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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Brett Hogdson Retires

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

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

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Airstrip Denied, At Least For Now

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

Drought & Reservoir Update

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

Old Snake River Fishing Video

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

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

Brown Bullhead Catfish in Crane Prairie Reservoir

Brown Bullhead Catfish

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

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

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Ice Harbor Dam

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

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

“Salmon at the Crossroads, Time is Running Out”

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

Endangered Species: Science, Economics, & Values

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

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Drought Update

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

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Anadromous Bull Trout?

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

“Greenwashing” Hydropower

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

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A Private Airstrip Next to the Deschutes?

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

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Why are salmon and steelhead on the path to extinction?

The Bend Bulletin recently published an article from the Associated Press titled “Study: Ocean conditions, not dams, reduce salmon runs”.  This is misleading reporting of the original study, “A synthesis of the coast‐wide decline in survival of West Coast Chinook Salmon”, published in the Fish and Fisheries journal.

The research study argues that the most prized salmon and steelhead populations along the west coast of North America are in decline, often dramatically so, and that the reasons are complex.  Dams are not the sole culprit.  This can be a controversial statement in many environmental circles, but it is true.  It is well known that anadromous fish are declining in river systems that are not impacted by dams as well as where dams are present.  This is not an either-or proposition, however.

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Tire Dust Killing Salmon

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

Bull Trout Poacher Sentenced to Five Years Probation

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

Do Irrigators Pay for their Water?

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

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Winchester Dam Lawsuit

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

WaterWatch 2020 Auction

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

Willamette Falls Fish Ladder Update

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

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

Grab Bag

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

“The Big Muddy”

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

ODFW Hatchery Fires

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

Another Water Waste Example

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

Local Reservoir and River Levels

Here’s how our local reservoirs and rivers look as of the end of the day yesterday (click here for a direct link). Crane Prairie still has a lot of water as it is held fairly constant until late summer to maintain endangered species habitat. Haystack is nearly full as it is intermediate storage for North Unit Irrigation District. NUID’s main storage is Wickiup which will most likely be empty before the end of irrigation season. Prineville Reservoir is managed for both irrigation and fish. As of August 5th, it has 41,820 acre feet of irrigation water and 23,380 acre feet of “fish water”.

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Online Seminar with Dave Hughes!

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

“The fallacy of in-conduit hydropower”

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

Deschutes Groundwater Mitigation 101 and Thornburgh

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

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Why All the Algae Blooms?

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

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Not a Pretty Picture

5.18.20 SNOTEL

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 »

COVID-19 Stops Chub Removal

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.

A Quote Worth Reading Again

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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

 

ODFW’s 2021-2023 Biennium Budget

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 »

Cows! 

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 »

More on Cold Water Refugia for Columbia Steelhead

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 »

Cold Water for Columbia Steelhead?

Deschutes River Plume

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 »

Oregon River Levels

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.

Zapata Cuba

20200228_155915
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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2019 – 2020 Steelhead Counts: Getting Worse

chart

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 »

$42M to Pipe 7.9 Miles of Canal!

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…

ODFW Strategic Plan & Funding

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 »

Feliz Ano Nuevo…

…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.

Good News for Willamette Steelhead

BRYANWrightODFW2-1-1024x731

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.

Some Things Never Change

Bulletin 4.28.59

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.

 

Klamath Lake Land Trust

Wood River 11.2.19

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.

Matt 26in 8.23.19

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.

 

September Osprey

Osprey

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.

It’s Past Time to Remove the Snake River Dams

snake river dam

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.

Credit Where Credit is Due

Jake

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?

 

Bureau of Reclamation Plans to De-Water Part of the Upper Deschutes

Jake

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 »

The Blob is Back: Update

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.

The Blob

More on the Outlook for Salmon & Steelhead in the Columbia Basin

9.20.19 Steelhead CountSource: www.fpc.org

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.

 

Fire’s Positive Impact on Fish Habitat

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.

Another Warm Water Blob is Forming

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.

ODFW R&E Meeting in Bend

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.

New ODFW Commissioner in Sisters

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.

 

Columbia Basin Steelhead Update

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.

More on the Closure of the Mouth of the Deschutes

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.

Deschutes Steelheading: Now a Moral Issue? Again.

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 »

Lower Deschutes Fish Update

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 »

Future of Oregon Water Resources in Peril

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.

Artifishal: Not a Complete Picture

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 »

Farmers Agreeing with Me?

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 »

Ignorant Character Assassination

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 »

Is Central Oregon Flyfishers Betraying the Angling Community?

As I wrote about last November, Ochoco Irrigation District is in the preliminary stages of applying for a FERC license to add a hydroelectric plant to Bowman Dam.  Here is OID’s “Pre-Application Document“.  The first of multiple comment periods ends on Monday.  There is a significant amount of design work left to be done, studies that need to be undertaken, and many unanswered questions about how this project will impact the Crooked River below Prineville Reservoir.  A fair amount of negotiation will need to take place between OID and various agencies before final approval is granted.  Nevertheless, the latest Central Oregon Flyfisher newsletter states that the board voted to send a letter of support for the project which will include language that throws away the most important bargaining chip for the conservation community.Read More »

Human Drugs Are Polluting the Water—And Animals Are Swimming in It

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.

Tumalo Irrigation Piping

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.

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‘Tis the Season to Waste Water

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 »

Bend Bulletin Story on Snow

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.

Another Poor Steelhead Year?

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.

River and Drought Outlook

20190512_132243Headwaters 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 »

Upper Deschutes Trout Genetics & Hatchery Stocking

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 »

Bend Bulletin Letters on Water

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.

CORRECTED: Final Steelhead Numbers

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.

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Water Shortage Confirmed

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.

Upper Basin Anadromous Fry Stocking

 

Crooked River Canyon
Lower Crooked River Canyon

This spring marks the last stocking of fry as part of the upper Deschutes Basin salmon and steelhead reintroduction effort. Yesterday I was part of the crew helping with the final chinook salmon fry stocking and backpacked fry into the lower Crooked River canyon as well as where Alder Springs meets Whychus Creek not far from the middle Deschutes. As I wrote about here, the reintroduction effort has been a disappointment for many reasons one of which is the unsuccessful fry stocking effort and a new approach is needed.Read More »

Ways & Means Comments

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: waysandmeans.budget@oregonlegislature.gov.  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 »

Oregon: The Most Corrupt State?

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 »

Oregon Chapter American Fisheries Society Meeting and Another SWW

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 »

Help Support Healthy Rivers & Wildlife

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 »

Why Coral Reefs (and Kelp) Matter

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 »

Global Warming’s Impact on Ocean Fisheries

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 Osprey and a Critique

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 »