On January 31 the Deschutes River Conservancy announced that they had secured funding from Intel Corporation to help with their middle Deschutes summer water leasing program. Without the DRC’s various efforts, including the leasing program, the middle Deschutes below Bend would be virtually dry in the summer. Additional funding for the leasing program is welcome news but requires some context.
Flows in the Deschutes above Bend are controlled by irrigation districts who withhold water to fill reservoirs in the winter and release water in the summer which is then diverted into a series of irrigation canals. The last major diversion is located at the North Canal Dam in Bend just upriver from the Riverhouse. During irrigation season the Deschutes below this dam is reduced to a relative trickle, dramatically damaging the ecosystem for fish and wildlife. Read More »
Today the US Fish & Wildlife Service held a public update meeting on the Habitat Conservation Plan status. I’ve written extensively on the HCP in this blog but, briefly, it is an application by Central Oregon irrigation districts and the City of Prineville to continue to withdraw water from local rivers while incidentally “taking” (killing) endangered species like bull trout, steelhead, and the Oregon Spotted Frog. The meeting had a wealth of information but the shocker for me was an admission by the irrigation districts that they have been badly mismanaging flows in the middle Deschutes.Read More »
Here’s the latest graph of flows in the middle Deschutes below North Dam in Bend near the Riverhouse. On November 26 the river got down to 63.8 cfs. On a relative basis, that’s worse than 20 cfs in the upper Deschutes below Wickiup. Years of discussion and “cooperation” at the Basin Study Work Group between the irrigators, government agencies, and various other groups has made no improvement in how the river is managed. For the second time this year the irrigators have killed the middle Deschutes (visit the prior post for a more detailed discussion of this topic).
Irrigation season has started and once again the middle Deschutes is suffering. As you can see on the Bureau of Reclamation website, the Deschutes River below North Dam (just upstream from the Mt. Washington bridge) is now reduced to 62 cfs. As I argued in this post, recent levels are least as damaging as what happens in the upper Deschutes below Wickiup Reservoir in the winter. The flows should come back up a little later in the spring as the irrigators allow some additional flows but by that time the damage will have been done. The exposed river bottom will kill fish eggs, the aquatic insects that fish eat, and the plants that the insects need. In spite of all the time, effort, and money put into restoration the Deschutes continues to be no more than an irrigation ditch for the benefit of a few irrigators to the detriment of the rest of us.
UPDATE: a reader pointed out to me that my graph only covers the past 2 weeks. If you go to the BoR site (link above) and run the graph for a longer period you will see that the middle Deschutes was running around 800 cfs for most of the winter. 800 cfs to 62 cfs is a better illustration of just how environmentally damaging the beginning of irrigation season is.
While the upper Deschutes has been the focus of late, the middle Deschutes also needs additional flows. Unfortunately, there are no real plans for this. The middle Deschutes is generally defined as the segment from Benham Falls to Lake Billy Chinook and flows in this section are complex. Read More »