Yet another article on how hatcheries are failing anadromous fish

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

3 days on the Lower Deschutes

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

Read More »

COID Pilot Butte Canal breach

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

Read More »

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 »

ODFW webinar on steelhead in the Columbia Basin

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

Read More »

Tod Heisler in the Bulletin

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

ODFW Columbia Basin steelhead webinar

As I discussed here, ODFW is anticipating another year of poor steelhead returns in the Columbia Basin including tributaries like the Deschutes. Hopefully you read that prior post and took the angler survey. Next Tuesday, April 19th, ODFW is hosting a webinar at 6 pm where “ODFW fish biologists throughout the Columbia Basin will discuss summer steelhead management, what was learned from the survey, decision frameworks for fishery restrictions and more”. The seminar will be live on ODFW’s YouTube channel. If you fish for steelhead on the Deschutes, or used to, this should be on your calendar.

ODFW budget: opportunity for public input

I believe that the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife is the only state agency that solicits public feedback while planning their budget.  The 2023-2025 budget request is being prepared and now is the time to weigh in if you are so inclined.  I have been a member of ODFW’s External Budget Advisory Committee for a few budget cycles, and was an individual commenter before that, and have found the process simultaneously interesting and frustrating. An important portion of ODFW’s funding is from license sales and there can be conflict between stewardship of our fish & wildlife and the need to generate revenue. Also, the voices of a few groups dominate the discussion rather than individual license holders. I encourage you to let yours be heard.

First, you need to review the budget materials here.  At least a high level understanding the proposed budget is important to making useful comments.  You can make comments directly to ODFW by attending one of their online “listening sessions” this week or via email to ODFW.Commission@odfw.oregon.gov by May 25.

N. Umpqua steelhead assessment

Last week, ODFW held an online seminar to go over their recent research concerning summer steelhead returns on the North Umpqua River.  You can watch the replay here and read the entire 143 page report here.  The presentation is worth watching, I also suggest reading at least the summary of the report and scanning the rest.  This work was hastily done in response to the extremely low steelhead returns last summer and calls by many in the fly angling community to curtail hatchery steelhead releases.  No management decisions have been made, only the data was reviewed, but based on the report I would anticipate little or no changes to hatchery practices.  That decision will be made at the ODFW Commission meeting on April 22, you can get information on how to view that meeting here (it’s the last item on the agenda).  Keep reading for my comments on the report.

Read More »

Guest column: Oregon could learn a lot from Arizona

The Bend Bulletin published my latest guest column today, “Oregon could learn a lot from Arizona”. You really should have a subscription, a local newspaper is critical to having a well functioning local government, but if you don’t, I’ve reproduced it below. My last column in the paper was about hope not being a plan for solving our water crisis. Today the paper ran two stories on water, one of which quoted a state official stating “I was hoping for a much better winter this year, a recovery”. Last week I had an email exchange with a federal agency involved in controlling releases from Prineville Reservoir in the Crooked River asking about their plans. The response was they were waiting to see what happens during the remainder of the spring. Once again, hope is not a plan and right now we have no plan. Arizona does. Here’s my column in today’s paper.

Read More »

Steelhead Forecast and Actions to Take

As you already know, 2021 steelhead returns to the Columbia Basin, including the Deschutes River, were the lowest on record.  Prior to the start of the season, the forecast was for 101,400 wild & hatchery steelhead to return.  In fact, only 69,669 did.  For perspective, from 2001 to 2010 the average return was 406,375 fish.  The 2022 forecast is for 99,700 steelhead.  We’ll see if this forecast is more accurate than last year.  Many biologists believe that some Columbia Basin steelhead are on the path to near-term extinction if dramatic changes are not quickly made.  ODFW is currently soliciting input on how to manage fishing regulations in anticipation of another historically low return year.  Keep reading for more and how you can get involved.

Read More »

Protect North Umpqua Wild Steelhead!

The North Umpqua River is not in Central Oregon but it is close enough that I have spent a considerable amount of time there over the years swinging flies for steelhead. It is difficult fishing but until the past few years it has been rewarding. It is still beautiful, although recent fires did burn some of the landscape. Like so many other rivers in Oregon the steelhead numbers have plummeted, especially the summer run which saw only 450 adult returns last year. These iconic fish in one of the west coast’s most storied steelhead rivers are clearly in peril. As a result, ODFW has been asked by some fishing groups to stop the release of hatchery steelhead in the river which have been scientifically proven to have a detrimental impact on wild fish. ODFW is now considering what actions to take and is soliciting public feedback. Keep reading for how to get involved.

Read More »

Tui Chub, Fish Stocking, Emergency Regulations, and More

The ODFW Restoration & Enhancement Board, where I am a member, had another interesting and productive meeting today. Today, we helped fund a number of projects, including two local ones. $20K was allocated for another summer of netting tui chub and brown bullhead catfish in local high lakes. This effort has been critical to maintaining healthy sport fishing in places like East Lake for many years. In addition, $101K was given to the Deschutes Land Trust’s Ochoco Preserve, contributing to their $1.7M project. This project should be of interest to anyone who fishes the Crooked River or who is interested in anadromous fish reintroduction in the Upper Deschutes Basin.

Read More »

Mental Health Day

9 fish in 2.5 hours of fishing today and the only other angler I saw was my friend Scott. You can still find these productive, beautiful places close to home with a little effort. A quick trip to break up a weekend of chores.

“Scarcity Primer”. Warning: Depressing!

Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Research has a group focused on “thematic investing”.  These are trends, developments, and problems with a high probability of occurring that could also become interesting opportunities, although not fully realized today.  This group writes fascinating reports on a wide range of topics.  Their most recent 135-page, fully documented report is titled, “The World Is Not Enough – Scarcity Primer”.  It is concerning to say the least.  The report begins, “We will need 2x Earth’s resources to keep up with the current usage rate by 2030. Today less than 1% of the planet’s water is fit for human use and we could run out of freshwater by 2040.”  There are 10 themes in the report, below are bullet points from some of them that are relevant to this blog.  It’s not a happy list.

Read More »

Planning Commission Panel on Water

Yesterday, the Deschutes County Planning Commission hosted a panel discussion to “thoroughly understand the major water resource issues currently facing Central Oregon from a scientific, regulatory, and environmental perspective.” Panelists were from the US Geological Survey, Oregon Water Resources Department, and the US Fish & Wildlife Service. You can watch a recording here, it begins around minute 8 and ends at 1:34:00. It’s lengthy but worth watching. A second panel discussion is planned for April 14. I am thankful that this important commission is starting to think about the issue. As their questions illustrated, they need a lot more discussion of this topic.

Oregon Water Conditions Report

The Oregon Water Resources Department sends out a weekly email with this report covering statewide water conditions. Now that we recently passed the half-way mark for winter, I thought I would share it. I’m sure you are familiar with some of this data, but there are some less known charts as well. As we should all know by now, most of Central Oregon is in a severe to extreme drought. What is less discussed is the current state of our groundwater and streamflow percentages, which are very concerning. The bottom line is that it will take multiple years of above average snow pack to return us to anything close to what used to be “normal” levels. You can sign up to get this report here.

Drought: hope is not a plan

Central Oregon is experiencing a water crisis.  Despite intermittent years of good snow fall, Central Oregon has been in some level of drought for more than 20 years.  As we reach the middle of winter we should all be concerned.  Local reservoirs and lakes, not just Wickiup, are at historic lows for this time of year.  It is unlikely they will fill.  Rivers are at extreme lows as well.  Domestic wells are being deepened to maintain access to water as the aquifer drops, even wells adjacent to the Deschutes River.  Some springs that feed the Metolius River are almost dry.  Parts of the most productive farmland in Central Oregon will again be fallowed this year due to lack of water.  Fish and wildlife will suffer the most.

Read More »

Water Bank: is it Enough?

There has been a fair amount of press recently on the water bank pilot being implemented by Central Oregon Irrigation District, North Unit Irrigation District, and the Deschutes River Conservancy, including another column in the Bend Bulletin today. As I detailed in a prior post, this is a great concept although many implementation details need to be addressed. The core problem is that the water bank will only work if it is structured so that COID patrons sign up for the program in large numbers, which does not seem to be occurring. As reported in this Bulletin article, “more than 100” COID patrons have agreed to participate in the program. COID’s website states they have over 4,000 “accounts”, 100 participants in the program is a small fraction of that. A water bank is a great idea and needs to start somewhere, but a lot more work needs to be done for it to have a meaningful impact given the severity of our ongoing drought. I’m glad that the DRC has received the funding to continue that work.

Continued Wild Steelhead Killing Approved in Oregon

As you have probably already heard, on Friday the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife Commission voted 5-2 to continue to allow the killing of wild steelhead on some southern Oregon coastal rivers. I spent much of the day on Thursday and Friday with the Commission meetings playing in the background while I did my “real” job and have a few observations I would like to share. I would have voted for catch-and-release only fishing, as 2 commissioners did, but I don’t think there were any good or bad guys in this vote. It was a reflection of how ODFW is run, how information is presented to commissioners, and most importantly, how different types of anglers perceive wild fish.

Read More »

A Dark Side to Water Banking?

Columbia Insight Logo

High Country News is running a series they call “Tapped Out: Power and water justice in the rural West”. Yesterday I posted about an article in HCN covering Klamath Basin water management that originally appeared in The Counter. Here’s an article in HCN from Columbia Insight about water banking. (I had not heard of Hood River-based Columbia Insight, its worth a look.) Water banking is being touted as a key tool for solving water management issues in the Deschutes Basin. It has been used effectively in some areas to move water from low-value uses to higher-value ones, but is increasingly being seen as an investment opportunity for financiers hoping to profit from buying and then reselling water at higher prices. Clearly, this is extremely problematic and yet another example of how our political leaders are failing us – we need to get in front of this issue with proper regulations to allow water banking to work for us in the beneficial way that it can.

N. Umpqua & The Osprey

I have been troubled by my last post from 3 days ago on the N. Umpqua. Did I really say what I felt or was I trying to be polite to an organization where I have volunteered for many years? Well, I caught up on some reading yesterday, including the latest version of The Osprey, and my error was crystal clear. I have written about The Osprey many times, as usual the latest issue has many excellent articles, but the tour de force was Pete Soverel’s, “For Wild Salmon and Steelhead, Time is Running Out – For Real”. I strongly encourage you to read this well informed frontal attack on West Coast fisheries management. The gloves are off for good reason. The end is near and fisheries managers are doing nothing useful to change course.

Which gets me back to the N. Umpqua. If the summer run was at 350 fish, 10% of a 10-year average that is already low compared to historical numbers, and there is no scientific basis for believing that the winter run will dramatically improve above 10%, then why is the river being opened to fishing on December 1? At a minimum, ODFW should wait until they can confirm significantly improved returns. The sad truth is that ODFW is actively managing our rivers to minimize angler complaints, not for the long term survival of our anadromous fisheries.

N. Umpqua Reopens: a Quandary

Lucky in February 2017.

I have been a angler for over 50 years but a steelhead junkie for only about the last 15, so I merely had a taste of what it could be like in Oregon before the populations started plummeting. It was enough. For a few years I even parked a small trailer near Glide all winter so I could leave Bend early Saturday morning, fish my way down the fly water section of the North Umpqua and fish my way back the next day. It was exhausting but always rewarding, even when I did not touch a fish. Of course, the N. Umpqua has been closed recently due to fires and low fish returns so I was interested to see that ODFW announced it will reopen on December 1.

Read More »

Deschutes Land Trust’s Priday Ranch

The Deschutes Land Trust is one of the first organizations to which I donated after arriving in Central Oregon in 2004.  Their work restoring Whychus Creek and efforts to preserve Skyline Forest were, and continue to be, compelling.   Work started in 2017 on the Crooked River is exciting as well.  Recently, the DLT has had turnover in some key positions so I was excited to have the opportunity to meet with them and tour their Priday Ranch acquisition last week, a project that should be of interest to steelhead anglers.  I am happy to report that the DLT remains in competent hands and Priday Ranch looks like it will be a great acquisition and benefit to anglers on the Lower Deschutes.

Read More »

It was a Pretty Hike

I’ve had a lot of success trout fishing the past month or so, but today was another story. I tried a different spot and the water was high and cold (40 degrees), so the fish did not want to play. No regrets for me as it was a very pretty hike and I was all alone enjoying the many signs of beavers and other critters. Even with all the growth around here you can still find places like this nearby with just a little effort.

“Fall rains can’t undo the pains of drought in Oregon and Washington”

That’s the title of a recent article from Oregon Public Broadcasting containing a high level overview of the drought recently delivered to Oregon lawmakers. Testimony touched on themes that should be familiar to readers of this blog. We have been in some level of drought for over 2 decades. Temperatures have been above normal. Snow pack has diminished and melted more quickly. It will take a long period of above average precipitation for recovery. The drought is having significant detrimental impact on fish and wildlife as well as on people. The article is worth the quick read. I’m glad that our lawmakers are becoming informed, I hope that they finally take some real action. It is possible and long overdue.

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.

Wyeth Boat Ramp Photos

In response to my post a few days ago regarding the Wyeth boat ramp on the Upper Deschutes, John Butler sent me photos taken in October 2015 when the flows out of Wickiup were at 10 cfs. These photos are illustrative in many ways.

This photo shows just how deteriorated the ramp is and why the US Forest Service asked for funds to help repair it. There is broken concrete everywhere. Of course, no one would use the ramp at these extreme low flows, but even at higher flows the ramp was not safe to launch much more than a kayak.

Read More »

Another View on Local Water Issues

I am not a social media user and do not allow comments on this blog as those forms of communication are mostly unproductive. I do get emails with some regularity, however, as my email address can be easily found. Further, if someone takes the time to write I always respond. The majority of emails are complementary, but every now and then I get one that gives me pause. Below is a missive I received yesterday and my response. This is another example of how polarized we are and how much work needs to be done.

Read More »

“Wyeth” Boat Ramp

KTVZ recently had a story about the Wyeth boat ramp on the Upper Deschutes River being rebuilt. I am on the ODFW Restoration & Enhancement Board which provided a significant amount of funding for this ramp so thought I would share some background. During irrigation season the Deschutes River from Wickiup Reservoir to Pringle Falls is filled with water moving at a quick pace, but it is calm and easy to navigate. It is primarily used by people in kayaks, paddle boards, and similar as the fishing is mediocre at best. This is due to the very low water levels outside of irrigation season which provides minimal over wintering habitat for fish. For this reason, I was initially opposed to using dollars from angler licenses to rebuild the ramp. Given the plan to increase winter flows below Wickiup, however, I ultimately voted in favor of it. The R&E board has limited funds and I really struggled with this vote. If you are not familiar with this area, the Wyeth ramp is the closest to Pringle Falls, the Tenino ramp is nearest Wickiup, and the Bull Bend ramp is between the two. Last spring I put in at Tenino in an unsuccessful attempt to catch fish, I hope that this section of river will improve in the years to come.

My Latest Guest Column

Today the Bend Bulletin published my opinion piece on North Unit Irrigation District’s outline of a proposal to pump water out of Lake Billy Chinook for irrigation. The column in the paper is a variant of a post I made in September. I was going to let this issue go, but NUID published a guest column in the paper and I felt it needed a response. For those of you who do not have a subscription (which you should), here is the column:

Read More »

WaterWatch Annual Auction

While there are many organizations in Oregon that are worthy of your support, I believe that if you are an angler WaterWatch should be at the top of the list. No other group has done more to restore flows in Oregon rivers. Click on the graphic above to learn more and register for their annual auction. If you value wild, native fish, they need your help.

Deschutes Closed to all Steelhead Fishing

Desperate times require desperate measures. ODFW did the right thing yesterday by closing the entire Deschutes River to all steelhead fishing for the rest of the year. They also closed the river below Moody Rapids to all fishing. I think that the entire river should be closed to all fishing, but the section below Moody is the most important, and I am thankful for the actions ODFW has taken. The problem is that there have been widespread reports of (selfish, short-sighted, unethical) anglers targeting steelhead while claiming to be fishing for salmon or trout. Hopefully, that will soon change. See ODFW’s press release below.

Read More »

“The 2021 Columbia and Snake River Crisis”

On September 4th, The Conservation Angler sent this letter to the chairpersons of the Oregon, Washington, and Idaho fish & wildlife/game commissions. The next day I sent the letter below to Shaun Clements, ODFW Deputy Administrator for Fish Division. Both letters advocate for more stringent regulations to protect steelhead this year. The end of the partial closure on steelhead fishing is only a few days away, the outlook for these fish remains dire, and no new protections have been announced. What is the role of these agencies? To protect or oversee the continued decline of these fish?

Read More »

Sherars Falls Steelhead Counts

According to ODFW, as of September 20, a total of 59 steelhead have passed through the Sherars Falls fish ladder. Last year was a very poor return year and the count was 209. We are currently at only 28% of that. As I argued here, the current partial closure of the Lower Deschutes to steelhead fishing is inadequate, and it is now about to expire. I again encourage you to think carefully about targeting these fish anywhere on the Deschutes. Do you really want to be that angler?

It is important to note that only a portion of returning steelhead go through the ladder, many go up the falls. More than 59 have undoubtedly moved past Sherars. Nevertheless, if you thought steelhead were sparse last year, it is much worse this year. The total steelhead run in the entire Columbia Basin remains at the lowest level ever recorded.

Snake River Dams Sticker

The folks at DamTruth.org have created this sticker to help with awareness of the need to take down the lower Snake River dams. I’ve distributed a few at fly shops in Bend and Sisters and put them on my truck. Go get one and help spread the word! Let me know if your favorite shop doesn’t have any.

Of course, while I care about Orcas, the fact that Snake River steelhead populations are on the verge of collapse is a critical concern for sport anglers. The science on this is clear: the dams must go or an iconic run of steelhead will be extirpated. (Yes, I know, there’s no website on the sticker, I’m just the delivery guy on this one.)

AP Story on Local Drought & Farmers

The Associated Press recently released, “Droughts haves, have-nots test how to share water in the West“, along with an associated video. AP covers the drought here in Central Oregon, the impacts on North Unit Irrigation District patrons, and implementing water markets as a solution. Kate Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of the Deschutes River Conservancy, makes a good case for that. I encourage you to read the article and watch the video. This is a big, complex issue, AP only covers a portion of it, but this is the best coverage of this part I have seen.

I continue to be taken at how late so many are to understanding the issues. A local farmer is quoted as saying he only started paying attention to water availability two months ago because it was simply always there. Yikes! Irrigation districts, government agencies, municipalities, NGOS, and concerned individual citizens like me have been tracking and participating in forums on this topic for many years. How could a farmer whose livelihood depends on water not be aware of what is going on in the Deschutes Basin? I understand politicians avoiding the issue, but the rest of us need to get engaged. The worst is yet to come as our water table drops. Farmers are not the only ones at risk. The article touches on the fact that California made changes in their water laws, we need to force our politicians to do the same.

Colorado or Central Oregon?

This article could be about Central Oregon in the near future and is worth reading. The Colorado River is a mirror of the issues we face locally: global warming, unsustainable water use, archaic water laws, booming populations, wasteful agricultural practices, spineless politicians, etc. Unless something changes soon we will share the same fate.

Steelhead Fishing Closure: Too Little Too Late?

By now you should be aware that two days ago ODFW partially closed steelhead fishing on a few rivers, including parts of the Deschutes during September. For the past three years I have been writing that this should occur, and not just for part of the Deschutes for a single month. Here’s a post I made just 3 weeks ago illustrating how “bleak” the returns have been. In their press release on August 27th, ODFW stated that steelhead returns so far this year are the lowest since counts began in 1938. As of August 20, steelhead counts at Sherars Falls on the Deschutes near Maupin were only 1/3 the already low 2020 counts. Above is a graph showing unclipped steelhead returns over Bonneville Dam, fish destined for all the tributaries of the Columbia. Note that unclipped mostly means wild, but not always. Some unclipped fish are actually hatchery fish that are part of steelhead reintroduction efforts, like in the Upper Deschutes Basin. Also note that the 10 year average in the graph is getting pretty low as the last 10 years have seen poor returns.

Read More »

OWRD Drought Report

The Oregon Water Resources Department has a weekly drought report email. You can sign up for it here. You can see this week’s report here. We should all be familiar with graphs showing current drought conditions in Central Oregon (we’re mostly in extreme or exceptional drought) and current stream flows (they are well below normal overall). Above is an interesting chart showing soil moisture content that you may not be as familiar with. Deschutes County soil is dry overall, especially in the Cascades, which is the source of our water. The takeaway is that it is going to take numerous above average snow years to recover soil moisture to “normal” levels. This is important given that the vast majority of our water comes out of the ground.

It’s not just Columbia Basin Steelhead…

This press release from ODFW was issued today. What a bummer. I guess I’ll be extending my trout fishing for as long as possible.

North Umpqua River, tributaries, closed to all angling

August 9, 2021

ROSEBURG, Ore – Low numbers of summer steelhead returning to the North Umpqua River prompted state fishery managers to close the river and its tributaries to all angling from the mouth to the marker below Soda Springs Dam. The emergency closure is effective Aug. 10 through Nov. 30, 2021.

Initial counts of summer steelhead passing Winchester Dam are historically low at about 20 percent of average. These counts are determined from Winchester Dam video of migrating fish as well as from snorkel counts in Steamboat and Canton Creeks.  

“This information, along with the continued low flow and high water temperatures, led us to this decision. We plan to have this closure in place through December to provide as much protection as possibly for these wild summer steelhead,” said Evan Leonetti, assistant district fisheries biologist.

Greg Huchko, Umpqua district fish biologist said the decision was not easy to make and he hopes anglers will understand the need for the closure during these unprecedented decisions.

Early, but Bleak: Steelhead Returns

I spent time this morning looking at my calendar and thinking about fishing over the next 2-3 months. The end of August is when I would like to switch over to steelhead fishing on the Deschutes River. So, I took a look at the Fish Passage Center website. These are all the steelhead destined for all the rivers above Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River, not just the Deschutes. Bleak is about the best I can say, even more bleak than last year’s horrible returns. It’s early in the season, but the graphs say it all. I’m not ready to sell all my steelhead gear yet, but this sure is depressing. You need to ask yourself, is the pleasure you get from fishing worth contributing to the continued decline of these fish? Even with the best catch and release practices, some fish are killed.

All steelhead over Bonneville Dam. Data as of 8/7/21.
Read More »

Wonky: Water Allocation & Policy in the Deschutes Basin

Kate Fitzpatrick, the Executive Director of the Deschutes River Conservancy, was recently interviewed for a podcast where she discussed our current drought and actions that the DRC has taken to work with irrigators to help alleviate it. As I told Kate directly, I believe that she is overselling the DRC’s accomplishments (very few COID patrons have offered to share their water with NUID, the Crooked River is essentially dewatered below the NUID diversion, Whychus Creek is still too hot to support a healthy ecosystem, etc.), but Kate is trying and she does a good job of laying out a vision for change. WARNING: this is an informative but wonky, water policy nerd sort of talk.

Bend’s Integrated Water System Master Plan

I’m not a resident of Bend, but watched the online “open house” on their integrated water system master plan. If you are interested in Bend’s water system and planning it’s worth a look. I’ve followed this topic for years and learned a few things. For example, due to water conservation, water use today is less than it was in 2008 despite Bend’s enormous growth. We need incentives for irrigators with senior water rights to similarly conserve.

Water Sharing is Not Enough

Here’s an opinion piece I submitted to the Bend Bulletin today. Their 650 word limit made it a bit choppy and forced me to leave out a lot, but I think the overall message is clear enough. UPDATE (6/24/21): the Bulletin published my column yesterday and today they wrote an editorial in support of bring back the water bank.


The Bulletin recently covered the plight of some farmers with junior water rights getting only 40% of their traditional water deliveries while senior water rights holders continue to get their full allotment. 

Beginning in the late 1800s settlers were lured by developers to Central Oregon with sometimes dubious promises of cheap land, good soil and weather, and plentiful water. Dreams of fertile farms helped bring the wagon trains.  The first to arrive and organize were given the most senior water rights and every right after that was more junior.  North Unit Irrigation District around Madras has the most productive farmland but the most junior rights.  While they have been here the longest, fish and wildlife have the most junior water rights of all.

Read More »

Wonky: Deschutes Basin Water Collaborative

If you are a local water policy geek like I am, then it’s time to start hearing about the Deschutes Basin Water Collaborative, of which I am a member. The now complete Basin Study Work Group was a multi-year research project that dove deep into Basin water issues. The Collaborative is an even larger effort to implement some of the solutions that BSWG pointed to. DBWC has been around for a while now, but it’s moving slowly and still getting it’s footing. Some DBWC members presented to the Oregon House Committee On Water 2 weeks ago, and it’s worth watching (it’s the first 40 minutes). The speakers provided a reasonable overview of Basin water issues and collaborative efforts, but were careful to accentuate the positive. I fully acknowledge that some reaches of some rivers and streams are now in better shape than in the past, but the scale of the really fundamental work that needs to be done, at a much quicker pace than currently being discussed, was not addressed.

Local Stream Flow and Reservoir Levels

I’m sure you’re aware by now that most of Central Oregon is currently in “extreme” or “exceptional” drought. As an angler, I’m particularly concerned with flows in local waterways. Here’s a chart from the Oregon Water Resources Department that may be new to you. It shows current stream flows compared to the average. Flows in most of the state are more than 40% below average. Crook County is at 11%! According to the Bureau of Reclamation, reservoirs in Deschutes County are 42% full, which is 55% of the average. In other words, they are normally 76% full at this time of year. Reservoirs in Crook County are at 47% capacity, which is 54% of the average.

Conservation Angler Newsletter

The Conservation Angler’s recent newsletter has some really good stuff in it, I suggest you check it out. One slightly off-topic comment: for my day job I have spent a fair amount of time pouring over research on Bitcoin and Blockchain. There is a link in TCA’s newsletter to an article that does a reasonable job of discussing Bitcoin’s environmental impact at a high level, but leaves out something that continues to stun me. Given the enormous computing power required to run the Blockchain and mine new coins, the preponderance of server farms dedicated to this task are located in China due to their cheap, coal-based electricity. The result is that Bitcoin is responsible for about 60 million tons of CO2 emissions annually, an amount that is increasing. It is projected that Bitcoin will soon emit more CO2 than Japan, currently the 5th largest emitter in the world.

Precipitation Cumulative Departure From Average

By now, we should all be aware of our 20-year drought (I have many posts on this). While I have seen many graphical representations of it, this one in Kyle’s presentation was new to me. The blue bars show actual monthly precipitation over the past 20 years as measured at Wickiup Dam (not average as stated in the chart). The red line shows the cumulative departure from average. Over the past 20 years, Wickiup has seen almost 60 less inches than “average”. Kyle goes on to say in the presentation the cause is normal weather cycles, not global warming. Regardless of the reason, it has been dry over the past 20 years and we have had no changes in water policy or management in response.

Water in the Deschutes Basin: 2020 Hindsight – What Happened?

An empty Wikiup Reservoir.

For a couple of years I have been attending/viewing presentations put on by the Central Oregon Geoscience Society (COGS). I am not a geologist, but the talks have been educational and are occasionally about topics of particular interest to me like local hydrology and hydrogeomorphology. On April 27, Kyle Gorman, long time Central Oregon Region Manager for the Oregon Water Resources Department, gave a presentation titled, Water in the Deschutes Basin: 2020 Hindsight – What Happened? (Click on the title to see a replay.) Kyle discussed local hydrology and water use by irrigators. His presentation even had a couple of informative slides I had not seen before. (Check out the “CDA” graph at about minute 40.) It was a good overview of water issues many of us have been tracking for years, and I recommend viewing the replay of his talk, and perhaps joining COGS if you are interested in presentations like this.

I was surprised, however, by Kyle’s dismissal of global warming as a causal factor in current water shortages. Keep reading for comments on that.

Read More »

Middle Deschutes Killed Again

Credit: Central Oregon Irrigation District email.

Sadly, as I have written about many times, it is irrigation season and once again the Middle Deschutes below Bend is being killed.  According to the US Bureau of Reclamation gauge, the Middle is currently flowing at 64 CFS.  Prior to the installation of upstream dams and irrigation withdrawals, this section of river would be flowing around 1,200 CFS.  Not only are the flows lethally low, they are erratic (see the chart below).  The photo above is from a Central Oregon Irrigation District email last month that provided the irrigation startup schedule to their patrons.  I was struck by their use of this image, as I will explain below.

Read More »

Video: Snake River Dam Removal Presentation

Last week, Advocates for the West hosted a Zoom meeting featuring Idaho Conservation League’s Justin Hayes talking about US Congressman Simpson’s proposal to partially remove the four lower Snake River dams. I thought Justin did a great job diving into the proposal, answering questions, and I learned a lot. You can watch a replay of the meeting on Advocates’ YouTube channel. While informative, the discussion reinforced my concerns about the proposal’s automatic re-licensing of many other dams and a moratorium on related lawsuits in the Columbia Basin. Snake River salmon and steelhead desperately need these dams removed, but not at the potential cost of further endangering anadromous populations further downstream. This concern was acknowledged in the discussion but not adequately addressed in my opinion. Nevertheless, I encourage you to watch the video if you’d like to learn more about the proposal.

Conservation Groups Oppose Simpson’s Snake River Plan

A frequent topic of this blog is the dismal state of Columbia Basin anadromous fish, including those in the Deschutes Basin. Among the most desperate are populations in the Snake River where dramatic action must be quickly taken to ensure their survival. The science is clear that without removing the lower four Snake River dams, some Snake River salmon and steelhead populations will soon become locally extinct (or “extirpated”, to use the more accurate term). A proposal has recently emerged to remove the dams, but as I previously wrote, it has some unacceptable provisions. While many conservation groups are ignoring the truly egregious components and rallying support for the plan, two days ago a coalition of other groups came out in opposition. Here’s a brief summary of the issue.

Read More »

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 »

Brett Hogdson Retires

Brett backpacking steelhead fry into Alder Springs, 3/26/2019.

Anglers in Central Oregon will lose an important ally when Brett Hogdson, Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Deschutes District Fish Biologist, retires this Friday.  You may not know Brett, but his dedication to local fisheries has made your life as an angler better.  For many years, Brett managed fish in the Upper Deschutes Basin which includes all the waters that flow into the Metolius, Crooked, and Upper and Middle Deschutes Rivers and all lakes and reservoirs in the Basin.

Read More »

Airstrip Denied, At Least For Now

As I wrote last December, an application for a private airstrip between Bend and Redmond right next to the Deschutes River in an Exclusive Farm Use Zone has been submitted to Deschutes County. Today, notice was given that the application was denied but is subject to appeal. I believe this is the correct decision. Private airstrips are fine, but not if they are next to a river where people recreate, eagles nest, and mule deer and elk use for winter habitat.

Drought & Reservoir Update

February was a good month for precipitation in Central Oregon. The Upper Deschutes and Crooked River basins are now at 94% of average snowpack, up from 79% last month. Central Oregon is now mostly in “severe” drought, as opposed to the previous “extreme” drought category. Nonetheless, very dry soil is soaking up most of the water, aquifers have a long way to go to be replenished, and reservoir levels statewide remain below normal for this time of year. Let’s hope we get a lot more cold weather and snow!

Old Snake River Fishing Video

Steelhead Junction, with Ted Trueblood and C.W. “Doc” Jones, 1963

Snake River dam removal is currently getting a lot of attention. Here’s an old film featuring Ted Trueblood about steelhead fishing a “secret” place, which is pretty clearly Hells Canyon on the Snake. I was amused by the narration and line-in-mouth technique, but steelhead fishing used to be spectacular! Thanks to Aimee Moran, at Advocates for the West, for sharing. Advocates is an excellent organization, worthy of your support.

Brown Bullhead Catfish in Crane Prairie Reservoir

Brown Bullhead Catfish

Crane Prairie Reservoir was built in 1922 as an irrigation reservoir; the water is held back by the first of many dams on the Deschutes River.  Crane is a favorite for anglers in the Central Oregon Cascades targeting large, hard fighting “Cranebows”.  These native rainbow trout are either wild, spawning in the Upper Deschutes above the reservoir, or hatchery-raised from originally wild stock.  Only triploid (sterile) hatchery fish are now released into the reservoir, eliminating the potential for breeding with wild fish.

Read More »

US Rep. “Concept” for Breaching Lower Snake River Dams

Image result for ice harbor dam
Ice Harbor Dam

Over the weekend, US Representative Mike Simpson of Idaho released a “concept” for legislation to breach the 4 lower Snake River dams (Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite). Oregon Public Broadcasting has a good story on the proposal as well as related articles. Rep. Simpson understands that Snake River salmon and steelhead are on the path to extinction and he is to be commended for his efforts.

That being said, there is an element in the concept that will be a non-starter for most conservation / environmental groups: it suspends essentially all dam-related lawsuits in the entire Columbia Basin, not only the Snake River, for 35 years. Suspending legal challenges for such a long period of time over such an enormous area will simply be unacceptable for many.

“Salmon at the Crossroads, Time is Running Out”

That’s the title of the executive summary of a report released last month by the State of Washington. 30 years ago the first salmon in Washington was listed as endangered, many more have been added since then. Today, 14 species of salmon and steelhead are considered at risk of extinction (including those in the Snake River), and others are on the path. This is an excellent, brief, and easy to read report loaded with informative graphics. I encourage you to take a look. Of course, it begs the question, are things better in Oregon? Thanks to The Conversation Angler for alerting me to this report.

Endangered Species: Science, Economics, & Values

The Bend Bulletin has recently published two columns, one from an industry lobbyist and one from two local industry CEOs, arguing in favor of keeping the four lower Snake River dams.  Statements in these columns are worthy of scrutiny and debate.  One thing is certain, however, according to the best available science, many Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead are on the path to extinction in the not too distant future.

Read More »

Drought Update

Winter is approximately 1/3 over, so there’s a lot of time for things to change, but I thought I’d comment on where things stand so far. The short answer is, not good. Central Oregon remains in moderate to extreme drought conditions, we need significantly more than normal snow, probably for multiple years, to get out of it, and so far we are below normal. If you want to dig in more, keep reading. There are many interesting infographics if you like this sort of thing.

Read More »

Anadromous Bull Trout?

I was recently forwarded a link to an article published in the North American Journal of Fisheries Management with the wordy title, Rapid Recolonization and Life History Responses of Bull Trout Following Dam Removal in Washington’s Elwha River. We’ve all heard about how quickly various anadromous salmonids moved upriver after the removal of the Elwha Dam, this article said bull trout did likewise. Upon reflection, that’s not too surprising. What I had never heard before is that this is a population of anadromous bull trout who migrate in and out the the ocean and they are not unique in that regard. I guess I should have not been surprised by that, but I was. Learn something new all the time…

“Greenwashing” Hydropower

Today the Bend Bulletin ran an opinion piece titled “Removal of unproductive dams best for salmon” from an admitted lobbyist for the hydro power industry. While parts of the article were certainly true, it was a blatant attempt to “greenwash*” hydro power. Yes, ocean conditions are an important factor in anadromous fish declines, but so are dams. Yes, unproductive dams should be removed, but to state that the lower Snake River dams are an essential source of clean energy and not a significant contributor to the decline of Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead is simply a fabrication.

Read More »

A Private Airstrip Next to the Deschutes?

A new 2,000 foot long airstrip adjacent to the Deschutes River between Bend and Redmond is being proposed. The application is for a private airstrip, but commercial use is allowed.  Your favorite mapping program will show that 20925 Harper Road is nearly adjacent to the Maston trail system and the flight path will go over other houses.  I’m all for property rights, but this is something else.  Parts of Maston are seasonally closed to protect nesting eagles.  Nearby Cline Buttes Recreation Area is winter range for deer and elk.  Hikers, equestrians, and cyclists use these areas year round.  It’s not the best fishing, but I’ve hiked down to the river there.  Why do the desires of a single property owner supersede the needs of wildlife and the public’s tranquil use of this area?

Read More »

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 »

Tire Dust Killing Salmon

A report published yesterday in the journal Science identifies a toxic chemical in tires as a significant cause of death for salmon. A NY Times article provides some background on how this was discovered. Ever wonder what happens to all the ground down toxic bits of tire that comes off our cars? It is dispersed into the environment where we breath, eat, and drink it. We now know it also kills fish. Just another element in the chemical stew in which we live.

Bull Trout Poacher Sentenced to Five Years Probation

The Bend Bulletin has a short story about a man living in Culver who repeatedly poached bull trout, and bragged about it on social media, before being convicted of the crime. I am always struck when I read stories about poaching, but even more so when it’s an endangered species. I like to catch and eat fish, but this is something else altogether. What was going through the poacher’s mind?

Do Irrigators Pay for their Water?

I recently had an extended email exchange with someone who objected to my statements that irrigators do not pay for their water, they pay for the delivery of the water. This may be a subtle distinction, but in my mind it is important. It’s analogous to paying for the delivery of a bale of hay, but not the hay itself. I have had several irrigators insist that they do pay for their water, but this is simply not true. So, here’s a more detailed explanation and why I think this is important.

Read More »

Winchester Dam Lawsuit

It’s not in Central Oregon, but the North Umpqua River is a favorite destination of mine.  If the pass is clear it can even be a long day trip. Chasing winter steelhead in the fly water section is some of the toughest fishing I have ever done but it can be rewarding, and the river is beautiful.  Of course, as is the case all over the state, steelhead returns continue to decline on the North Umpqua.  On this river, however, those declines are partially due to the abysmal condition of the 130-year old, privately owned Winchester Dam.  A new lawsuit asking the owners to remove the dam or undertake major repairs is another example of the excellent work being done by WaterWatch of Oregon. Learn more about the dam here.

WaterWatch 2020 Auction

If you want water in rivers and streams in Oregon, then WaterWatch of Oregon deserves your support. Without question, no one has been more effective in preserving and increasing flows, as well as preventing and removing dams, than WaterWatch. I have worked with them for over a decade on a variety of issues in Central Oregon (where they have been very effective) and ask for your support of this worthy group. There will be an online auction October 19th – 25th and an hour long live auction October 24th from 5:00 – 6:00 pm. Short and sweet and certainly deserving of your consideration. Need more convincing? Visit their web site, but also be aware of something that is not listed: their lawsuit is why the Upper Deschutes now has flows of 100 CFS in the winter. That alone is worth at least a small donation.

Willamette Falls Fish Ladder Update

https://www.dfw.state.or.us/news/images/2020/091820_willamette_falls_fishway_4_odfw.jpg

I get flack from people I respect for being on ODFW’s Restoration & Enhancement Board. Every fishing license includes a small fee that funds projects selected by the R&E board. Some of those are hatchery projects, hence the criticism. R&E also supports projects like habitat restoration, basic science, and fish passage. As I wrote last year, the Willamette Falls fish ladder is in danger of collapse, which would stop all upstream migration of anadromous fish. R&E provided a grant to repair the ladder, which after much delay, is underway.

Grab Bag

Here are a few things that might be of interest. I have not posted about steelhead returns this season, but as you can see above, total returns (hatchery + wild) to the Columbia River this year are above last year’s dismal numbers. This is clearly welcome news. Note that they remain well under the 10-year average and that average number has been consistently going down for some time. ODFW recently put out this press release on the status of hatcheries that were impacted by the recent and ongoing wildfires. It includes an interesting video, especially if you have never seen how fish are spawned in a hatchery. Finally, here’s a post I made a year ago on the positive impact wildfires can have on wild fish.

“The Big Muddy”

This morning I received an email titled “The big muddy” with the photo above and this text: “This is a photo of the Deschutes about 5 miles south of Sunriver at about 4:00 pm, September 15, 2020. I’m guessing that the emptying of Wickiup Reservoir has many years worth of sediments, accumulating at the bottom of the reservoir, now washing down stream.” Seems like a reasonable guess to me.

ODFW Hatchery Fires

I know that with all the fire devastation around us, ODFW hatcheries are low on the list of concerns, but this is a water and fish blog so I’m reporting that Marion Forks, Minto, Leaburg, McKenzie, Rock Creek and Klamath hatcheries have all been evacuated. Many fish at these hatcheries will be lost along with some buildings, although the extent of the damage is unknown at this time. Regardless of your opinion on hatcheries, this is going to be another huge hit to a dramatically underfunded ODFW budget which will impact all anglers. Still unconvinced that planet heating is upon us?

Another Water Waste Example

This appeared on Nextdoor this morning. No mention of wanting to grow anything, only a statement that they are going to use water just so they don’t lose their water right. This happens all the time. Laws and policies need to be changed to protect the Deschutes River.

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 »

Online Seminar with Dave Hughes!

Oregon native Dave Hughes is a fly fishing legend. He’s written over 25 books on entomology, fly tying, and fishing techniques. He’s also a noted conservationist. Dave is one of the few real experts in fly fishing. Most simply have a lot of experience and recycle knowledge gleaned from others. I put myself in that later category. I catch a lot of fish, and big fish, but it’s all due to learning from people like Dave and spending an inordinate amount of time on the water. So, I’m really looking forward to this online presentation on Wednesday, Aug. 19th, at 6 pm. Be sure to check out his YouTube fly tying videos as well. I’m not a tyer, but learn a lot about fly selection from watching tying videos. If someone has a well-kept copy of his book on the Deschutes for sale, please let me know.

“The fallacy of in-conduit hydropower”

Tod Heisler has a great column in today’s Bend Bulletin titled, “The fallacy of in-conduit hydropower”. It’s worth reading, but the gist is that hydro power plants installed into piped canals encourages the continued overuse of water, even when it is not needed, in order to keep the power plant running. Of course, this maintains the irrigator’s legacy of keeping water levels in local rivers and streams below what is needed for a healthy ecosystem.

The Creative Power of Water

I’m looking forward to this free online presentation on July 29th, 6:30 to 7:30 PM. More info here.

“Join bestselling novelist and former Oregon fly-fishing guide John Larison for an interactive lecture on the creative power of water. John will guide you through a brief history of water’s effect on human creativity, from the salty origins of art on the African coast to the enduring role of water in contemporary literature, in his effort to explore the question: “Why do people of all cultural backgrounds feel inspired by water?” John’s talk will welcome participation. If you’re so inclined, be ready to share an example of art you love (sculpture, painting, a poem, etc.) that was inspired by water.”

Deschutes Groundwater Mitigation 101 and Thornburgh

Surface water (rivers & streams) in the Deschutes Basin has been fully allocated since the early 1900s, primarily to irrigators.  To accommodate for continued growth, groundwater pumping became the primary source of new water supplies.  In the 1990s studies showed that this pumping was impacting surface water.  In the Deschutes Basin, snowmelt in the Cascades seeps through porous volcanic rock, slowly replenishing the aquifer.  As the aquifer overfills it releases the water via springs, which create our local lakes and rivers.  Variability in snowpack and pumping impacts the aquifer and therefore stream flow.

Read More »

Why All the Algae Blooms?

Yesterday, Karen and I took our canoe out to Little Cultus Lake along the Cascade Lakes Highway for a late afternoon, escape-the-heat excursion.  Given the drought and heat wave I was not too surprised to see algae starting to form, but it was disappointing.  As anyone who has lived in Central Oregon for any amount of time knows, algae blooms are occurring more frequently.  This excursion reminded me that in April I was given this report on algae in Odell Lake and am way overdue for a post about it.

Read More »