A Great Read on the HCP

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George Wuerthner has published another great article on the environment, this time on the Habitat Conservation Plan.  It’s a worthwhile read.

Why are irrigators legally permitted to degrade our river? Every year tens of thousands of fish are killed in the Deschutes River due to Ag water withdrawal, not to mention the overall degradation of the river ecosystem from sedimentation, channel widening, and radical changes in flow regimes. If a fisherman or fisherwoman were to keep one or two extra fish over the daily limit, they would be fined for “poaching,” but if irrigators kill tens of thousands of fish and destroy the river channel, they suffer no legal consequences.

What about Water Quality in the Habitat Conservation Plan?

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Last June, Portland General Electric released a comprehensive, multiyear water quality study of Lake Billy Chinook, the rivers that supply it, and the lower Deschutes River into which water is released.  Among other things, the report showed that the Crooked River contains significant amounts of pollution.  This pollution combined with sunlight generates suspended algae on the surface of Lake Billy Chinook which is subsequently released into Lake Simtutus and then the lower Deschutes River.  Algae blooms are increasing in occurrence, leading the Oregon Health Authority to warn last June that “harmful algae blooms” could “routinely develop in the lake”.

One of the shortcomings in the Habitat Conservation Plan is lack of adequate consideration for water quality.  Clearly, high temperatures and pollution can have adverse impacts on fish and the aquatic environment, including mortality (“take”).  Irrigation return flows are “covered activities” but the HCP does not adequately examine impacts on water quality from agricultural runoff or provide for minimum standards in covered waterways.Read More »

Irrigation does NOT Mean Agriculture in Deschutes County

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The US Department of Agriculture performs periodic nationwide surveys of agriculture that are broken down to the county level.  The latest survey was released in April with data as of 2017.  It clearly shows that most irrigators in Deschutes County are not “farmers” in any traditional sense of word.

This detailed report says that there are 1,484 farms in Deschutes County, 1,269 are irrigated.  Half of these farms are under 11 acres in size.  Only 216 are over 50 acres.  685 of the farms have annual sales of less than $2,500.  The average farm had losses of -$12,866.  Irrigators currently take 90% of the water in the upper Deschutes but in Deschutes County farming is often a lifestyle choice or hobby, not the viable production of agricultural products.Read More »

The HCP and the Future of the Deschutes

The long awaited Habitat Conservation Plan for the Deschutes Basin was recently released.  Like many in the environmental community, I find the HCP to be deeply flawed.  Below is a high level summary.  The HCP will be the subject of a series of posts over the next two weeks, each providing detail on a particular part of this complex topic.  Here is the official web site.  It is hard to overstate the importance of the HCP as it will determine the fate of most rivers in Central Oregon for the next 30 years.Read More »

PGE Water Quality Study

Portland General Electric’s long awaited lower Deschutes River water quality study was recently released.  At over 600 pages it took me some time to get through, here are my initial impressions.  This study is critically important to the ongoing effort to reintroduce anadromous fish into the upper Deschutes Basin and the operation of the Selective Water Withdrawal tower.  Also note that the Deschutes River Alliance’s lawsuit against PGE/CTWS (dismissed but under appeal) is based on allegations of water quality violations.  The author of the water quality study will present and answer questions at the upcoming Fisheries Workshop. Read More »

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 »

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 »