It’s time for bull trout on Lake Billy Chinook

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

Water is back in the opinion pages

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

2023 steelhead forecast: another bad year

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

Exclusive farm use, water waste, and taxes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NUID piping: a more complete discussion

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

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Water outlook

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

My kind of New Year’s Eve party!

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

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High lakes tui chub removal

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

Bull redfish in Louisiana

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

2022 Columbia River steelhead returns

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

More is not always better

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

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

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

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Annual fish rescue: another viewpoint

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

“A fifty year perspective on wild steelhead”

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

NOAA: the Snake River dams must be removed

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

Presentations on YouTube

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

Golden ticket, anyone?

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

Middle Fork Willamette

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

John Day River to close September 15

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

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

Here’s the full press release.

Deschutes steelhead return update

Graph as of September 6, 2022.

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

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

Clueless two times in a row

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

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

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Bulletin articles on water

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

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Thinking of steelheading on the Deschutes?

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

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

20th annual celebration of Oregon rivers

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

Proposed NUID piping project: no public benefit

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

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Gary Lewis, the Bulletin, and standards of journalism

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

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The Snake River dams must be removed

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

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

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Critical time to take action for Snake River anadromous fish

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

Lower Deschutes opening to steelhead fishing Aug 15, but…

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

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

Help needed backpacking fish into high lakes

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

Mental health days

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

Governor candidates views on water

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

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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.

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COID Pilot Butte Canal breach

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

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

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

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ODFW webinar on steelhead in the Columbia Basin

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

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Tod Heisler in the Bulletin

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

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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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:

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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.

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“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?

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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 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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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