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.
I get flack from people I respect for being on ODFW’s Restoration & Enhancement Board. Every fishing license includes a small fee that funds projects selected by the R&E board. Some of those are hatchery projects, hence the criticism. R&E also supports projects like habitat restoration, basic science, and fish passage. As I wrote last year, the Willamette Falls fish ladder is in danger of collapse, which would stop all upstream migration of anadromous fish. R&E provided a grant to repair the ladder, which after much delay, is underway.
“Polite conservationists leave no mark save for scars on the Earth that could have been prevented had they stood their ground.” – David Brower
Here are a few things that might be of interest. I have not posted about steelhead returns this season, but as you can see above, total returns (hatchery + wild) to the Columbia River this year are above last year’s dismal numbers. This is clearly welcome news. Note that they remain well under the 10-year average and that average number has been consistently going down for some time. ODFW recently put out this press release on the status of hatcheries that were impacted by the recent and ongoing wildfires. It includes an interesting video, especially if you have never seen how fish are spawned in a hatchery. Finally, here’s a post I made a year ago on the positive impact wildfires can have on wild fish.
This morning the Bulletin covered the sediment flows into the Deschutes from Wickiup Reservoir. It’s worth a quick read.
This morning I received an email titled “The big muddy” with the photo above and this text: “This is a photo of the Deschutes about 5 miles south of Sunriver at about 4:00 pm, September 15, 2020. I’m guessing that the emptying of Wickiup Reservoir has many years worth of sediments, accumulating at the bottom of the reservoir, now washing down stream.” Seems like a reasonable guess to me.
As expected, Wickiup Reservoir has been emptied, all that currently remains is the Deschutes River in it’s historical river bed. The Bend Bulletin had a good story about it in today’s paper. Clearly, this is terrible news for farmers who rely on this water. That being said, look at the charts below for some perspective.Read More »
I know that with all the fire devastation around us, ODFW hatcheries are low on the list of concerns, but this is a water and fish blog so I’m reporting that Marion Forks, Minto, Leaburg, McKenzie, Rock Creek and Klamath hatcheries have all been evacuated. Many fish at these hatcheries will be lost along with some buildings, although the extent of the damage is unknown at this time. Regardless of your opinion on hatcheries, this is going to be another huge hit to a dramatically underfunded ODFW budget which will impact all anglers. Still unconvinced that planet heating is upon us?
This appeared on Nextdoor this morning. No mention of wanting to grow anything, only a statement that they are going to use water just so they don’t lose their water right. This happens all the time. Laws and policies need to be changed to protect the Deschutes River.
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 »
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.
I’m looking forward to this webinar tonight at 6 PM on dam removal. The author of this book will speak along with the leader of the successful effort to remove dams on the Rogue River here in Oregon. It should be interesting.
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.
Two recent stories caught my eye. This article in The Guardian states that 23% of all water in the US is used to grow feed for cows and is a primary driver of water shortages. Hay is the primary crop in Deschutes and Crook counties. This NY Times article examines a problem we are all too familiar with: dwindling snowpack and the threat of a mega drought cycle. Both articles could have been written about Central Oregon.
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 »
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 »
NOAA just released this interesting graphic. Click here to learn more.
Here’s the latest snow pack info for Oregon. Pretty grim. Last weekend I did a driving tour of the Cascade Lakes and saw just how low the lakes are for spring. Here’s a photo of the Deschutes arm of Wickiup from two days ago. It’s not just a river yet, but it will be by the end of the summer.Read More »
For years, ODFW has been working on chub control in a number of local lakes, mostly via netting and removal. The pandemic has created a budget issue along with a health issue and there will be no netting this year on East or Paulina Lakes. Control efforts have been successful and the chubs are less abundant than in the past, so this should not have too much impact on this summer’s fishing.
Another beautiful day on the river which made me think of the quote below. (BTW, I was following the rules: little travel, no parking in a parking lot or at a trailhead, there was no trail, and I only saw a couple of other adventurers all day. It is still possible to do this in Central Oregon.)
“I fish because I love to. Because I love the environs where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful, and hate the environs where crowds of people are fond, which are invariably ugly. Because of all the television commercials, cocktail parties and assorted social posturing I thus escape. Because in a world where most men seem to spend their lives doing what they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of small rebellion. Because trout do not lie or cheat and cannot be bought or bribed, or impressed by power, but respond only to quietude and humility, and endless patience. Because I suspect that men are going along this way for the last time and I for one don’t want to waste the trip. Because mercifully there are no telephones on trout waters. Because only in the woods can I find solitude without loneliness. Because bourbon out of an old tin cup always tastes better out there. Because maybe one day I will catch a mermaid. And finally, not because I regard fishing as being so terribly important, but because I suspect that so many of the other concerns of men are equally unimportant and not nearly so much fun.”
– Former Michigan Supreme Court Justice John Voelker
The Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife is currently working on their budget for the 2021-2023 biennium and taking public comment until May 1. You can learn more here. ODFW is the only state agency that solicits direct public feedback on their budget. In the past they have done this through their External Budget Advisory Committee (I am a member) as well as at town hall meetings throughout the state. Given the current pandemic, they are soliciting feedback electronically. There’s lot of information on their website, below are my observations and comments from the perspective of an angler in Central Oregon. I encourage you to familiarize yourself with the materials and submit your own comments.Read More »
If you are a trout angler, you have likely seen the impact cows have on rivers and streams by damaging banks, trampling riparian areas, and otherwise degrading habitat. You might not be aware that they are also the primary reason for low river flows in the West. “Water scarcity and fish imperilment driven by beef production“, published in Nature last month, describes exactly what we are seeing in the upper and middle Deschutes River. (Thanks to George Wuerthner for sending me this article.)Read More »
Need something other than COVID-19 news? Today the Bulletin ran a story that gave a brief overview of some of the issues facing the upper Deschutes River (above Bend). I am thankful that the new ownership of the paper is providing more balanced coverage of local environmental stories.
David Moskowitz, Executive Director of The Conservation Anger, emailed me with a few comments on my post about the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife’s plans for creating cold water refugia for steelhead in the Columbia River. I have been thinking about this more as well, so here are some things to consider. I really hope you take the time to look at ODFW’s web page on this topic and submit your comments via email.Read More »
Yesterday ODFW held an online public meeting to discuss potential plans for creating cold water refugia for steelhead in the Columbia River. From my perspective, this is a simple decision. With a heating planet and plunging steelhead populations in the Columbia Basin, of course there should be cold water areas set aside where fishing is restricted. If anything, it seems we should err on the side of making the refugia areas larger and closures longer. This is not a universally held opinion, however.Read More »
February was one of the driest months on record for Oregon and the effects can really be seen in our rivers. Here is a graph from the USGS site showing current levels. I have regularly looked at this site for many years and never seen so much red. Even the Deschutes is below the 10th percentile of normal flows! Our local snowpack is now 82% of normal and Central Oregon is currently classified as being in a moderate drought. None of this is good news for fish.
Today I returned from a fishing trip to Cuba put together by Flywater Travel. This trip did not live up to my hopes but the Zapata peninsula certainly has the potential to be a premier fly fishing destination. It is a huge area of flats, channels, mangrove forests, and small islands. There are abundant bonefish, baby tarpon, some permit, and many other species including barracuda, jacks, snapper, snook, etc. In the right conditions, at the right time of year, I am certain the fishing could be excellent. The accommodations, food, and staff were pleasant and professional.
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The 2019-2020 Deschutes summer steelhead season is not over, but we are close enough to draw conclusions. They continue to be dismal. Steelhead start entering the Deschutes River on their one-way journey to spawn in late spring and early summer. These “summer” steelhead may make it to their spawning grounds in a tributary far upriver as early as September or as late as April. They have an amazing life story. Read More »
Central Oregon Irrigation District is asking for another round of taxpayer funding to pipe a small section of their 400+ miles of canals. This time the request is for $42M to pipe 7.9 miles of canal. Yesterday Central Oregon Land Watch posted their analysis of this proposal. Per COLW, $42M equates to “$568,000 per irrigator”. I wish I got this sort of taxpayer subsidy. The Basin Study Work Group clearly showed ways to save the same amount of water for 25% of the cost of main canal piping. WaterWatch has pointed out that there are no guarantees in this latest piping proposal that any conserved water be permanently returned to the upper Deschutes. And, as always, there is no mention of increasing flows in the middle Deschutes during irrigation season. The song remains the same…
I am a member of the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Restoration & Enhancement Board. A small portion of every commercial and recreational fishing license is set aside to spend on projects approved by the R&E board. This volunteer position has been a wonderful experience and a great way to help direct projects in ways I believe will benefit anglers all over the state. Our meeting last week was in Salem where we had the opportunity to speak with top leadership and get an overview of ODFW’s strategic plan. I know that ODFW has a mixed reputation but I believe they are doing a good job given available resources, their broad mandate, and mixed constituencies. I was also encouraged by the vision they laid out for the future.Read More »
…from Los Barriles, Baja California Sur, Mexico. My first fish of the new decade. The dorado is tonight’s dinner, the skipjack was released to live another day. I’d rather be steelhead fishing but this is not a bad replacement. Pretty fun on a 10wt rod.
The Association of NW Steelheaders has an article in their December newsletter stating that Willamette River steelhead have significantly increased in numbers since ODFW “removed” (killed) 33 California sea lions that were living in and near the Willamette Falls fish ladder. The sea lions were eating about 25% of the total adult steelhead run, now down to an estimated 9%. While steelhead populations continue to be under serious pressure, California sea lion populations are robust, perhaps at all time highs.
Here’s an editorial from 1959, written by the editor of The Bulletin, discussing why a new irrigation dam should not be built on the upper Deschutes at Benham Falls. The arguments about water for agriculture versus other uses have not changed in 60 years. Mr. Chandler states that ag wastes too much water and is not as valuable as other economic uses. Same as it ever was.
I am a member of the ODFW Restoration & Enhancement Board. Most anglers don’t know this, but a small portion of every license is set aside to be spent by the R&E board on projects that benefit anglers. We help fund docks, ramps, habitat restoration projects, dam removal, invasive species control, etc. This short video from Central Oregon Daily features yours truly.
I like to spend as much time as possible in the Klamath Basin, it has incredible fishing and relatively low pressure. Above is a photo of the Wood River I took yesterday during a hike in the Wood River Wetlands, it was beautiful as always. Below is a photo of my friend Matt with a 26 inch trout he caught when we were fishing there last August.
I spent yesterday evening at the Klamath Lake Land Trust’s annual dinner and fund raiser. The KLLT is a small, woefully underfunded group working to preserve places on the Sycan and Sprague rivers where steelhead and salmon may spawn once the impassable dams on the Klamath are removed in 2022. I was glad to see a number of Klamath residents open their wallets for this worthy goal.
The spectacular fishing in this part of the state may soon be even better.
The September issue of The Osprey is out. I’ve written about this publication in the past. It is an excellent, if technical, source of articles on the status of steelhead and salmon in the Pacific NW. This issue is the usual mix of mostly bad but some good news, including the dramatic improvements in the Rogue River after removal of a number of dams (thank you WaterWatch). I encourage you to take a look and donate to this cash-strapped publication.
The four dams on the Snake River are not in Central Oregon, but they have an enormous impact on Columbia River Basin (which incudes the Deschutes Basin) steelhead and salmon. These iconic populations are currently on the path to extinction. Recently, two tribes joined the chorus of voices calling for the removal of the dams. Last week 55 scientists released a letter that did likewise. Also last week, E&E News published another article detailing how these dams no longer make economic sense – hydro power is no longer cheap when compared to alternatives – and it would actually be cheaper to remove them than continue their operation. I would love to see the same analysis of the PGE/CTWS dams on the Deschutes River.
I have been a frequent critic of the US Fish & Wildlife Service over the past few years, and will continue to be if the HCP is not improved, but they did something good this past week. As I posted here, the Bureau of Reclamation had planned to stop all flows out of Crane Prairie Reservoir in the upper Deschutes on October 30, draining it dry down to Wickiup Reservoir. USFWS got them to keep a flow of 20 cfs to provide some minimal protection for endangered species. This will also protect fish like the one in the photo above that was caught in that reach. Of course, this begs the question, why did the BoR plan to drain it dry in the first place?
The Bureau of Reclamation plans to stop all water flowing out of Crane Prairie Reservoir for up to 8 hours later this month, tentatively on October 30th, de-watering the Deschutes River for about 1.5 miles down to Wickiup Reservoir. This is to perform an inspection of the dam. It will also kill a section of the river that is important for spawning and holds some nice fish. See the photo above of my friend Jake with a nice brown trout from this stretch.Read More »
I have written about the “Blob” in the past (most recently, here and here). It is the much higher ocean temperatures in the North Pacific which have disrupted food chains and imperiled many historic fish runs. An argument can be made that ocean heating is currently the most worrisome of all the conditions leading to the drastic declines in salmon and steelhead populations in the Pacific Northwest. Here is the first part of a three-part article from NOAA discussing the Blob. Below is a graphic showing the re-emergence of the Blob this year. It could be worse than the original one, it already has more area of the most extreme warming, and is still forming.
Today the Bend Bulletin printed a response to my recent letter from Kurt Miller, the Executive Director of Northwest RiverPartners, a group that lobbies for hydroelectric facilities on the Columbia River. Predictably, Mr. Miller takes issue with my inclusion of hydro power dams in the list of reasons that anadromous fish populations are collapsing in the Columbia River Basin.Read More »
Yesterday, the Bend Bulletin printed a guest column I wrote on the grim outlook for steelhead and salmon in the Columbia Basin (including the Deschutes River). Above is a graphic that illustrates the problem. Here’s a NY Times article on the same topic. Whether some of these fish have 10 years left as I have read in some places, or 20 as reported in the NY Times, it is not a hopeful picture.
George Wuerthner is one of the most interesting ecologists and activists I have met, and certainly the most prolific writer. He has written dozens of books and many more articles on wildfire, predators, and the environmental impact of ranching, along with water and fishery issues. His views are often controversial, especially regarding fire, but compelling when carefully considered. In short, George believes that forest thinning does not help catastrophic wildfire control. He argues we should focus on creating fire resistant buildings, establishing defensible borders, and leaving forests alone. The explanation for this is beyond the scope of this post, but here’s a video he sent me on the beneficial nature of fire in stream and river systems. It’s worth a quick view.
Oregon Public Broadcasting reported yesterday that another warm water “blob” is forming off the Pacific Coast. This blob is likely to be as large as the last one which collapsed much of the food web that many cold water marine species rely on. “Scientists expect the heat wave to hurt salmon populations and the fisheries that depend on them.” Of course, chinook salmon and steelhead have not recovered from the last blob and returns this year in the Columbia basin (including the Deschutes) are at perilously low levels.
While the operation of the hydro power dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers is not directly a Central Oregon issue, it certainly impacts us as anglers. Below is a good overview of something I’m sure you have heard about before, upper Columbia basin salmon (and steelhead) are on the path to extinction. Lesser known is that the Bonneville Power Administration is going broke.Read More »
Irrigation season in Central Oregon continues into mid October, but the picture is already an interesting one. As this graph makes obvious, many local “lakes” are actually irrigation reservoirs and local rivers are used as irrigation canals. What is also obvious is the difference between water levels in Wickiup and other reservoirs.Read More »
I am a member of the ODFW Restoration & Enhancement Board. You may not be aware of this, but a portion of every fishing license is directed to the R&E board where we decide how to spend it. About half the funds are earmarked for the repair of ODFW fish hatcheries and the rest toward improving fishing opportunities. This could be anything from boat ramps and docks, to dam removal, to habitat projects, to invasive species removal, some basic science, etc. It’s a very interesting board to sit on with some great tours of projects all over the state. Our next meeting is in Bend on September 6th with a tour on September 5th. Both are open to the public.
The ODFW Commission oversees the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife and sets policies and regulations. A majority of the Commission is new this year and for the first time in decades a Central Oregon resident is a member. I had the pleasure to spend an hour with Mark Labhart yesterday and found him to be quite informed about statewide fishing. Mark has an impressive background in public service, recently relocated from Tillamook to Sisters, and is eager to dive in to learn local issues. I’m looking forward to working with and learning from him.
David Moskowitz of The Conservation Angler sent me this report on current run counts. It’s only two pages and worth reading. As of August 15, the numbers are even worse than the very low pre-season forecast. Only 40,080 total steelhead (wild and hatchery) passed through Bonneville Dam from July 1 through August 15. That’s 27.1% of the past 10 year average. It’s important to note that the 10 year average is low to begin with as the past 10 years have seen declining runs. It’s only 19.4% of the best ten year average since counts started. As I wrote here, we anglers have to question targeting these fish at all given the path to extinction they could be on.
David Moskowitz, the Executive Director of The Conservation Angler, is a frequent but welcome critic of my work. Today we spoke about my post yesterday stating that fishing for steelhead is now a moral issue. He was largely in agreement and wanted me to be aware that the closure was in response to public testimony he made at the August 2nd ODFW Commission meeting. You can see his testimony here (go to 1:40 in the video). It does seem that this was not an issue being considered prior to Dave’s testimony. It’s an interesting interaction and I am happy to give credit where it is due. Dave agreed that summer steelhead on the Rogue seem to be doing fine but wanted to point out that summer steelhead on the Umpqua are not. He is absolutely correct on that point. I only fish the winter run which is doing fine but was not clear about that in my prior post.
ODFW has closed the bottom 3/4 mile of the Deschutes River to all fishing starting today through September 15. “The closure is to protect wild summer steelhead and follows several other regulatory steps ODFW and WDFW have taken to protect wild steelhead this year. Returns of ESA-listed wild Snake River steelhead this year are forecasted to be similar to the extremely poor return of 2017, and there are ongoing concerns about the potential effects of angling on wild steelhead that may gather in cooler water near tributary mouths like the Deschutes.”Read More »
Rod French, ODFW’s Mid-Columbia District Fish Biologist, presented at last week’s Fisheries Workshop. This annual presentation by ODFW has been largely unchanged for years, which is excellent news. Trout have been surveyed in the lower Deschutes since the 1970s and there have been no observed negative impacts on them from the operation of the Selective Water Withdrawal tower in Lake Billy Chinook. If anything, trout are larger and more abundant now, which is to be expected given the more natural temperature profile of the river. Below are a lot more details, or take a look at Rod’s presentation.Read More »
That’s the title of an article that came out earlier this month. It’s well written and worth a read. It mirrors some of the themes I have been visiting for some time now. Less snow pack combined with heating will lead to water insecurity in Oregon for which we are not ready or planning. At the same time, demand is growing along with our population. We continue to waste water and don’t even really know who is using it or how much of it. Agriculture remains the primary culprit in this, most users have no conservation plans and do not report usage while using over 85% of all water. To add insult to injury, agricultural interests routinely challenge any attempt to restore flows in rivers. At least we could charge them for use of our water (all water is owned by the public). That would solve the inefficiency problem very quickly.
Last night I attended the Bend premier of Artifishal, “a film about people, rivers, and the fight for the future of wild fish and the environment that supports them. It explores wild salmon’s slide toward extinction, threats posed by fish hatcheries and fish farms, and our continued loss of faith in nature”. Produced by Patagonia and heavily promoted in the Pacific NW by the Native Fish Society, I found the film to be visually and emotionally powerful but lacking in nuance. Clearly, hatcheries are a problem for wild fish, but they are only part of a complex web of issues.Read More »
For years I have argued that Central Oregon water rights currently favor less productive lands, leave the most economically viable farmlands at risk, and should be redistributed in a way that offers the most societal value. There are ways to do this that would not leave current rights holders “high and dry”. I have also argued that the beneficial use standard must be clearly defined, simply spreading water on the ground so that it is green should not qualify. So, I was pleasantly surprised to see the guest column in the Bend Bulletin this morning from a farmer in Madras making essentially the same arguments.Read More »
Water in Central Oregon is a critical issue for people, fish and wildlife, our recreation and tourism industry, farming, etc. To their credit, the Bend Bulletin frequently publishes opinion pieces on this topic from a variety of individuals, including myself. My submissions are thoroughly fact checked and I often have to provide supporting materials for statements I make. I wish the same journalistic principles had been applied to an opinion piece titled “Collaboration on water is harder than picking a fight”, published on June 7th.Read More »
As I wrote about last November, Ochoco Irrigation District is in the preliminary stages of applying for a FERC license to add a hydroelectric plant to Bowman Dam. Here is OID’s “Pre-Application Document“. The first of multiple comment periods ends on Monday. There is a significant amount of design work left to be done, studies that need to be undertaken, and many unanswered questions about how this project will impact the Crooked River below Prineville Reservoir. A fair amount of negotiation will need to take place between OID and various agencies before final approval is granted. Nevertheless, the latest Central Oregon Flyfisher newsletter states that the board voted to send a letter of support for the project which will include language that throws away the most important bargaining chip for the conservation community.Read More »
That’s the title of a short article in The Atlantic magazine. It’s a short read. Among other things, chemicals are disrupting salmon migrations. Of course, this impacts humans as well. Here’s an excerpt:
Waterways can contain traces of many drugs—among them antifungals, antimicrobials, and antibacterials, as well as ones for pain, fertility, mood, sleeplessness, and neurodegenerative diseases. If current trends persist, scientists estimate, the volume of pharmaceuticals diffusing into fresh water could increase by two-thirds by 2050.
I recently went on one of my favorite cross county mountain bike rides and dropped down to see how the Tumalo Irrigation District Feed Canal piping is progressing. Here is a photo of a section that has been finished. The old canal is now lined with a pipe buried under all that dirt.
That is the title of a guest column that appeared today in the Bend Bulletin. It was written by Tod Heisler who lead the Deschutes River Conservancy for 15 years where he attempted to cooperatively work with irrigators to more efficiently use water and return savings to local rivers and streams. While Tod and the DRC had some minor success in this endeavor it has not yielded the needed results. The upper and middle Deschutes continue to be significantly damaged by irrigation practices that have largely remained the same for a hundred years. Tod has now joined Central Oregon Land Watch in a new attempt to initiate change from outside the system. I agree with the viewpoint in this column and welcome him to the community agitating for water reform in the Deschutes Basin.Read More »
Immediately after making my River & Drought Outlook post on Monday I contacted the Bend Bulletin and told them that “there has to be a story in there for you”. Today they did publish a story about the rapidly diminishing snowpack but, not surprisingly, completely omitted any mention of impacts on fish & wildlife or water recreation. The story was all about what it means for local business, irrigation districts, and fires. It’s no wonder that the paper is bankrupt (again), they just don’t seem to understand the mindset of the rapidly changing local population. We have have a lifestyle economy, people want to recreate outdoors, and healthy rivers and lakes are a key element of that.
Yesterday ODFW released their projections for 2019 summer salmon and steelhead returns for the Columbia River basin. The outlook is for another bleak year. “Due to the low projected returns for upriver summer steelhead, additional protective regulations are needed this fall including a one steelhead daily bag limit and area-specific steelhead retention closures. The rolling 1-2 month closures start in August and progress upriver following the steelhead return to reduce take of both hatchery and wild fish. These closures affect the mainstem Columbia and the lower reaches of specific tributaries.” This includes the Deschutes below Moody where only one hatchery steelhead may be kept all year (June 16 – December 31) but none from August 1 to September 31.
Headwaters of the Deschutes at Little Lava Lake on 5/12/19. A dry river.
Without a doubt, current water conditions are dramatically improved from the beginning of the year. All is not well, however, and work to conserve water and improve river flows should remain at the forefront of every angler’s agenda if we hope to continue to enjoy our sport at a high level. As of yesterday, Little Lava Lake is very low, is not spilling into the upper Deschutes, and there is essentially no snow to be seen in that area.Read More »
Last month a team of scientists from the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife released a report on redband trout genetics in the Deschutes River below Wickiup Reservoir down to Steelhead Falls. As you would expect, they found pockets of fairly distinct genetics in various reaches bordered by falls and dams, near the few still viable spawning beds, and in tributaries like the Little Deschutes. They also found evidence of breeding between wild populations and hatchery fish. I called Erik Moberly, Assistant Deschutes District Fish Biologist, for some more background information and had an interesting conversation.Read More »
Today the Bend Bulletin published an opinion piece I wrote after they previously rejected a more pointed version. I was not surprised by the rejection, as that version pointed out that the success of irrigation districts as a special interest group comes from extensive contributions to politicians, which is not the sort of thing that The Bulletin wants to touch. Thankfully, they did publish my softened column as well as this excellent letter yesterday from George Wuerthner which also addresses local water issues.
The official Deschutes steelhead season is from April 1 to March 31, so the 2018/2019 season is now over. Today, PGE released their March monthly newsletter which stated that a total of 35 upper basin origin adult steelhead returned and were passed above the Pelton Round Butte project and released into Lake Billy Chinook. Clearly, this is a dismal number. You can see the number of smolts that were released downstream here. Assuming that adult returns were from 2016 smolts that’s a return rate of only 0.87% (not 8.7%, I missed a decimal point in the original post). There is hope for some improvement in the adult return count, however, if not the percentage. In 2017 and 2018 steelhead smolt counts were much higher. 2017 was a better water year and in both years more smolts were planted. Starting next year only smolts will be planted. Read more about this here.
Today the Bulletin ran a story echoing what I have been writing about for some time, there will be water shortages this summer for some irrigation districts. Unfortunately, the wrong ones in my opinion. North Unit Irrigation District supplies real farmers around Madras who are going to have to fallow some lands. Central Oregon Irrigation District has senior water rights but primarily supplies hobby farmers and will see no shortages. This is just wrong.
This spring marks the last stocking of fry as part of the upper Deschutes Basin salmon and steelhead reintroduction effort. Yesterday I was part of the crew helping with the final chinook salmon fry stocking and backpacked fry into the lower Crooked River canyon as well as where Alder Springs meets Whychus Creek not far from the middle Deschutes. As I wrote about here, the reintroduction effort has been a disappointment for many reasons one of which is the unsuccessful fry stocking effort and a new approach is needed.Read More »
I have spent the past 4 days battling the flu (and losing so far) so I could not make it to the Ways & Means hearing in Redmond yesterday. I was able to get off the couch this afternoon to submit the written comments below. You can as well using this email address: email@example.com. As someone who serves on a state board where public comments are submitted I can tell you they make a difference. Don’t assume someone else will do it for you.Read More »
The Oregonian is running a multipart series called Polluted by Money which examines the incredibly corrosive effect money has on Oregon. We all know this, but this series is simply jaw dropping in its examination of how bad the problem is, especially when it comes to the environment. Far from being green, we are now one of the least environmentally progressive states in the county, “a laughingstock” with “no enforcement”. The series simply has to be read by anyone who is concerned about water quality, quantity, fishing, or the future of our state.Read More »
Last week the Oregon Chapter of the American Fisheries Society held their annual meeting in Bend. I attended the 21 presentations on Water & Climate. I’ll make a few posts with highlights and, hopefully, some copies of presentations I have requested. One of the presentations was on the unintended consequences of selective water withdrawal at Cougar Dam on the South Fork of the McKenzie River. There are some interesting analogues to what is happening on the Deschutes.Read More »
The Oregon legislature is working on its next budget and a set of “policy options packages” is being debated that are important for healthy rivers & wildlife. They need your help to be adopted.
ODFW’s (Fish & Wildlife) POP 123 would fund forecasts for river flow needs. OWRD’s (Water Resources) POP 102 would fund studies of existing ground water. OWRD’s POP 108 would fund measurement of groundwater use. Yes, this implies that the state does not currently know how much water we need in most rivers for healthy ecosystems, how much water is currently in aquifers that feed those rivers, or how much is being taken out by groundwater pumping. Absurd, isn’t it?Read More »
Yet another study was released this week cataloging how badly the oceans are suffering from global warming, this time in the journal Nature. As is typical, it has a title that is not very accessible to the layman and does not express the urgency of the situation: “Marine heatwaves threaten global biodiversity and the provision of ecosystem services”. Unfortunately, scientists continue to believe that they need to appear dispassionate and analytical, which is welcome at times, but is also a failing approach when it comes to global warming. As this article expresses, it really is time to panic. (Nature also has an article that attempts to understand why scientists are so poor at communicating with laymen. It seems pretty obvious to me, just read the title of the article.)Read More »
Here’s the latest Oregon snow pack data. Obviously, this is extremely good news and a big turnaround from only a couple of weeks ago. A large snow pack combined with a cool spring will allow for a long, slow release of melt water into our aquifers, rivers, and lakes. This was highly unexpected but more than welcome news. Now let’s hope for a cool spring.Read More »
I have written about global warming’s impact on the ocean off the coast of Oregon as well as on local steelhead and salmon populations. To put it mildly, warming, acidification, and oxygen deficiency have not been beneficial. At the same time, some far northern locations, close to the arctic, have seen record runs of some species. Bristol Bay is a good example. Here’s a report in the journal Science which helps quantify all this. The bottom line is that ocean fish populations are clearly declining overall due to global warming.
The latest issue of The Osprey is now available. If you like to read scientific articles about steelhead and salmon conservation, mostly in the Pacific Northwest, then this is the journal for you. I encourage you to subscribe and help keep them going. This issue has a couple of articles that once again illustrate the peril facing anadromous fish in many PacNW river systems. It also contains an article on the lower Deschutes River which I found problematic. Read More »
I recently finished reading “The Compleat Angler” by Izaak Walton, who has been called the Father of Fly Fishing. First published in England in 1653, with revised editions until 1676, reading The Compleat Angler was a slog at best. Written near the time of Shakespeare, but without the Bard’s skill, it deserves its modern reputation as tedious. That being said, it was absolutely fascinating to read how much was known about angling 366 years ago.Read More »
This is not a fishing blog, but every now and then I will post something along those lines. For a few years now I have been chasing bull trout on Lake Billy Chinook using fly gear. It’s challenging but can be rewarding. Above is a photo of one of my sons with a nice bull trout. There are a lot of variables at play, but it looks like we could have a good and early season. Here’s what I have been looking at. Read More »
Last week I had the opportunity to tour the Willamette Falls fish ladder as a member of the ODFW Restoration & Enhancement Board. There has been extensive coverage, including posts on this blog, about sea lion predation on anadromous fish at this ladder, to the extent that steelhead runs were at short term risk of extinction. ODFW is now euthanizing the most problematic pinnipeds. Less publicity has been given to the fact that the fish ladder itself is in danger of structural failure.Read More »
Here is a recent report from the Bureau of Reclamation on the water outlook for Prineville Reservoir. As you can see on page 3, a few days ago the reservoir was 35% full and flows into the Crooked River were only 49 cfs (47 cfs today), which is below the target set by ODFW for fish needs and the 80 cfs target in the Crooked River legislation. In summary, the BOR presentation implies that the outlook is not promising for the reservoir to fill which means flows into the Crooked River next winter after irrigation season ends will also likely be low. Keep reading for some commentary on the presentation prepared by BOR.Read More »
Yesterday George Weurthner had a worthwhile letter to the editor in the Bulletin on water rights. I agree with his comments, here’s my 2 cents. Over 100 years ago, when Central Oregon was mostly unsettled wilderness, the state gave away water rights, not water ownership which remains with the public, in an effort to create a local, agricultural based economy. Today, our area is booming and agriculture in Deschutes County is a minor and decreasing component of our economy. Nevertheless, irrigators continue to divert 90% of the water in the upper Deschutes Basin. It is well past time to reallocate the public’s water using a modern definition of beneficial use. It is possible to maintain water rights for irrigators who are truly using it for agriculture, provide for other irrigators willing to pay a market price, while supporting the growth of our modern economy, ensuring municipal water supplies, and restoring our public water ways.
As I say in the “About” section of this blog, I believe that WaterWatch is the most important water conservation organization in Oregon. They have done amazing work to restore flows, breach dams, and protect groundwater. Their latest newsletter is well worth reading. The Osprey is an excellent, research-based publication for anyone interested in anadromous fish in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. The September issue is filled with great data, including the statement that the full cost of every hatchery steelhead returning to the Columbia Basin is on the order of $1,000, while degrading the opportunity for wild fish to recover. I have read this issue a couple of times now and underlined much of it.
Today the Bend Bulletin ran a story on climate change’s impact to local rivers and I was one of the people quoted. I am always frustrated with the experience of spending time discussing an issue in depth and seeing cursory coverage as a result. I respect work the reporter does for the paper and understand that space is limited but there is so much more to say. Oh well. The good news is the article does capture the big picture and hopefully adds to the general awareness of global warming’s current local impact, not sometime in the future. That being said, I do have one quibble with the story.Read More »
For years, the Crooked River has been plagued by periodic fish kills. There have been two culprits: sustained low flows, especially when combined with freezing temperatures in the winter, and excess total dissolved gases. TDG is not as well known as low flows but it can be equally deadly. A solution in the form of a new hydroelectric facility may be in the future.Read More »
A reporter at the Bend Bulletin saw my post on the potential for a fish kill on the Crooked River this winter and wrote this article. If you’ve ever been quoted for an article you know how it can be a frustrating experience. So it almost goes without saying that I would have written the story differently but I think the reporter did a good job overall of capturing the big picture of what is currently happening on the Crooked River and the challenges it faces this winter.
October through the end of the year is one of my favorite times to fish the lower Deschutes River. The crowds are gone and the trout are still there. On Halloween a friend and I had a good day. One of the trout I landed measured at just under 18”. The bonus was this hatchery steelhead which was a thrill to land using trout gear. Nevertheless, the outlook for wild Deschutes steelhead remains bleak.Read More »
As Central Oregon anglers know, fish populations in the Crooked River can wildly fluctuate. When there is adequate flow for a few years the fishing can be excellent. On the other hand, a variety of factors including low flows combined with freezing temperatures can create massive fish kills. The last of these events happened in the winter of 2015-2016 when trout populations dropped from 1,383/km to 185/km, the lowest ever recorded. Based on current water management plans, such a kill could happen again this winter.Read More »
I have written about ocean warming and the dramatic decline in steelhead and salmon populations. Most recently, I posted about commercial salmon fishing belatedly being declared an official disaster. Here’s a related NOAA report and a State of Oregon report on ocean acidification. Scientists have had a clear understanding of global warming for 40 years but we continue to study the problem. I just don’t get it: you don’t study fire while watching your house burn down.Read More »
Unfortunately, as of the end of September things still look pretty bleak for wild fish this season. The trap at Sherars Falls has captured a total of 44 wild steelhead. Only 3 of these have made it to the the trap at the bottom of the Pelton Round Butte complex (Lake Billy Chinook, etc.). Two of those are actually hatchery steelhead that were released above Lake Billy Chinook but did not have their adipose fins clipped. As I detailed in a series of posts starting here, these fish could be on a path to extinction in the not too distant future.
The US Secretary of Commerce has declared that commercial salmon fishing along the west coast from 2015 through 2017 was a disaster. (It’s no better this year and steelhead are also in critical condition.) The determination provides economic assistance for commercial fishing communities. This recognition is welcome but it seems to me that it would be equally important to fix the root causes. Without this the desired “rebound” will not occur.
Last week I sent an email to the Bend Bulletin pointing out that their coverage of low levels in Wickiup Reservoir was inaccurate when it assigned partial blame to the endangered Oregon Spotted Frog. Flows for the frog out of Wickiup into the upper Deschutes River are in the winter only and Wickiup was completely full when irrigation season began. I was happy the Bulletin published a new article today that correctly identifies last winter’s low snow pack as the culprit for low water levels, but this new article also fails to address another important issue. Why where no mitigating actions taken? There are strategies that could have reduced the draw down. Read More »
Wickiup and Crane Prairie reservoirs on the upper Deschutes River were constructed to hold water for irrigation releases from Bend to Madras. Wickiup is currently at its lowest level since 1952, and it may get lower. As of September 20th Wickiup is only 2% full. Until recently, Wickiup had some of the best kokanee fishing in the state and excellent trout fishing as well. This popular fishery is now gone.Read More »
Today I talked to the ODFW biologist in charge of the lower Deschutes. He said that it was too early to know how many wild steelhead would return this season but if he had to guess it would be similar to last year, which was one of the lowest on record. He was optimistic, however, that the population would recover if conditions improved. As I have discussed on this blog, that’s a very big if and trend is not encouraging. He acknowledged that less angling pressure would benefit wild fish but thought that I went too far to state that it was immoral to target them. While I really want to fish the lower Deschutes, for now I am going to focus on coastal rivers where counts are at or above their 10 year averages. Hopefully, counts on the Deschutes will significantly climb over the next couple of months.
I was wandering around various angling conservation websites and came across “How does catch and release affect steelhead?” on the Wild Steelhead Coalition website. It was a summary of a study done on the Bulkley River in British Columbia. The primary takeaways for me are that I will continue to avoid steelheading on the Deschutes for now and I need to start using a net. Like many fly anglers, I land a steelhead by bringing it close enough to grab by the tail before removing the hook. The study showed that “tailed” fish had higher levels of stress than netted fish.Read More »
Long time fisheries activist Jim Myron, now working with The Conservation Angler, wrote to inform me of an Oregon state law that is relevant to my most recent post about the immorality of fishing for steelhead on the Deschutes at this point in time.
ORS 496.012 requires the state to “prevent serious depletion of any indigenous species…” This has gone way beyond serious depletion and we are looking at extinction on the horizon.
As local anglers know, the 2017/2018 steelhead season was bleak, adult returns were one of the lowest on record. After some initial optimism for at least a modest rebound, this season now looks to be even worse. A few days ago Oregon and Washington lowered their forecast for returns and closed the Columbia River and parts of some tributaries to steelhead fishing for the rest of the year. We anglers are now faced with a moral issue: even if most of the Deschutes remains open, can we afford to further stress and potentially kill the small numbers of wild fish that do return? See below to make your own informed decision.Read More »
Fires on the lower Deschutes this year are the worst in memory. I have been told that it looks like this from Mack’s Canyon almost to the mouth as well as in many places above Mack’s. The main campgrounds above Mack’s along the dirt road have been saved but most of the campgrounds below are burned to the ground, including many of the outhouses. It’s going to be tough camping for floaters for a while. The good news is that early summer steelhead numbers are reasonable although the river temps in the lower most stretches are too hot in the afternoon to safely land fish. The sick joke is that it’s time to get out your single hand rods again as there is plenty of room to back cast.