ODFW Columbia Basin steelhead webinar

As I discussed here, ODFW is anticipating another year of poor steelhead returns in the Columbia Basin including tributaries like the Deschutes. Hopefully you read that prior post and took the angler survey. Next Tuesday, April 19th, ODFW is hosting a webinar at 6 pm where “ODFW fish biologists throughout the Columbia Basin will discuss summer steelhead management, what was learned from the survey, decision frameworks for fishery restrictions and more”. The seminar will be live on ODFW’s YouTube channel. If you fish for steelhead on the Deschutes, or used to, this should be on your calendar.

ODFW budget: opportunity for public input

I believe that the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife is the only state agency that solicits public feedback while planning their budget.  The 2023-2025 budget request is being prepared and now is the time to weigh in if you are so inclined.  I have been a member of ODFW’s External Budget Advisory Committee for a few budget cycles, and was an individual commenter before that, and have found the process simultaneously interesting and frustrating. An important portion of ODFW’s funding is from license sales and there can be conflict between stewardship of our fish & wildlife and the need to generate revenue. Also, the voices of a few groups dominate the discussion rather than individual license holders. I encourage you to let yours be heard.

First, you need to review the budget materials here.  At least a high level understanding the proposed budget is important to making useful comments.  You can make comments directly to ODFW by attending one of their online “listening sessions” this week or via email to ODFW.Commission@odfw.oregon.gov by May 25.

N. Umpqua steelhead assessment

Last week, ODFW held an online seminar to go over their recent research concerning summer steelhead returns on the North Umpqua River.  You can watch the replay here and read the entire 143 page report here.  The presentation is worth watching, I also suggest reading at least the summary of the report and scanning the rest.  This work was hastily done in response to the extremely low steelhead returns last summer and calls by many in the fly angling community to curtail hatchery steelhead releases.  No management decisions have been made, only the data was reviewed, but based on the report I would anticipate little or no changes to hatchery practices.  That decision will be made at the ODFW Commission meeting on April 22, you can get information on how to view that meeting here (it’s the last item on the agenda).  Keep reading for my comments on the report.

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Crooked River Forecast

Like many of you, I have been watching the Bureau of Reclamation graph for Prineville Reservoir and the Crooked River. I also receive notes from the monthly planning meetings that occur between the Ochoco Irrigation District and various agencies. I have been waiting to write about this, but a reader asked about it today and irrigation season starts soon, so here’s what I know and what I anticipate will occur.

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Guest column: Oregon could learn a lot from Arizona

The Bend Bulletin published my latest guest column today, “Oregon could learn a lot from Arizona”. You really should have a subscription, a local newspaper is critical to having a well functioning local government, but if you don’t, I’ve reproduced it below. My last column in the paper was about hope not being a plan for solving our water crisis. Today the paper ran two stories on water, one of which quoted a state official stating “I was hoping for a much better winter this year, a recovery”. Last week I had an email exchange with a federal agency involved in controlling releases from Prineville Reservoir in the Crooked River asking about their plans. The response was they were waiting to see what happens during the remainder of the spring. Once again, hope is not a plan and right now we have no plan. Arizona does. Here’s my column in today’s paper.

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Race to the bottom part 2: draining Summer Lake

Ana Reservoir on 2/18/2022.

Part 2 of Oregon Public Broadcasting’s series on groundwater depletion is now available. Local anglers should take note: Ana Reservoir and Ana River are in peril of going dry from excessive pumping by hay farmers in nearby Christmas Valley. The Oregon Water Resources Department is aware of this but is not taking action to prevent it. As noted in the article, “State regulators don’t track how much water Fort Rock basin farmers use. About 99% of the wells in the area aren’t required to measure and report what they take out of the ground”. Worse, these farmers are essentially exporting water when they sell their hay to international markets. Of course, water is owned by all Oregonians, but we are not all getting benefits. It’s no wonder why a member of the public recently stated in a OWRD Commission meeting that the agency’s actions are “criminal”.

Steelhead Forecast and Actions to Take

As you already know, 2021 steelhead returns to the Columbia Basin, including the Deschutes River, were the lowest on record.  Prior to the start of the season, the forecast was for 101,400 wild & hatchery steelhead to return.  In fact, only 69,669 did.  For perspective, from 2001 to 2010 the average return was 406,375 fish.  The 2022 forecast is for 99,700 steelhead.  We’ll see if this forecast is more accurate than last year.  Many biologists believe that some Columbia Basin steelhead are on the path to near-term extinction if dramatic changes are not quickly made.  ODFW is currently soliciting input on how to manage fishing regulations in anticipation of another historically low return year.  Keep reading for more and how you can get involved.

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A Serious Body Blow to Thornburgh?

In an extremely surprising but welcome move, last January ODFW sent this letter to Deschutes County regarding Thornburgh. Yesterday, I was pleasantly shocked to learn that after many requests over many years, ODFW has weighed in on the topic of Thornburgh’s use of water. Read the letter yourself, but the bottom line is that they do not believe that Thornhurgh has proven they have adequate cold water to properly mitigate the damage their pumping will do to the Middle Deschutes. Of course, this has been a primary objection many of us have made for some time. Now the question is, what will Deschutes County do with this information? The law says that Thornburgh cannot pump water without ODFW approving the mitigation but the County has not let that get in the way in the past.

Protect North Umpqua Wild Steelhead!

The North Umpqua River is not in Central Oregon but it is close enough that I have spent a considerable amount of time there over the years swinging flies for steelhead. It is difficult fishing but until the past few years it has been rewarding. It is still beautiful, although recent fires did burn some of the landscape. Like so many other rivers in Oregon the steelhead numbers have plummeted, especially the summer run which saw only 450 adult returns last year. These iconic fish in one of the west coast’s most storied steelhead rivers are clearly in peril. As a result, ODFW has been asked by some fishing groups to stop the release of hatchery steelhead in the river which have been scientifically proven to have a detrimental impact on wild fish. ODFW is now considering what actions to take and is soliciting public feedback. Keep reading for how to get involved.

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Tui Chub, Fish Stocking, Emergency Regulations, and More

The ODFW Restoration & Enhancement Board, where I am a member, had another interesting and productive meeting today. Today, we helped fund a number of projects, including two local ones. $20K was allocated for another summer of netting tui chub and brown bullhead catfish in local high lakes. This effort has been critical to maintaining healthy sport fishing in places like East Lake for many years. In addition, $101K was given to the Deschutes Land Trust’s Ochoco Preserve, contributing to their $1.7M project. This project should be of interest to anyone who fishes the Crooked River or who is interested in anadromous fish reintroduction in the Upper Deschutes Basin.

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Mental Health Day

9 fish in 2.5 hours of fishing today and the only other angler I saw was my friend Scott. You can still find these productive, beautiful places close to home with a little effort. A quick trip to break up a weekend of chores.

Department of State Lands to Sell Property to Thornburgh?

Central Oregon LandWatch is asking for public comments on the next significant development at the proposed Thornburgh Resort near Eagle Crest. You can read all the details here including ways to take action. In summary, Thornburgh wants to buy public lands that are in the proposed resort. Like so many others, I oppose this resort. It will use a massive amount of groundwater, impacting springs that feed local rivers and the fish and wildlife that depend on them. The resort is in the middle of important winter mule deer habitat. A popular hiking area will be closed to the public. Increased traffic and congestion will also accompany the resort. I believe that Thornburgh Resort will be detrimental to most Central Oregonians. Please make your voice heard on this important topic.

“Climate Anxiety” and Emotional Well Being

Last night the Deschutes Land Trust hosted what I found to be an extremely thought provoking talk by Dr. Sarah Jaquette Ray. I highly recommend watching the recording. I had not previously been exposed to the study of the intersection of mental health and global warming. My mind is wired so that when I see a problem, no matter how large or daunting, I think analytically and disconnect my emotional state from it. (My daughter the therapist says I am weird.) I had not seriously considered what fear of a less inhabitable planet could do to the mental well being of others. Turns out this is a big problem. My bad. Really interesting talk. Keep reading if you want more opinion on this from me.

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“Scarcity Primer”. Warning: Depressing!

Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Research has a group focused on “thematic investing”.  These are trends, developments, and problems with a high probability of occurring that could also become interesting opportunities, although not fully realized today.  This group writes fascinating reports on a wide range of topics.  Their most recent 135-page, fully documented report is titled, “The World Is Not Enough – Scarcity Primer”.  It is concerning to say the least.  The report begins, “We will need 2x Earth’s resources to keep up with the current usage rate by 2030. Today less than 1% of the planet’s water is fit for human use and we could run out of freshwater by 2040.”  There are 10 themes in the report, below are bullet points from some of them that are relevant to this blog.  It’s not a happy list.

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Water Comments to Deschutes County Planning Commissioners

The Deschutes County Planning Commission is currently examining water issues in preparation for the Comprehensive Plan Update (Deschutes 2040), which will be initiated in Spring 2022. Here’s my post about their first water panel presentation which occurred on February 24th. Today I sent commission members an email with my comments about this meeting and suggested actions. You can make comments by sending an email to PlanningCommission@deschutes.org. Keep reading to see my comments.

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Water Table Drops 3.47′ in 19 Months!

At the recent Deschutes County Planning Commission meeting on water, Kyle Gorman of the Oregon Water Resources Department showed a new graph. It is from an OWRD water monitoring well between Bend and Redmond, east of the intersection of Highway 97 and 61st Street. It’s a new 700 feet well, completed late January 2020. Between 3/13/2020 and 10/5/2021 it dropped 3.47 feet! That’s a huge decline in only 19 months, and people tell me I am being overly dramatic when I say we are in a water crisis. You can see all the data here.

Planning Commission Panel on Water

Yesterday, the Deschutes County Planning Commission hosted a panel discussion to “thoroughly understand the major water resource issues currently facing Central Oregon from a scientific, regulatory, and environmental perspective.” Panelists were from the US Geological Survey, Oregon Water Resources Department, and the US Fish & Wildlife Service. You can watch a recording here, it begins around minute 8 and ends at 1:34:00. It’s lengthy but worth watching. A second panel discussion is planned for April 14. I am thankful that this important commission is starting to think about the issue. As their questions illustrated, they need a lot more discussion of this topic.

Oregon Water Conditions Report

The Oregon Water Resources Department sends out a weekly email with this report covering statewide water conditions. Now that we recently passed the half-way mark for winter, I thought I would share it. I’m sure you are familiar with some of this data, but there are some less known charts as well. As we should all know by now, most of Central Oregon is in a severe to extreme drought. What is less discussed is the current state of our groundwater and streamflow percentages, which are very concerning. The bottom line is that it will take multiple years of above average snow pack to return us to anything close to what used to be “normal” levels. You can sign up to get this report here.

Drought: hope is not a plan

Central Oregon is experiencing a water crisis.  Despite intermittent years of good snow fall, Central Oregon has been in some level of drought for more than 20 years.  As we reach the middle of winter we should all be concerned.  Local reservoirs and lakes, not just Wickiup, are at historic lows for this time of year.  It is unlikely they will fill.  Rivers are at extreme lows as well.  Domestic wells are being deepened to maintain access to water as the aquifer drops, even wells adjacent to the Deschutes River.  Some springs that feed the Metolius River are almost dry.  Parts of the most productive farmland in Central Oregon will again be fallowed this year due to lack of water.  Fish and wildlife will suffer the most.

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Water Bank: is it Enough?

There has been a fair amount of press recently on the water bank pilot being implemented by Central Oregon Irrigation District, North Unit Irrigation District, and the Deschutes River Conservancy, including another column in the Bend Bulletin today. As I detailed in a prior post, this is a great concept although many implementation details need to be addressed. The core problem is that the water bank will only work if it is structured so that COID patrons sign up for the program in large numbers, which does not seem to be occurring. As reported in this Bulletin article, “more than 100” COID patrons have agreed to participate in the program. COID’s website states they have over 4,000 “accounts”, 100 participants in the program is a small fraction of that. A water bank is a great idea and needs to start somewhere, but a lot more work needs to be done for it to have a meaningful impact given the severity of our ongoing drought. I’m glad that the DRC has received the funding to continue that work.

Even Wells Next to the Deschutes River

Like many in Central Oregon, I live in an unincorporated area and rely on a well for my water.  After hearing many reports of domestic wells failing, I recently had my water level measured.  It has dropped 22’ since it was drilled 16 years ago, a rate of approximately 1.4’ a year.  I live 2.4 miles east of the Deschutes River.  Friends who live directly adjacent to the river in Tumalo have seen their well drop 50’ in the past 36 years, also a rate of 1.4’ a year.  They now need to deepen their well at an approximate cost of $30,000.  It is incredible that a well a very short distance from the river is also being impacted and points to the widespread severity of groundwater declines.

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Opal Springs Videos

Tomorrow I leave the country for a 10-day “bucket list” fly fishing trip and thought I would leave you with a few brief glimpses of steelhead swimming up the Opal Springs fish ladder. The latest counts are from December 21 through January 10 when 70 fish of all species were detected, including 54 redbands and 4 steelhead. Steelhead returns remain very low, but a few are now in the Crooked River. Flows in the river are well under targets established by the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife for healthy habitat, but the river is not dry in places like it was last year when spring chinook arrived. Let’s hope these steelhead find spawning partners and a place to lay their eggs!

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New Whitefish Record and a Healthy Deschutes

New state record whitefish.

You’ve probably already read about the announcement yesterday from ODFW that a new state record whitefish was caught last month on the Lower Deschutes near Warm Springs. Congrats to Alex Dietz, it must have been fun. This is another example of the fact that the Lower Deschutes is in great shape and that fish are bigger since PGE’s Selective Water Withdrawal tour became operational. To be clear, there are ongoing issues but its past time for the misinformation campaigns to stop.

Water Banking: More Details and Areas of Concern

“Water banking”, also known as “water marketing”, is a well understood method of applying economic principles to water allocation.  In short, it allows water rights holders to sell or lease their water to others who could derive more economic value from it.  After significant effort, the Deschutes River Conservancy is establishing a voluntary pilot program for Central Oregon Irrigation District patrons to temporarily allocate their water to North Unit Irrigation District.  The Bend Bulletin had a good story on this topic last week which was later picked up by Oregon Public Broadcasting.  Here’s additional discussion including some areas that need work.

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Groundwater Mitigation Review Complete

6025_OWRD_OREGON Logo_2017-COLOR

On December 23, 2021, the Oregon Water Resources Department sent the final version of their 5-year review of the Deschutes Basin Groundwater Mitigation Program to the state legislature.  As expected, little was changed in this widely criticized and often misleading document.  As you can see in the attachments to the report, significant objections were submitted by other state agencies, the Tribes, NGOs, and individual citizens.  Many of these objections have been raised and ignored by OWRD for the entire time the DBGMP has been in place.  They portray themselves to the legislature as successfully executing their duties while Central Oregon continues to suffer from lack of effective water management. Such is the nature of government. For more on this topic, see the Groundwater category on the right.

How Facebook and Apple Could Help the Crooked River

DLT’s Ochoco Preserve Today

Yesterday, the Bulletin published my column on Facebook’s use of water in Prineville and its impact on the Crooked River.  Another part of the Bulletin article to which I was responding briefly mentioned the Ingram Meadow Restoration Project in the Ochoco Mountains stating it was a Facebook project that is benefitting our local environment.  Clearly, restoring natural habitat is a worthy endeavor to be supported.  It is not at all clear, however, what role Facebook played in this US Forest Service project or how it helps offset their significant use of water many miles downstream.  If Facebook, or Apple, really want to provide benefit that directly offsets the impact of their data centers on the Crooked River there is a restoration project in their backyard they should fund.

Update: I have been told that Facebook donated $30K to the National Forest Foundation which was then forwarded to the USFS for the Ingram Meadow Project. The total spent on “Meadow and Riparian Enhancement” was $150K.

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Prineville, Data Centers, and Water: There is a Cost

The Bend Bulletin recently reported on an aquifer recharge project by the City of Prineville which has received funding from Facebook and Apple, who use significant amounts of water to cool servers at their data centers in Prineville.  Here’s a more complete and balanced explanation of the project and its environmental impacts.  Facebook and Apple are trying to reduce their water footprint, but there’s more to the story than reported. 

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Continued Wild Steelhead Killing Approved in Oregon

As you have probably already heard, on Friday the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife Commission voted 5-2 to continue to allow the killing of wild steelhead on some southern Oregon coastal rivers. I spent much of the day on Thursday and Friday with the Commission meetings playing in the background while I did my “real” job and have a few observations I would like to share. I would have voted for catch-and-release only fishing, as 2 commissioners did, but I don’t think there were any good or bad guys in this vote. It was a reflection of how ODFW is run, how information is presented to commissioners, and most importantly, how different types of anglers perceive wild fish.

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A Dark Side to Water Banking?

Columbia Insight Logo

High Country News is running a series they call “Tapped Out: Power and water justice in the rural West”. Yesterday I posted about an article in HCN covering Klamath Basin water management that originally appeared in The Counter. Here’s an article in HCN from Columbia Insight about water banking. (I had not heard of Hood River-based Columbia Insight, its worth a look.) Water banking is being touted as a key tool for solving water management issues in the Deschutes Basin. It has been used effectively in some areas to move water from low-value uses to higher-value ones, but is increasingly being seen as an investment opportunity for financiers hoping to profit from buying and then reselling water at higher prices. Clearly, this is extremely problematic and yet another example of how our political leaders are failing us – we need to get in front of this issue with proper regulations to allow water banking to work for us in the beneficial way that it can.

HCN, OWRD, & Critical Groundwater Areas

As readers of this blog know, I spend a fair amount of time fishing all around the Klamath Basin and have been educating myself on its water and fisheries issues for many years. I think this area should be of interest to Central Oregon residents as the extreme water woes of our neighbors to the south are likely to be visited upon us as well.  High Country News currently has a long, somewhat wandering article about water management in the Klamath Basin that might be worth scanning.  The part that motivated me to write this post was the mention of “critical groundwater areas”.  Coincidentally, I listened to a call by the Oregon Water Resources Department yesterday on the topic of critical groundwater areas, a concept we should all pay attention to.

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Email to OWRD Commissioners

Here’s an email I sent to Oregon Water Resources Department Commissioners today following their meeting last Friday. In a prior life I spent time as an executive and board member in the private sector and always tried to be cognizant of how information was filtered and presented – what board members hear is not always what they should hear. Perhaps the OWRD Commissioners will consider my thoughts, but I’m not holding my breath.

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OWRD & Groundwater

I spent the day watching the OWRD Commission meeting which was largely devoted to groundwater issues, including a review of the Deschutes Basin Groundwater Mitigation Program.  It was frustrating at best.  OWRD acknowledges that both groundwater and surface water are over appropriated throughout the state but that 70% of all new groundwater applications are routinely approved even with the knowledge that withdrawals are already lowering water tables, causing domestic wells to go dry, and negatively impacting surface water.  OWRD is now saying they need to start looking into this.  START?  One public commenter stated that their well has gone dry due to nearby over pumping and that OWRD’s behavior on this issue has been “criminal”.  

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N. Umpqua & The Osprey

I have been troubled by my last post from 3 days ago on the N. Umpqua. Did I really say what I felt or was I trying to be polite to an organization where I have volunteered for many years? Well, I caught up on some reading yesterday, including the latest version of The Osprey, and my error was crystal clear. I have written about The Osprey many times, as usual the latest issue has many excellent articles, but the tour de force was Pete Soverel’s, “For Wild Salmon and Steelhead, Time is Running Out – For Real”. I strongly encourage you to read this well informed frontal attack on West Coast fisheries management. The gloves are off for good reason. The end is near and fisheries managers are doing nothing useful to change course.

Which gets me back to the N. Umpqua. If the summer run was at 350 fish, 10% of a 10-year average that is already low compared to historical numbers, and there is no scientific basis for believing that the winter run will dramatically improve above 10%, then why is the river being opened to fishing on December 1? At a minimum, ODFW should wait until they can confirm significantly improved returns. The sad truth is that ODFW is actively managing our rivers to minimize angler complaints, not for the long term survival of our anadromous fisheries.

N. Umpqua Reopens: a Quandary

Lucky in February 2017.

I have been a angler for over 50 years but a steelhead junkie for only about the last 15, so I merely had a taste of what it could be like in Oregon before the populations started plummeting. It was enough. For a few years I even parked a small trailer near Glide all winter so I could leave Bend early Saturday morning, fish my way down the fly water section of the North Umpqua and fish my way back the next day. It was exhausting but always rewarding, even when I did not touch a fish. Of course, the N. Umpqua has been closed recently due to fires and low fish returns so I was interested to see that ODFW announced it will reopen on December 1.

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Deschutes Land Trust’s Priday Ranch

The Deschutes Land Trust is one of the first organizations to which I donated after arriving in Central Oregon in 2004.  Their work restoring Whychus Creek and efforts to preserve Skyline Forest were, and continue to be, compelling.   Work started in 2017 on the Crooked River is exciting as well.  Recently, the DLT has had turnover in some key positions so I was excited to have the opportunity to meet with them and tour their Priday Ranch acquisition last week, a project that should be of interest to steelhead anglers.  I am happy to report that the DLT remains in competent hands and Priday Ranch looks like it will be a great acquisition and benefit to anglers on the Lower Deschutes.

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It was a Pretty Hike

I’ve had a lot of success trout fishing the past month or so, but today was another story. I tried a different spot and the water was high and cold (40 degrees), so the fish did not want to play. No regrets for me as it was a very pretty hike and I was all alone enjoying the many signs of beavers and other critters. Even with all the growth around here you can still find places like this nearby with just a little effort.

“Fall rains can’t undo the pains of drought in Oregon and Washington”

That’s the title of a recent article from Oregon Public Broadcasting containing a high level overview of the drought recently delivered to Oregon lawmakers. Testimony touched on themes that should be familiar to readers of this blog. We have been in some level of drought for over 2 decades. Temperatures have been above normal. Snow pack has diminished and melted more quickly. It will take a long period of above average precipitation for recovery. The drought is having significant detrimental impact on fish and wildlife as well as on people. The article is worth the quick read. I’m glad that our lawmakers are becoming informed, I hope that they finally take some real action. It is possible and long overdue.

An Ideal Time to Fish the Crooked River?

Crooked River
Credit: The Bulletin.

For me, fly fishing is complicated. I consider myself a sportsperson. The point is not to catch as many fish as possible, but to master the art of catching them in a difficult manner, to do it with style and grace, and to mostly release my catch unharmed so that the next angler can have a similar experience. Fly fishing is also my gateway to the outdoors and a calling to conservation. So, when I read “November an ideal time to fish the Crooked River” in the Bulletin, I was simply dumbfounded. How is fishing the Crooked River at 50 cfs, a level that is barely survivable for fish, an honorable pursuit? How is promoting “fishing in a bucket” honorable? It has been many years since I fished the Crooked, and I understand it’s allure for less skilled or less physically able anglers, but I simply cannot understand the promotion of targeting fish at their most vulnerable in cold, low water conditions. Does that make me elitist or conservation minded? I hope the later. I’ll see you on the Metolius and Middle Deschutes for the next 3 months.

Wyeth Boat Ramp Photos

In response to my post a few days ago regarding the Wyeth boat ramp on the Upper Deschutes, John Butler sent me photos taken in October 2015 when the flows out of Wickiup were at 10 cfs. These photos are illustrative in many ways.

This photo shows just how deteriorated the ramp is and why the US Forest Service asked for funds to help repair it. There is broken concrete everywhere. Of course, no one would use the ramp at these extreme low flows, but even at higher flows the ramp was not safe to launch much more than a kayak.

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Another View on Local Water Issues

I am not a social media user and do not allow comments on this blog as those forms of communication are mostly unproductive. I do get emails with some regularity, however, as my email address can be easily found. Further, if someone takes the time to write I always respond. The majority of emails are complementary, but every now and then I get one that gives me pause. Below is a missive I received yesterday and my response. This is another example of how polarized we are and how much work needs to be done.

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“Wyeth” Boat Ramp

KTVZ recently had a story about the Wyeth boat ramp on the Upper Deschutes River being rebuilt. I am on the ODFW Restoration & Enhancement Board which provided a significant amount of funding for this ramp so thought I would share some background. During irrigation season the Deschutes River from Wickiup Reservoir to Pringle Falls is filled with water moving at a quick pace, but it is calm and easy to navigate. It is primarily used by people in kayaks, paddle boards, and similar as the fishing is mediocre at best. This is due to the very low water levels outside of irrigation season which provides minimal over wintering habitat for fish. For this reason, I was initially opposed to using dollars from angler licenses to rebuild the ramp. Given the plan to increase winter flows below Wickiup, however, I ultimately voted in favor of it. The R&E board has limited funds and I really struggled with this vote. If you are not familiar with this area, the Wyeth ramp is the closest to Pringle Falls, the Tenino ramp is nearest Wickiup, and the Bull Bend ramp is between the two. Last spring I put in at Tenino in an unsuccessful attempt to catch fish, I hope that this section of river will improve in the years to come.

My Latest Guest Column

Today the Bend Bulletin published my opinion piece on North Unit Irrigation District’s outline of a proposal to pump water out of Lake Billy Chinook for irrigation. The column in the paper is a variant of a post I made in September. I was going to let this issue go, but NUID published a guest column in the paper and I felt it needed a response. For those of you who do not have a subscription (which you should), here is the column:

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WaterWatch Annual Auction

While there are many organizations in Oregon that are worthy of your support, I believe that if you are an angler WaterWatch should be at the top of the list. No other group has done more to restore flows in Oregon rivers. Click on the graphic above to learn more and register for their annual auction. If you value wild, native fish, they need your help.

Nearing the End of Irrigation Season

The Bend Bulletin has recently had a couple of good articles on the end of irrigation season which I wanted to comment on. “Deschutes River users brace for annual ramp down of water” discusses how Central Oregon Irrigation District has turned off their water deliveries as they prepare for additional main canal piping. “Water flows to some farmers cut off from irrigation due to drought” discusses how water is being turned on for the next 2 weeks to both North Unit Irrigation District and Arnold Irrigation District. While these are well written articles, and I appreciate the Bulletin’s continued coverage of local irrigation water issues, I believe some clarification and discussion is warranted.

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Deschutes Closed to all Steelhead Fishing

Desperate times require desperate measures. ODFW did the right thing yesterday by closing the entire Deschutes River to all steelhead fishing for the rest of the year. They also closed the river below Moody Rapids to all fishing. I think that the entire river should be closed to all fishing, but the section below Moody is the most important, and I am thankful for the actions ODFW has taken. The problem is that there have been widespread reports of (selfish, short-sighted, unethical) anglers targeting steelhead while claiming to be fishing for salmon or trout. Hopefully, that will soon change. See ODFW’s press release below.

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“The 2021 Columbia and Snake River Crisis”

On September 4th, The Conservation Angler sent this letter to the chairpersons of the Oregon, Washington, and Idaho fish & wildlife/game commissions. The next day I sent the letter below to Shaun Clements, ODFW Deputy Administrator for Fish Division. Both letters advocate for more stringent regulations to protect steelhead this year. The end of the partial closure on steelhead fishing is only a few days away, the outlook for these fish remains dire, and no new protections have been announced. What is the role of these agencies? To protect or oversee the continued decline of these fish?

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Sherars Falls Steelhead Counts

According to ODFW, as of September 20, a total of 59 steelhead have passed through the Sherars Falls fish ladder. Last year was a very poor return year and the count was 209. We are currently at only 28% of that. As I argued here, the current partial closure of the Lower Deschutes to steelhead fishing is inadequate, and it is now about to expire. I again encourage you to think carefully about targeting these fish anywhere on the Deschutes. Do you really want to be that angler?

It is important to note that only a portion of returning steelhead go through the ladder, many go up the falls. More than 59 have undoubtedly moved past Sherars. Nevertheless, if you thought steelhead were sparse last year, it is much worse this year. The total steelhead run in the entire Columbia Basin remains at the lowest level ever recorded.

Snake River Dams Sticker

The folks at DamTruth.org have created this sticker to help with awareness of the need to take down the lower Snake River dams. I’ve distributed a few at fly shops in Bend and Sisters and put them on my truck. Go get one and help spread the word! Let me know if your favorite shop doesn’t have any.

Of course, while I care about Orcas, the fact that Snake River steelhead populations are on the verge of collapse is a critical concern for sport anglers. The science on this is clear: the dams must go or an iconic run of steelhead will be extirpated. (Yes, I know, there’s no website on the sticker, I’m just the delivery guy on this one.)

AP Story on Local Drought & Farmers

The Associated Press recently released, “Droughts haves, have-nots test how to share water in the West“, along with an associated video. AP covers the drought here in Central Oregon, the impacts on North Unit Irrigation District patrons, and implementing water markets as a solution. Kate Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of the Deschutes River Conservancy, makes a good case for that. I encourage you to read the article and watch the video. This is a big, complex issue, AP only covers a portion of it, but this is the best coverage of this part I have seen.

I continue to be taken at how late so many are to understanding the issues. A local farmer is quoted as saying he only started paying attention to water availability two months ago because it was simply always there. Yikes! Irrigation districts, government agencies, municipalities, NGOS, and concerned individual citizens like me have been tracking and participating in forums on this topic for many years. How could a farmer whose livelihood depends on water not be aware of what is going on in the Deschutes Basin? I understand politicians avoiding the issue, but the rest of us need to get engaged. The worst is yet to come as our water table drops. Farmers are not the only ones at risk. The article touches on the fact that California made changes in their water laws, we need to force our politicians to do the same.

Pumping Water from Lake Billy Chinook: Too Many Unknowns

North Unit Irrigation District (NUID) is working on plans to pump up to 400 CFS of water from Lake Billy Chinook (LBC) for use by their patrons.  The Bend Bulletin recently had a positive story about it as well as an editorial endorsing the idea.  This could be an attractive idea but there are simply too many unknowns to have an informed opinion, and there are reasons for concern.  The devil is in the details, and we don’t know the details.

My first reaction is that a pumping station at LBC will be another expensive taxpayer funded project for private benefit, may shift water availability and quality issues from one part of the Deschutes River to another, and would not be necessary if the core issues of the water scarcity crisis were addressed.  Water waste and misappropriation is our disease. Do we need to spend another $400M of taxpayer dollars for pumping on top of the $1B dollars already needed for canal piping to cure it?

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“Give me a one-handed economist. All my economists say ‘on one hand…’, then ‘but on the other…'” – Harry Truman

Save Arnold Canal

I was recently contacted by a few people from a group calling themselves Save Arnold Canal. I encourage you to look at their website, especially the two videos. They have done an excellent job describing their opposition to piping the Arnold Irrigation District (AID) main canal. Keep reading for my thoughts on this thorny issue.

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Colorado or Central Oregon?

This article could be about Central Oregon in the near future and is worth reading. The Colorado River is a mirror of the issues we face locally: global warming, unsustainable water use, archaic water laws, booming populations, wasteful agricultural practices, spineless politicians, etc. Unless something changes soon we will share the same fate.

Steelhead Fishing Closure: Too Little Too Late?

By now you should be aware that two days ago ODFW partially closed steelhead fishing on a few rivers, including parts of the Deschutes during September. For the past three years I have been writing that this should occur, and not just for part of the Deschutes for a single month. Here’s a post I made just 3 weeks ago illustrating how “bleak” the returns have been. In their press release on August 27th, ODFW stated that steelhead returns so far this year are the lowest since counts began in 1938. As of August 20, steelhead counts at Sherars Falls on the Deschutes near Maupin were only 1/3 the already low 2020 counts. Above is a graph showing unclipped steelhead returns over Bonneville Dam, fish destined for all the tributaries of the Columbia. Note that unclipped mostly means wild, but not always. Some unclipped fish are actually hatchery fish that are part of steelhead reintroduction efforts, like in the Upper Deschutes Basin. Also note that the 10 year average in the graph is getting pretty low as the last 10 years have seen poor returns.

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Thornburgh: They’re Back…

It’s almost been a year since my last post on the monster that won’t die: Thornburgh Resort. Things have been progressing behind the scenes in the legal system, however, and it has resurfaced in a way that we citizens can again have input. Central Oregon Land Watch has done an excellent job covering the latest developments. I encourage you to read their post, and some of my old ones as well (use the link on the right), and perhaps submit comments (see the COLW site for how to do that). I was on the Zoom call for the hearing last week and the Hearings Officer was very narrowly focused on a specific issue, but an outpouring of public comment can’t hurt. For what it’s worth, below are my comments submitted last Wednesday in response to the hearing the prior evening.

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OWRD Drought Report

The Oregon Water Resources Department has a weekly drought report email. You can sign up for it here. You can see this week’s report here. We should all be familiar with graphs showing current drought conditions in Central Oregon (we’re mostly in extreme or exceptional drought) and current stream flows (they are well below normal overall). Above is an interesting chart showing soil moisture content that you may not be as familiar with. Deschutes County soil is dry overall, especially in the Cascades, which is the source of our water. The takeaway is that it is going to take numerous above average snow years to recover soil moisture to “normal” levels. This is important given that the vast majority of our water comes out of the ground.

Misplaced Anger

The Bulletin recently ran a story about farmers and others around Madras blaming the Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan for reducing water deliveries this year.  Even though irrigators will continue to get most of the water in the Upper Deschutes for many years to come, this group claims there should be “balance” in water allocations.  I guess they want 100% of the water, like they took until recently.  This group has hired out-of-state, anti-environmental attorneys to have the HCP changed. 

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It’s not just Columbia Basin Steelhead…

This press release from ODFW was issued today. What a bummer. I guess I’ll be extending my trout fishing for as long as possible.

North Umpqua River, tributaries, closed to all angling

August 9, 2021

ROSEBURG, Ore – Low numbers of summer steelhead returning to the North Umpqua River prompted state fishery managers to close the river and its tributaries to all angling from the mouth to the marker below Soda Springs Dam. The emergency closure is effective Aug. 10 through Nov. 30, 2021.

Initial counts of summer steelhead passing Winchester Dam are historically low at about 20 percent of average. These counts are determined from Winchester Dam video of migrating fish as well as from snorkel counts in Steamboat and Canton Creeks.  

“This information, along with the continued low flow and high water temperatures, led us to this decision. We plan to have this closure in place through December to provide as much protection as possibly for these wild summer steelhead,” said Evan Leonetti, assistant district fisheries biologist.

Greg Huchko, Umpqua district fish biologist said the decision was not easy to make and he hopes anglers will understand the need for the closure during these unprecedented decisions.

Early, but Bleak: Steelhead Returns

I spent time this morning looking at my calendar and thinking about fishing over the next 2-3 months. The end of August is when I would like to switch over to steelhead fishing on the Deschutes River. So, I took a look at the Fish Passage Center website. These are all the steelhead destined for all the rivers above Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River, not just the Deschutes. Bleak is about the best I can say, even more bleak than last year’s horrible returns. It’s early in the season, but the graphs say it all. I’m not ready to sell all my steelhead gear yet, but this sure is depressing. You need to ask yourself, is the pleasure you get from fishing worth contributing to the continued decline of these fish? Even with the best catch and release practices, some fish are killed.

All steelhead over Bonneville Dam. Data as of 8/7/21.
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Wonky But Important: DBGMP 5-Year Review

The Deschutes Basin Groundwater Mitigation Program controls how much groundwater can be pumped out of the ground for municipal, agricultural, manufacturing, and other uses.  Written into law in 1995 and first implemented in 2002, the Mitigation Program established a cap of 200 CFS (cubic feet per second) of new groundwater rights and requires that most withdrawals be “mitigated” by new surface flows from another source.  After 20 years, there is still approximately 20 CFS left in the cap.  By statute, every 5 years the Oregon Water Resources Department is required to submit their review of the program, including the consideration of public comments.  That review is currently underway with comments due by August 25, 2021.  Comments can be made to Sarah Henderson, OWRD Flow Restoration Program Coordinator, at sarah.a.henderson@oregon.gov.

This is a hugely complex and contentious issue, but one that has been, and will continue to be, exceptionally impactful on all Central Oregonians.  It will weigh heavily on long term population growth, local agriculture, recreation, and the health of fish and wildlife.  Keep reading for more.

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Klamath Fishing Report

Karl with a Williamson River trout.

I have been avoiding fishing in the Klamath Basin this summer due to the drought and fires but decided I had waited as long as I could and spent 5 days over the past two weekends on some of my favorite bodies of water in that area. There were days with some smoke and it was hot at times, but the fishing was surprisingly good. The places I visited needed more water, but there was enough to support fish and the water quality was excellent.

The added bonus is that in those five days I saw a total of five other anglers. Five! Plus two kayakers. You need to know where to go, but that sort of experience is long gone in Central Oregon. Osprey, goose, and beavers were everywhere. Pelicans, herons, and many other birds as well. Sand hill cranes and coyotes called to each other in the morning.

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The Endangered Species Act is Not the Problem

A few days ago the Bend Bulletin ran an opinion piece from a local farmer that partially blamed the Endangered Species Act for irrigator water shortages. Below is the response I submitted. Let’s see if they print it.

7/29/21 UPDATE: That was fast, it’s in today’s paper.

The Bulletin recently ran a guest column from a Central Oregon farmer asserting that the Endangered Species Act is partly to blame for current water shortages.  Many local farmers need more water, but the column is written from a perspective that does not hold up to objective analysis.

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2021 Pelton Round Butte Fisheries Workshop Executive Summary

Portland General Electric and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, co-owners of the Pelton Round Butte Hydroelectric Project on the Deschutes River, held their annual fisheries workshop today. I have been attending these events for many years and can wrap this one up pretty easily. While some of the numbers have changed, the bottom line is that the goal of reintroducing summer steelhead, spring chinook, and sockeye into the Upper Deschutes Basin remains elusive. The number of returning adults of all three species continues to be a small fraction of what is required for self-sustaining populations. That being said, there are good, dedicated people working on the effort and they continue to adapt based on the results of on-going scientific work. Also, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reported that their annual fish sampling once again shows that the operation of the Selective Water Withdrawal tower has had no negative impact on trout populations in the Lower Deschutes River. As detailed in their presentation, trout density and size continues to be the same or better than before the SWW become operational. In a follow up conversation, ODFW confirmed that trout condition factors (health) also continue to be good. I believe that reintroduction remains a worthwhile effort. The biggest issues remain outside the control of PGE/CTWS: low flows in the Crooked River (where most fish want to go), high temperatures, and poor ocean conditions.

The Klamath Basin is Dying

Readers of this blog know I have an affinity for fishing in the Klamath Basin. Today the longstanding drought is the most severe ever and the situation is dire.  Rivers are at all time lows, the national wildlife refuge is now home to dust devils, migratory birds will soon have no place to rest and eat on their flight north, Upper Klamath Lake is so low that native fish cannot spawn, groundwater is dropping from unsustainable extraction, high temperatures are creating unprecedented kills of salmon in the Klamath River, forests are burning (around some great places to fish), and farmers are losing their livelihoods.  There simply is not enough water to go around. 

WaterWatch’s South Oregon Program Director Jim McCarthy recently had an excellent interview on OPB’s “Think Out Loud” where he outlined the problems and a solution that could work with a little legislative action. I think it is well worth 20 minutes of your time.

Don’t Act Like a “Pandangler”

A friend who splits his time between Bend and Montana sent me an article about fish dying in Montana rivers from the low flows and high temperatures, just like we have in Central Oregon. The guides are blaming the “pandanglers”, folks who have taken up the sport since the pandemic, and who have no idea how to properly catch and release or that you shouldn’t fish when the water is above 68 degrees or so. Fish can look fine when you release them but die from the stress of the struggle and heat. Don’t act like a pandangler. This has been a very frustrating summer for me, only in the past three months have I been able to fish after nine months of recovering from shoulder surgery, but I’m really limiting where and when I fish, and being extra careful when I do get out. It’s a bummer but part of living on a heating planet.

Wonky: Water Allocation & Policy in the Deschutes Basin

Kate Fitzpatrick, the Executive Director of the Deschutes River Conservancy, was recently interviewed for a podcast where she discussed our current drought and actions that the DRC has taken to work with irrigators to help alleviate it. As I told Kate directly, I believe that she is overselling the DRC’s accomplishments (very few COID patrons have offered to share their water with NUID, the Crooked River is essentially dewatered below the NUID diversion, Whychus Creek is still too hot to support a healthy ecosystem, etc.), but Kate is trying and she does a good job of laying out a vision for change. WARNING: this is an informative but wonky, water policy nerd sort of talk.

Crooked River at 5 CFS?

Photo: Brett Hodgson. 7/9/2021.

Brett Hodgson, recently retired Deschutes District fish biologist at the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, sent me this photo taken at 8:15 this morning of the Crooked River at Smith Rocks. He estimates the river is at 5 CFS! The air temperature is supposed to reach at least 90 degrees today. You are looking at what will soon be a dead stretch of river, if it is not already. You could walk across it without getting your feet wet.

So much for anadromous fish reintroduction. Over 60 adult spring chinook salmon have gone through the fish ladder at Opal Springs to be faced with this.

And so much for the benefits of taxpayer funded canal piping. Some of that piping was supposed to increase flows in this stretch of the river. In fact, the minimum is supposed to be 10 CFS, which the river is not at, and 10 CFS is not enough to support fish in any event.

Bend’s Integrated Water System Master Plan

I’m not a resident of Bend, but watched the online “open house” on their integrated water system master plan. If you are interested in Bend’s water system and planning it’s worth a look. I’ve followed this topic for years and learned a few things. For example, due to water conservation, water use today is less than it was in 2008 despite Bend’s enormous growth. We need incentives for irrigators with senior water rights to similarly conserve.

More Cold Water Being Released into the Lower Deschutes River

The recent heatwave caused Portland General Electric to release 25% cold bottom water a few days ago into the Lower Deschutes River. The lower river once again has the temperature it would have if the Pelton Round Butte hydroelectric complex was not there. PGE says they will be able to release more cold water in July. Good news for Deschutes anglers.

Repeat: The Columbia River Basin Will Look Like The Tigris/Euphrates Basin

I’ve never repeated a post, but our extreme heatwave on top of our extreme drought made me think of this post from last January. Recently, I heard someone from the Oregon Water Resource Department deny that global heating had anything to do with the current drought. I hope we can all start paying attention to the science and understand that we need to take urgent action. Here’s the post:

A few years ago, I was asked to give a presentation on local water issues where I focused on climate change, drought, our dwindling snowpack, and its enormous repercussions on ecosystems, municipal water supplies, and agriculture. I was surprised by the fact that so many in the audience, even those deep in “water world”, had not made the connection between snowpack and local water issues*. There seemed to be a view that we have this enormous aquifer that will provide for us without understanding that a deep snowpack is the source of that aquifer. Today, I read a review of a scientific article on the subject that should scare all of us.

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North Canal Dam Fish Ladder

North Canal Dam from Google Earth.

North Canal Dam, located just upstream from the Mt. Washington bridge in Bend, is the northernmost irrigation diversion dam on the Deschutes River. Built in 1912 and 33 feet high, it is the largest and oldest dam in Bend. A fish ladder was required to be installed in 2017, providing upstream fish passage for the first time in over 100 years. The dam is on the left in the image above, two major irrigation canals are on the right, and the fish ladder is in the middle, indicated by the red arrow.

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Water Sharing is Not Enough

Here’s an opinion piece I submitted to the Bend Bulletin today. Their 650 word limit made it a bit choppy and forced me to leave out a lot, but I think the overall message is clear enough. UPDATE (6/24/21): the Bulletin published my column yesterday and today they wrote an editorial in support of bring back the water bank.

The Bulletin recently covered the plight of some farmers with junior water rights getting only 40% of their traditional water deliveries while senior water rights holders continue to get their full allotment. 

Beginning in the late 1800s settlers were lured by developers to Central Oregon with sometimes dubious promises of cheap land, good soil and weather, and plentiful water. Dreams of fertile farms helped bring the wagon trains.  The first to arrive and organize were given the most senior water rights and every right after that was more junior.  North Unit Irrigation District around Madras has the most productive farmland but the most junior rights.  While they have been here the longest, fish and wildlife have the most junior water rights of all.

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More Spring Chinook Going Nowhere

Due to irrigation withdrawals, the Crooked River is currently so low as to be impassable around Smith Rocks and the City of Prineville. Once the river reaches the Crooked River Ranch golf course, it is recharged by cold, clean water from a series of springs to the extent that it actually resembles the Metolius River by the time it reaches Lake Billy Chinook. As a result, the bottom stretch of the river has sufficiently high quality water to attract spring chinook through the fish ladder at Opal Springs Dam just upstream from LBC. As of today, 12 chinook have passed through the ladder. That’s the good news. The bad news is that they won’t get far. Let’s hope they can find places to spawn in a very short stretch of water.

Wonky: Deschutes Basin Water Collaborative

If you are a local water policy geek like I am, then it’s time to start hearing about the Deschutes Basin Water Collaborative, of which I am a member. The now complete Basin Study Work Group was a multi-year research project that dove deep into Basin water issues. The Collaborative is an even larger effort to implement some of the solutions that BSWG pointed to. DBWC has been around for a while now, but it’s moving slowly and still getting it’s footing. Some DBWC members presented to the Oregon House Committee On Water 2 weeks ago, and it’s worth watching (it’s the first 40 minutes). The speakers provided a reasonable overview of Basin water issues and collaborative efforts, but were careful to accentuate the positive. I fully acknowledge that some reaches of some rivers and streams are now in better shape than in the past, but the scale of the really fundamental work that needs to be done, at a much quicker pace than currently being discussed, was not addressed.

Local Stream Flow and Reservoir Levels

I’m sure you’re aware by now that most of Central Oregon is currently in “extreme” or “exceptional” drought. As an angler, I’m particularly concerned with flows in local waterways. Here’s a chart from the Oregon Water Resources Department that may be new to you. It shows current stream flows compared to the average. Flows in most of the state are more than 40% below average. Crook County is at 11%! According to the Bureau of Reclamation, reservoirs in Deschutes County are 42% full, which is 55% of the average. In other words, they are normally 76% full at this time of year. Reservoirs in Crook County are at 47% capacity, which is 54% of the average.

Spring Chinook, the Crooked River, and the HCP

Here’s more on the extreme low flows on the Crooked River which is currently at 9 CFS below Prineville. As of yesterday, 3 adult spring chinook have swam through the fish ladder at Opal Springs near the mouth of the Crooked River. They won’t get far, however, as the river is impassable for fish their size not far upstream. Below are a couple of photos of the river a little below the North Unit Irrigation District diversion near Smith Rocks. Why doesn’t the Habitat Conservation Plan require flows needed for these reintroduced fish? Probably because they are not yet listed as endangered species in the Deschutes Basin, but steelhead are, and their fry need higher, cleaner flows to survive.

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2020-2021 Steelhead Reintroduction Final

Portland General Electric provided the final reintroduction counts for the 2020-2021 steelhead season last Friday* and once again they were extremely disappointing: a total of 52 steelhead. These are fish from the Upper Deschutes Basin that were captured as out migrating smolts 2 years ago at the Selective Water Withdrawal tower in Lake Billy Chinook, potentially marked and released into the Lower Deschutes River, and which subsequently returned as adults. Last year 57 adults returned. It is almost important to know that the number of all steelhead (wild, hatchery, and reintroduced) captured at the Pelton Trap was very low (1,309).

Once again, I make the case that this is not an issue specifically with the Deschutes River, it is a result of many factors that have led to massive declines in anadromous fish populations throughout the Pacific Northwest. These include global warming which is destroying the food chain in the ocean as well as lowering and warming rivers, dams which remove habitat and impede migration, over fishing, pollution, cross-breeding and competition with hatchery fish, etc. Without large scale reform, wild steelhead in much of the Columbia Basin and beyond are on the path to extinction and hatchery fish could follow.

For those of you who track the reintroduction closely, keep reading.

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“In the Klamath Basin, pretty much everybody’s feeling the pain”

A parasitic infection is expected to kill nearly all of juvenile salmon on the Klamath River this spring. The photo features fish that are presumed to have died from infection.
Yurok Tribe

That’s the title of an article on OPB.org. As readers know, I have a real fondness for fishing in the Klamath Basin (great fishing, few people), but the extreme multi-year drought they are experiencing is going to dramatically impact fishing, farming, and economies from the upper Basin out to the coast. The quote that really caught by eye was from Craig Tucker, natural resources policy consultant for the Karuk Tribe in California.

“This is 21st century global climate change hydrology,” Tucker said. “This is what the climatologists told us to expect is extreme dryness, followed by extreme wetness, and less snow. “We can’t use 20th century water plans to deal with 21st century climate,” he added.

This applies to the Deschutes Basin as well. Unfortunately, nothing is occurring in either basin at the scale or speed that is needed.

What is “Normal” Temperature?


Every 10 years, the National Centers for Environmental Information releases statistics on “normal” weather for the US. This data is used in a variety of ways, for example to say that today is warmer or colder than normal. The problem with this is that it does not capture long term trends, comparing the past decade to the prior one is not as useful as looking at the past 100 years. The chart above does just that. It compares the 30 years from 1991-2020 to the entire 20th century. There’s no doubt about it, we’re heating up. If we looked at just the past 10 years compared to the prior 100 it would look even worse.

Of course, this same problem exists when looking at fish counts. Everyone talks about current numbers relative to the past 10 to 20 years. What we should really be looking at is current population estimates in relation to the past 100+ years. When you do that it is downright depressing.

A Tale of 2 Rivers (both the Deschutes)

Middle Deschutes near Riley Ranch. 62 CFS on 5/1/21. Go the the COLW blog to watch the video.

Tod Heisler at Central Oregon Land Watch wrote a really good post for their blog, “Drought and the Deschutes: Looking at the same river twice“. It succinctly covers a topic I write about a lot: the dramatic difference in flows above and below Bend during irrigation season. I highly recommend it. Here’s some more color to this discussion: many local groups promote the Middle Deschutes as a success story. In fact, just yesterday I was in a meeting where a local prominent NGO and a government employee did just that. Once again, I lost my cool. Historically, the Middle Deschutes as it flows through Bend should be somewhere over 1,200 CFS right now. A few days ago it was at 62 CFS. That’s 5%* of the historical flow. True, 62 CFS is better than nothing, but we have a very long way to go before this stretch of the river is healthy again.

(*Yes, I made a stupid math error in the first version of this post, now corrected. I need a proof reader / editor sometimes.)

Crooked River 2021 Flows

We can now make a prediction about how the Crooked River will look for the remainder of the year.  The executive summary is that the Wild & Scenic section below Bowman Dam, where most anglers spend their time, down to the City of Prineville (CoP), will have good flows during irrigation season and will have low, but survivable flows in non-irrigation season.  Below CoP is another story.  Flows below CoP will be extremely low, lethally so at times, during irrigation season but then improve during non-irrigation season.  Read on for a detailed explanation.

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Conservation Angler Newsletter

The Conservation Angler’s recent newsletter has some really good stuff in it, I suggest you check it out. One slightly off-topic comment: for my day job I have spent a fair amount of time pouring over research on Bitcoin and Blockchain. There is a link in TCA’s newsletter to an article that does a reasonable job of discussing Bitcoin’s environmental impact at a high level, but leaves out something that continues to stun me. Given the enormous computing power required to run the Blockchain and mine new coins, the preponderance of server farms dedicated to this task are located in China due to their cheap, coal-based electricity. The result is that Bitcoin is responsible for about 60 million tons of CO2 emissions annually, an amount that is increasing. It is projected that Bitcoin will soon emit more CO2 than Japan, currently the 5th largest emitter in the world.

Precipitation Cumulative Departure From Average

By now, we should all be aware of our 20-year drought (I have many posts on this). While I have seen many graphical representations of it, this one in Kyle’s presentation was new to me. The blue bars show actual monthly precipitation over the past 20 years as measured at Wickiup Dam (not average as stated in the chart). The red line shows the cumulative departure from average. Over the past 20 years, Wickiup has seen almost 60 less inches than “average”. Kyle goes on to say in the presentation the cause is normal weather cycles, not global warming. Regardless of the reason, it has been dry over the past 20 years and we have had no changes in water policy or management in response.

Water in the Deschutes Basin: 2020 Hindsight – What Happened?

An empty Wikiup Reservoir.

For a couple of years I have been attending/viewing presentations put on by the Central Oregon Geoscience Society (COGS). I am not a geologist, but the talks have been educational and are occasionally about topics of particular interest to me like local hydrology and hydrogeomorphology. On April 27, Kyle Gorman, long time Central Oregon Region Manager for the Oregon Water Resources Department, gave a presentation titled, Water in the Deschutes Basin: 2020 Hindsight – What Happened? (Click on the title to see a replay.) Kyle discussed local hydrology and water use by irrigators. His presentation even had a couple of informative slides I had not seen before. (Check out the “CDA” graph at about minute 40.) It was a good overview of water issues many of us have been tracking for years, and I recommend viewing the replay of his talk, and perhaps joining COGS if you are interested in presentations like this.

I was surprised, however, by Kyle’s dismissal of global warming as a causal factor in current water shortages. Keep reading for comments on that.

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Middle Deschutes Killed Again

Credit: Central Oregon Irrigation District email.

Sadly, as I have written about many times, it is irrigation season and once again the Middle Deschutes below Bend is being killed.  According to the US Bureau of Reclamation gauge, the Middle is currently flowing at 64 CFS.  Prior to the installation of upstream dams and irrigation withdrawals, this section of river would be flowing around 1,200 CFS.  Not only are the flows lethally low, they are erratic (see the chart below).  The photo above is from a Central Oregon Irrigation District email last month that provided the irrigation startup schedule to their patrons.  I was struck by their use of this image, as I will explain below.

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Misleading Bulletin Article on the Deschutes

On April 3rd, the Bend Bulletin ran a very misleading article, Deschutes River level to rise as irrigation season begins, so I am glad they printed Tod Heisler’s response. The Bulletin’s article omitted much and contained inaccuracies, like showing a picture of the river at Sawyer park and claiming that the river will rise there when it will actually fall. Tod did a good job of providing a more complete and accurate description of the irrigator’s impact on the river.

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.