Spring chinook and Crooked River flows

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

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

Read More »

CO Daily News and Prineville water policy

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

Thoughts on a HCP lawsuit

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

Read More »

Deschutes Basin HCP notice of intent to sue

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

ODFW report on the Crooked River: not good

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

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

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

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

Read More »

Faulty reading on the Crooked River gauge

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

Crooked River flows back up

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

30 seconds of TV fame (?)

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

Read More »

Cue the dirge…

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

Read More »

Crooked River ramp down underway

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

As you probably already know, Ochoco Irrigation District and the Bureau of Reclamation began reducing flows in the Crooked River two days ago. I guess we can be thankful that they did not immediately drop it all the way to 10 cfs so that fish and other aquatic life can try to find deeper pools, but in the long run it will not matter. The river is going too low. Today the Bend Bulletin ran a story on the declining flows that was a little premature in my mind, I am waiting until the flows are fully reduced before heading out to see the damage and take photos. The story contained the normal platitudes from local officials expressing how terrible it is they had to take this drastic action due to factors beyond their control. The typical drivel, once again unchallenged in the article. One comment was particularly misleading, however.

Read More »

Crooked River flow update

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

Read More »

My 5 minutes of TV fame (infamy?)

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

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

Bulletin article on Crooked River flows

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

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

Spring chinook entering the Crooked River

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

Some history on the Crooked at 10 cfs

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

Read More »

More on the Crooked at 10 cfs

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

Read More »

Crooked River disaster on the horizon? UPDATED

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

Read More »

First spring chinook of the season

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

A spring chinook won’t swim through this!

The Crooked River is an irrigation ditch

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

Read More »

Prineville Reservoir and Crooked River flows update

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

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

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

Read More »

Crooked River Forecast

Like many of you, I have been watching the Bureau of Reclamation graph for Prineville Reservoir and the Crooked River. I also receive notes from the monthly planning meetings that occur between the Ochoco Irrigation District and various agencies. I have been waiting to write about this, but a reader asked about it today and irrigation season starts soon, so here’s what I know and what I anticipate will occur.

Read More »

Opal Springs Videos

Tomorrow I leave the country for a 10-day “bucket list” fly fishing trip and thought I would leave you with a few brief glimpses of steelhead swimming up the Opal Springs fish ladder. The latest counts are from December 21 through January 10 when 70 fish of all species were detected, including 54 redbands and 4 steelhead. Steelhead returns remain very low, but a few are now in the Crooked River. Flows in the river are well under targets established by the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife for healthy habitat, but the river is not dry in places like it was last year when spring chinook arrived. Let’s hope these steelhead find spawning partners and a place to lay their eggs!

Read More »

How Facebook and Apple Could Help the Crooked River

DLT’s Ochoco Preserve Today

Yesterday, the Bulletin published my column on Facebook’s use of water in Prineville and its impact on the Crooked River.  Another part of the Bulletin article to which I was responding briefly mentioned the Ingram Meadow Restoration Project in the Ochoco Mountains stating it was a Facebook project that is benefitting our local environment.  Clearly, restoring natural habitat is a worthy endeavor to be supported.  It is not at all clear, however, what role Facebook played in this US Forest Service project or how it helps offset their significant use of water many miles downstream.  If Facebook, or Apple, really want to provide benefit that directly offsets the impact of their data centers on the Crooked River there is a restoration project in their backyard they should fund.

Update: I have been told that Facebook donated $30K to the National Forest Foundation which was then forwarded to the USFS for the Ingram Meadow Project. The total spent on “Meadow and Riparian Enhancement” was $150K.

Read More »

Prineville, Data Centers, and Water: There is a Cost

The Bend Bulletin recently reported on an aquifer recharge project by the City of Prineville which has received funding from Facebook and Apple, who use significant amounts of water to cool servers at their data centers in Prineville.  Here’s a more complete and balanced explanation of the project and its environmental impacts.  Facebook and Apple are trying to reduce their water footprint, but there’s more to the story than reported. 

Read More »

An Ideal Time to Fish the Crooked River?

Crooked River
Credit: The Bulletin.

For me, fly fishing is complicated. I consider myself a sportsperson. The point is not to catch as many fish as possible, but to master the art of catching them in a difficult manner, to do it with style and grace, and to mostly release my catch unharmed so that the next angler can have a similar experience. Fly fishing is also my gateway to the outdoors and a calling to conservation. So, when I read “November an ideal time to fish the Crooked River” in the Bulletin, I was simply dumbfounded. How is fishing the Crooked River at 50 cfs, a level that is barely survivable for fish, an honorable pursuit? How is promoting “fishing in a bucket” honorable? It has been many years since I fished the Crooked, and I understand it’s allure for less skilled or less physically able anglers, but I simply cannot understand the promotion of targeting fish at their most vulnerable in cold, low water conditions. Does that make me elitist or conservation minded? I hope the later. I’ll see you on the Metolius and Middle Deschutes for the next 3 months.

Nearing the End of Irrigation Season

The Bend Bulletin has recently had a couple of good articles on the end of irrigation season which I wanted to comment on. “Deschutes River users brace for annual ramp down of water” discusses how Central Oregon Irrigation District has turned off their water deliveries as they prepare for additional main canal piping. “Water flows to some farmers cut off from irrigation due to drought” discusses how water is being turned on for the next 2 weeks to both North Unit Irrigation District and Arnold Irrigation District. While these are well written articles, and I appreciate the Bulletin’s continued coverage of local irrigation water issues, I believe some clarification and discussion is warranted.

Read More »

The Endangered Species Act is Not the Problem

A few days ago the Bend Bulletin ran an opinion piece from a local farmer that partially blamed the Endangered Species Act for irrigator water shortages. Below is the response I submitted. Let’s see if they print it.

7/29/21 UPDATE: That was fast, it’s in today’s paper.

The Bulletin recently ran a guest column from a Central Oregon farmer asserting that the Endangered Species Act is partly to blame for current water shortages.  Many local farmers need more water, but the column is written from a perspective that does not hold up to objective analysis.

Read More »

Crooked River at 5 CFS?

Photo: Brett Hodgson. 7/9/2021.

Brett Hodgson, recently retired Deschutes District fish biologist at the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, sent me this photo taken at 8:15 this morning of the Crooked River at Smith Rocks. He estimates the river is at 5 CFS! The air temperature is supposed to reach at least 90 degrees today. You are looking at what will soon be a dead stretch of river, if it is not already. You could walk across it without getting your feet wet.

So much for anadromous fish reintroduction. Over 60 adult spring chinook salmon have gone through the fish ladder at Opal Springs to be faced with this.

And so much for the benefits of taxpayer funded canal piping. Some of that piping was supposed to increase flows in this stretch of the river. In fact, the minimum is supposed to be 10 CFS, which the river is not at, and 10 CFS is not enough to support fish in any event.

More Spring Chinook Going Nowhere

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.

Spring Chinook, the Crooked River, and the HCP

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 »

Crooked River 2021 Flows

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 »

No, We Are Not Moving Fast Enough On Water

Yancy Lind
A hatchery steelhead on the Lower Deschutes River.

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 »

Crooked River Flows & Management

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 »

Attack on Fish Passage Requirements

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.

Why are salmon and steelhead on the path to extinction?

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 »

Crooked River at 47 CFS

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.

Bowman Dam Fish Passage Waiver Denied!

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.

Final Decision on Bowman Dam Fish Passage this Friday

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 Canal Piping Post – Another Boondoggle?

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 »

The Crooked River Act, 6 Years Later

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 »

Local Reservoir and River Levels

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 »

2020 Deschutes Fisheries Workshop Recap

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 meeting

Read More »

Wonky: Bowman Dam / Crooked River Water Accounting

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 »

Bowman Dam Fish Passage Waiver Public Comments

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.

My Email to ODFW Opposing the Fish Passage Waiver

For what it’s worth, here’s the email I sent to ODFW yesterday:

I oppose providing a fish passage waiver for the proposed hydroelectric plant at the base of Bowman Dam. While the cost of installing a ladder may be prohibitive, the proposed mitigation measures do not come close to providing a greater benefit to fish than opening up 500 miles of habitat and reconnecting fish in the upper Crooked River with fish in the lower Crooked River as well as other upper Deschutes Basin waterways. Further, a 50-year FERC license would preclude passage for the same amount of time.Read More »

Fish Passage Waiver at Bowman Dam? Not so fast.

Bowman Dam

Bowman Dam was completed by the US Bureau of Reclamation (BoR) in 1961, damming the Crooked River and creating Prineville reservoir.  It was built to protect development downstream from flooding, including the City of Prineville, and to provide water for Ochoco Irrigation District (OID) who operates the dam.  While these are worthy goals, Bowman Dam has also caused significant environmental damage.  OID, Prineville, and Crook County would now like to add a small hydroelectric facility to the base of Bowman Dam and are asking for a waiver to the State of Oregon requirement that fish passage be provided at dams undergoing significant changes.  This is a complex issue, below are my thoughts.  The waiver application, supporting documents, and analysis by the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife can be found here.  Public comment on the waiver application is being accepted until June 22nd.Read More »

Largescale Suckers


The latest report from Opal Springs says that over 1,000 largescale suckers moved through the fish passage the last 2 weeks of March.  I don’t know anything about these fish so did some web searches and asked Brett Hodgson, ODFW Deschutes District Fish Biologist, about them.  It turns out that some people like to fish for them, and they taste good.  Brett emailed me that “suckers historically were an important source of protein for Native Americans in periods when salmon were not available”.  I may have to target them with a sinking line and an egg pattern someday.Read More »

CTWS Comments on the HCP and EIS


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 »

Good Outlook for the Crooked River this Winter

Crooked 12.18.19

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.

Opal Springs Passage is Working!

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.

Opal Springs Fish Ladder Operational!

The fish ladder is under the walkway, the spillway for downstream migration is to the right.

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 »

What about Water Quality in the Habitat Conservation Plan?


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 »

Good News for Crooked River Flows this Winter

OneThree 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 »

DRA Opinion Piece Response

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 »

Fisheries Workshop Highlights

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 »

PGE Water Quality Study

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 »

ODFW’s Comments on OID’s PAD

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 »

Is Central Oregon Flyfishers Betraying the Angling Community?

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 »

Crooked River Flows

Prineville Res Level

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 »

Crooked River Flows Going Up Fast

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.

Upper Basin Anadromous Fry Stocking


Crooked River Canyon
Lower Crooked River Canyon

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 »

Crooked River Water Outlook

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 »

Bend Bulletin Article on Crooked River Flows

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.



Another fish kill coming to the Crooked?

Crooked in winter

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 »

North Fork Crooked trout survey

Most Central Oregon anglers are familiar with the Wild & Scenic section of the Crooked River below Bowman Dam.  Of course, the Crooked flows into Prineville Reservoir as well but based on my experience few outside of Crook County have spent much time there.  The North Fork of the Crooked does not provide the same abundance of fishing as the Wild & Scenic section, but it flows through a beautiful area of the Ochoco Mountains.  Prior to the construction of all the dams below (Bowman, Opal Springs, and the PRB complex), this section of the river was prime spawning habitat for anadromous fish.  Big Summit Prairie is also nearby, worthy of a visit on its own.  The last time I visited the North Fork my wife and I saw one of the biggest bears I have seen in Oregon, it was a brownish red color and seemed undisturbed by us as we watched it for some time.  The North Fork provides habitat for an important strain of wild, native redband trout.  ODFW is planning a electrofishing survey of the North Fork and could use some volunteers, this would be a great opportunity to help and see some beautiful country that is not very far away.Read More »

Crooked River Fish Sampling

Every year ODFW counts fish in the Crooked River below Bowman Dam.  This year they are sampling June 18-22 and are looking for help.  Volunteers walk down the bank of the river while ODFW biologists float and shock the river.  Fish near the boat are temporally stunned by the electric current and float to the surface where they are captured, counted, and measured.  I first helped with this years ago and it made me a far better angler on the Crooked and elsewhere.   Even after decades of fishing experience and “reading the water”, I was amazed to see where fish were holding and in what numbers.   If you are interested in helping, contact Tim Porter, Assistant District Fish Biologist in Prineville, at Timothy.K.Porter@state.or.us or (541) 447-5111 ext. 24.  Let him know which day(s) you can help and he will get back to you with more detailed info.  You need to be able to carry buckets of stunned fish back upstream to release them near where they were captured.  The day usually lasts from 8:30 am until 2 pm.

DLT’s Ochoco Preserve

This afternoon I was able to tour the Deschutes Land Trust’s new Ochoco Preserve.  The preserve is currently farmland just outside Prineville that will be converted to wetlands over the next decade or so.  It is where McKay and Ochoco Creeks meet the Crooked River.  The potential for new, high quality habitat for native redband trout is very exciting.  These creeks were also important spawning areas for anadromous Chinook salmon and steelhead and may be again once the fish ladder at Opal Springs Dam is complete.  I encourage you to visit the DLT’s site, learn more, and become a member if you are able.

Impact on the Crooked River

The proposed Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan includes a section on the Crooked River (see pages 34 to 37).  While I have heard some in the angling and conservation communities speak favorably about the proposal for the Crooked, I am not in agreement.

In summary, my concerns are:

  • There is no scientific justification for the 50 cfs average minimum target during the winter and it is unclear what is meant by “average”.
  • There is no provision for reducing the incidence of gas bubble disease.
  • There is no mention of water quality.
  • It does not address the low flow, high temperature problem that exists below the Wild & Scenic section during irrigation season.

Read More »

Opal Springs Fish Ladder Final Funding

After years of effort the final funding for a volitional fish ladder at Opal Springs Dam was obtained earlier this month.  There are some regulatory hurdles remaining but construction should begin in the spring and be complete within two years.  Opal Springs is a small hydroelectric facility owned by Deschutes Valley Water District about a quarter mile up the Crooked River from where it enters Lake Billy Chinook.  Downstream fish passage has been available, mostly through the turbines, but not upstream passage.Read More »