far from the middle Deschutes. As I wrote about here, the reintroduction effort has been a disappointment for many reasons one of which is the unsuccessful fry stocking effort and a new approach is needed.Read More »
I have spent the past 4 days battling the flu (and losing so far) so I could not make it to the Ways & Means hearing in Redmond yesterday. I was able to get off the couch this afternoon to submit the written comments below. You can as well using this email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. As someone who serves on a state board where public comments are submitted I can tell you they make a difference. Don’t assume someone else will do it for you.Read More »
The Oregonian is running a multipart series called Polluted by Money which examines the incredibly corrosive effect money has on Oregon. We all know this, but this series is simply jaw dropping in its examination of how bad the problem is, especially when it comes to the environment. Far from being green, we are now one of the least environmentally progressive states in the county, “a laughingstock” with “no enforcement”. The series simply has to be read by anyone who is concerned about water quality, quantity, fishing, or the future of our state.Read More »
Last week the Oregon Chapter of the American Fisheries Society held their annual meeting in Bend. I attended the 21 presentations on Water & Climate. I’ll make a few posts with highlights and, hopefully, some copies of presentations I have requested. One of the presentations was on the unintended consequences of selective water withdrawal at Cougar Dam on the South Fork of the McKenzie River. There are some interesting analogues to what is happening on the Deschutes.Read More »
The Oregon legislature is working on its next budget and a set of “policy options packages” is being debated that are important for healthy rivers & wildlife. They need your help to be adopted.
ODFW’s (Fish & Wildlife) POP 123 would fund forecasts for river flow needs. OWRD’s (Water Resources) POP 102 would fund studies of existing ground water. OWRD’s POP 108 would fund measurement of groundwater use. Yes, this implies that the state does not currently know how much water we need in most rivers for healthy ecosystems, how much water is currently in aquifers that feed those rivers, or how much is being taken out by groundwater pumping. Absurd, isn’t it?Read More »
Yet another study was released this week cataloging how badly the oceans are suffering from global warming, this time in the journal Nature. As is typical, it has a title that is not very accessible to the layman and does not express the urgency of the situation: “Marine heatwaves threaten global biodiversity and the provision of ecosystem services”. Unfortunately, scientists continue to believe that they need to appear dispassionate and analytical, which is welcome at times, but is also a failing approach when it comes to global warming. As this article expresses, it really is time to panic. (Nature also has an article that attempts to understand why scientists are so poor at communicating with laymen. It seems pretty obvious to me, just read the title of the article.)Read More »
Here’s the latest Oregon snow pack data. Obviously, this is extremely good news and a big turnaround from only a couple of weeks ago. A large snow pack combined with a cool spring will allow for a long, slow release of melt water into our aquifers, rivers, and lakes. This was highly unexpected but more than welcome news. Now let’s hope for a cool spring.Read More »
I have written about global warming’s impact on the ocean off the coast of Oregon as well as on local steelhead and salmon populations. To put it mildly, warming, acidification, and oxygen deficiency have not been beneficial. At the same time, some far northern locations, close to the arctic, have seen record runs of some species. Bristol Bay is a good example. Here’s a report in the journal Science which helps quantify all this. The bottom line is that ocean fish populations are clearly declining overall due to global warming.
The latest issue of The Osprey is now available. If you like to read scientific articles about steelhead and salmon conservation, mostly in the Pacific Northwest, then this is the journal for you. I encourage you to subscribe and help keep them going. This issue has a couple of articles that once again illustrate the peril facing anadromous fish in many PacNW river systems. It also contains an article on the lower Deschutes River which I found problematic. Read More »
I recently finished reading “The Compleat Angler” by Izaak Walton, who has been called the Father of Fly Fishing. First published in England in 1653, with revised editions until 1676, reading The Compleat Angler was a slog at best. Written near the time of Shakespeare, but without the Bard’s skill, it deserves its modern reputation as tedious. That being said, it was absolutely fascinating to read how much was known about angling 366 years ago.Read More »
“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
This wonderful quote pretty much sums up why I am a committed fisheries and water activist. (I certainly don’t have a first-rate intelligence, but do believe that things look hopeless while nevertheless trying to do my part to make them otherwise.) I found this quote in the latest issue of Sierra Magazine which is dedicated to climate change. Of course, it paints a bleak picture if we don’t take serious action now.Read More »
On January 31 the Deschutes River Conservancy announced that they had secured funding from Intel Corporation to help with their middle Deschutes summer water leasing program. Without the DRC’s various efforts, including the leasing program, the middle Deschutes below Bend would be virtually dry in the summer. Additional funding for the leasing program is welcome news but requires some context.
Flows in the Deschutes above Bend are controlled by irrigation districts who withhold water to fill reservoirs in the winter and release water in the summer which is then diverted into a series of irrigation canals. The last major diversion is located at the North Canal Dam in Bend just upriver from the Riverhouse. During irrigation season the Deschutes below this dam is reduced to a relative trickle, dramatically damaging the ecosystem for fish and wildlife. Read More »
This is not a fishing blog, but every now and then I will post something along those lines. For a few years now I have been chasing bull trout on Lake Billy Chinook using fly gear. It’s challenging but can be rewarding. Above is a photo of one of my sons with a nice bull trout. There are a lot of variables at play, but it looks like we could have a good and early season. Here’s what I have been looking at. Read More »
350Deschutes is sponsoring a talk on global warming and local impacts. It will be held at Worthy Brewing next Thursday, January 24th, at 7 pm. You can sign up here. I will cover water and fish, here’s my presentation. Follow the sign up link to see other presenters. Come have a beer and ask questions.
Last week I had the opportunity to tour the Willamette Falls fish ladder as a member of the ODFW Restoration & Enhancement Board. There has been extensive coverage, including posts on this blog, about sea lion predation on anadromous fish at this ladder, to the extent that steelhead runs were at short term risk of extinction. ODFW is now euthanizing the most problematic pinnipeds. Less publicity has been given to the fact that the fish ladder itself is in danger of structural failure.Read More »
Here is a recent report from the Bureau of Reclamation on the water outlook for Prineville Reservoir. As you can see on page 3, a few days ago the reservoir was 35% full and flows into the Crooked River were only 49 cfs (47 cfs today), which is below the target set by ODFW for fish needs and the 80 cfs target in the Crooked River legislation. In summary, the BOR presentation implies that the outlook is not promising for the reservoir to fill which means flows into the Crooked River next winter after irrigation season ends will also likely be low. Keep reading for some commentary on the presentation prepared by BOR.Read More »
Yesterday George Weurthner had a worthwhile letter to the editor in the Bulletin on water rights. I agree with his comments, here’s my 2 cents. Over 100 years ago, when Central Oregon was mostly unsettled wilderness, the state gave away water rights, not water ownership which remains with the public, in an effort to create a local, agricultural based economy. Today, our area is booming and agriculture in Deschutes County is a minor and decreasing component of our economy. Nevertheless, irrigators continue to divert 90% of the water in the upper Deschutes Basin. It is well past time to reallocate the public’s water using a modern definition of beneficial use. It is possible to maintain water rights for irrigators who are truly using it for agriculture, provide for other irrigators willing to pay a market price, while supporting the growth of our modern economy, ensuring municipal water supplies, and restoring our public water ways.
As I say in the “About” section of this blog, I believe that WaterWatch is the most important water conservation organization in Oregon. They have done amazing work to restore flows, breach dams, and protect groundwater. Their latest newsletter is well worth reading. The Osprey is an excellent, research-based publication for anyone interested in anadromous fish in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. The September issue is filled with great data, including the statement that the full cost of every hatchery steelhead returning to the Columbia Basin is on the order of $1,000, while degrading the opportunity for wild fish to recover. I have read this issue a couple of times now and underlined much of it.
Today the US Fish & Wildlife Service held a public update meeting on the Habitat Conservation Plan status. I’ve written extensively on the HCP in this blog but, briefly, it is an application by Central Oregon irrigation districts and the City of Prineville to continue to withdraw water from local rivers while incidentally “taking” (killing) endangered species like bull trout, steelhead, and the Oregon Spotted Frog. The meeting had a wealth of information but the shocker for me was an admission by the irrigation districts that they have been badly mismanaging flows in the middle Deschutes.Read More »
Today the Bend Bulletin ran a story on climate change’s impact to local rivers and I was one of the people quoted. I am always frustrated with the experience of spending time discussing an issue in depth and seeing cursory coverage as a result. I respect work the reporter does for the paper and understand that space is limited but there is so much more to say. Oh well. The good news is the article does capture the big picture and hopefully adds to the general awareness of global warming’s current local impact, not sometime in the future. That being said, I do have one quibble with the story.Read More »
Here’s the latest graph of flows in the middle Deschutes below North Dam in Bend near the Riverhouse. On November 26 the river got down to 63.8 cfs. On a relative basis, that’s worse than 20 cfs in the upper Deschutes below Wickiup. Years of discussion and “cooperation” at the Basin Study Work Group between the irrigators, government agencies, and various other groups has made no improvement in how the river is managed. For the second time this year the irrigators have killed the middle Deschutes (visit the prior post for a more detailed discussion of this topic).
For years, the Crooked River has been plagued by periodic fish kills. There have been two culprits: sustained low flows, especially when combined with freezing temperatures in the winter, and excess total dissolved gases. TDG is not as well known as low flows but it can be equally deadly. A solution in the form of a new hydroelectric facility may be in the future.Read More »
A reporter at the Bend Bulletin saw my post on the potential for a fish kill on the Crooked River this winter and wrote this article. If you’ve ever been quoted for an article you know how it can be a frustrating experience. So it almost goes without saying that I would have written the story differently but I think the reporter did a good job overall of capturing the big picture of what is currently happening on the Crooked River and the challenges it faces this winter.
October through the end of the year is one of my favorite times to fish the lower Deschutes River. The crowds are gone and the trout are still there. On Halloween a friend and I had a good day. One of the trout I landed measured at just under 18”. The bonus was this hatchery steelhead which was a thrill to land using trout gear. Nevertheless, the outlook for wild Deschutes steelhead remains bleak.Read More »
As Central Oregon anglers know, fish populations in the Crooked River can wildly fluctuate. When there is adequate flow for a few years the fishing can be excellent. On the other hand, a variety of factors including low flows combined with freezing temperatures can create massive fish kills. The last of these events happened in the winter of 2015-2016 when trout populations dropped from 1,383/km to 185/km, the lowest ever recorded. Based on current water management plans, such a kill could happen again this winter.Read More »
I have written about ocean warming and the dramatic decline in steelhead and salmon populations. Most recently, I posted about commercial salmon fishing belatedly being declared an official disaster. Here’s a related NOAA report and a State of Oregon report on ocean acidification. Scientists have had a clear understanding of global warming for 40 years but we continue to study the problem. I just don’t get it: you don’t study fire while watching your house burn down.Read More »
The Basin Study Work Group was a multiyear study of water issues, primarily centered on the upper Deschutes River, which concluded last week. The Deschutes River Conservancy did an excellent job of shepherding the effort, producing valuable studies that added to our knowledge of how water is managed and strategies that could be used to conserve it, although none of them are required to be implemented. The final meeting ended with participants congratulating each other for a job well done which, for me, crystallized the failures of the process, including the catastrophic draining of Wickiup Reservoir this summer.
Unfortunately, as of the end of September things still look pretty bleak for wild fish this season. The trap at Sherars Falls has captured a total of 44 wild steelhead. Only 3 of these have made it to the the trap at the bottom of the Pelton Round Butte complex (Lake Billy Chinook, etc.). Two of those are actually hatchery steelhead that were released above Lake Billy Chinook but did not have their adipose fins clipped. As I detailed in a series of posts starting here, these fish could be on a path to extinction in the not too distant future.
The US Secretary of Commerce has declared that commercial salmon fishing along the west coast from 2015 through 2017 was a disaster. (It’s no better this year and steelhead are also in critical condition.) The determination provides economic assistance for commercial fishing communities. This recognition is welcome but it seems to me that it would be equally important to fix the root causes. Without this the desired “rebound” will not occur.
Last week I sent an email to the Bend Bulletin pointing out that their coverage of low levels in Wickiup Reservoir was inaccurate when it assigned partial blame to the endangered Oregon Spotted Frog. Flows for the frog out of Wickiup into the upper Deschutes River are in the winter only and Wickiup was completely full when irrigation season began. I was happy the Bulletin published a new article today that correctly identifies last winter’s low snow pack as the culprit for low water levels, but this new article also fails to address another important issue. Why where no mitigating actions taken? There are strategies that could have reduced the draw down. Read More »
Wickiup and Crane Prairie reservoirs on the upper Deschutes River were constructed to hold water for irrigation releases from Bend to Madras. Wickiup is currently at its lowest level since 1952, and it may get lower. As of September 20th Wickiup is only 2% full. Until recently, Wickiup had some of the best kokanee fishing in the state and excellent trout fishing as well. This popular fishery is now gone.Read More »