I was recently made aware of this informative website from the Center for American Progress. The section on rivers and the interactive mapping they provide is excellent. Zoom in on Central Oregon to see just how bad things look. The report also underlines the “economic powerhouse” that river-based recreation creates. It’s a worthwhile read.
Every year ODFW counts fish in the Crooked River below Bowman Dam. This year they are sampling June 18-22 and are looking for help. Volunteers walk down the bank of the river while ODFW biologists float and shock the river. Fish near the boat are temporally stunned by the electric current and float to the surface where they are captured, counted, and measured. I first helped with this years ago and it made me a far better angler on the Crooked and elsewhere. Even after decades of fishing experience and “reading the water”, I was amazed to see where fish were holding and in what numbers. If you are interested in helping, contact Tim Porter, Assistant District Fish Biologist in Prineville, at Timothy.K.Porter@state.or.us or (541) 447-5111 ext. 24. Let him know which day(s) you can help and he will get back to you with more detailed info. You need to be able to carry buckets of stunned fish back upstream to release them near where they were captured. The day usually lasts from 8:30 am until 2 pm.
As you know, the state of Oregon works on a 2-year (“biennium”) cycle. State agencies are now preparing their 2019-2021 budget requests which will be sent to the governor and then to the legislature for final approval. ODFW voluntarily gathers public feedback on their budget through what they call the External Budget Advisory Committee, of which I am a member. Last week was the final EBAC meeting and I am happy to report that ODFW appears to be in reasonable shape. They are far from flush with cash but they are not cutting personnel and services like they have in the recent past. They are also gearing up to work on what they state is potentially the largest anadromous fish reintroduction in the nation in the Klamath Basin.Read More »
I was recently criticized for not sufficiently valuing the economic contribution of agriculture to the Central Oregon economy. Some readers felt that the value provided by farmers justified the damage to our local rivers caused by irrigation withdrawals. I am reminded of an old quote that goes something like “we can have our own opinions but we can’t have our own facts”, so here are some facts. You can form your own opinion. I again want to stress that I am not advocating for the forced elimination of water deliveries to any water right holder. As I have written about on this blog there are affordable and relatively quick solutions that allocate water to irrigators while also partially restoring rivers. I believe it is time to implement water policies that ensure our economic vitality for the next 100 years, not that reflect the past 100.Read More »
This afternoon I was able to tour the Deschutes Land Trust’s new Ochoco Preserve. The preserve is currently farmland just outside Prineville that will be converted to wetlands over the next decade or so. It is where McKay and Ochoco Creeks meet the Crooked River. The potential for new, high quality habitat for native redband trout is very exciting. These creeks were also important spawning areas for anadromous Chinook salmon and steelhead and may be again once the fish ladder at Opal Springs Dam is complete. I encourage you to visit the DLT’s site, learn more, and become a member if you are able.
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.
The southeastern part of Oregon has amazing fishing. Last summer I spent 10 days driving around that part of the state in my camper with one of my sons, we caught hundreds of trout from a few inches to over 20 inches, and we only came across one other angler the whole time. If you too love that area, or native fish, you should know ODFW is currently working on a conservation plan for the Malheur Basin and could use your help.
Today the Bulletin published a column I wrote about some of the hindrances faced by landowners who would like to forgo their allocation of irrigation water and help restore the Deschutes. In short, the irrigation districts would rather keep the water in their systems. There can also be tax penalties for not irrigating in some cases. Of course, we taxpayers continue to subsidize the irrigation districts. It does not seem right to me. See below for the full column.Read More »
The Deschutes steelhead season officially ranges from April 1 until March 31. Below is a table with the final returns of adult fish to the trap at the base of PGE/CTWS’s Pelton Round Butte complex of dams. There’s no way to sugar coat the news, it’s simply bleak. There were record low returns of steelhead across all categories (see the table below). Read More »
I was recently contacted about potentially participating on a panel discussing rivers in Deschutes County. Others would cover wildlife and habitat issues but they were looking for someone who would address economics. To the best of my knowledge there have been no comprehensive studies done on this topic but it did get me thinking.
Wildlife News recently posted an article titled “Deschutes River–Irrigation Canal or Wild River?” written by Bend resident George Wuerthner. I believe his post is worth a thoughtful read. He makes an argument that I have been making for years about who owns public water and who should pay for it. Further, he echoes a criticism I have made of the Deschutes River Conservancy and he extends that criticism to newcomer Coalition for the Deschutes. While I am deeply sympathetic to the thrust of the article, my own views have become more nuanced. Like with so many complex issues, the elegant and morally correct solution currently looks unattainable and compromise can make for strange bedfellows. Read more below. I will soon be making more posts about the political/policy side of restoring flows in the Deschutes.Read More »
The Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife is a lightning rod for criticism by some. Having worked for years with many caring department employees I find that disapproval often misplaced. ODFW would like to do much more for the citizens of Oregon but they are hamstrung by a very tight budget. Not long ago they literally ended one month with $1.67 in the bank! After cutting personnel and facilities, and raising fees, they are now in better shape but things remain tight. They are currently planning their 2019-2021 budget and you have a chance to weigh in.Read More »
In case you missed the BSWG presentation, or just wanted to take another look, here are the posters they had scattered around the room. There’s lots of data in here, the summary is that there is plenty of water in the Deschutes Basin to meet the demands of irrigators and cities along with fish & wildlife. The problem is how can it be reallocated from the irrigators (who have 90% of all available water) to other needs without harming agriculture? The issues are financial and cultural but they can be overcome if the public demands it.
Beautiful day to count redds on the Metolius with ODFW. Great excuse to take a day off work. It is amazing how little spawning habit supports the entire redband trout population on this river. The fish migrate up close to the headwaters, spawn, and quickly move back downstream.
The Deschutes River Alliance has recently released a new video titled “A River Worth Fighting For” touching on their suit against Portland General Electric and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs alleging violations of the Clean Water Act. They spend more time illustrating economic hardship in Maupin which they attribute to those violations. While I am completely in favor of the Clean Water Act being enforced, and sympathetic to businesses who rely on tourism, I believe this video is misleading in many respects.Read More »
ODFW & PGE are looking for volunteers in March and April to help with the reintroduction of salmon and steelhead into the upper Deschutes Basin. I have helped multiple times with these activities and always find it worthwhile.
The Basin Study Work Group is coming to the end of their multi-year study of water needs and availability in the upper Deschutes Basin and holding public meetings to discuss the results. This is an important event for local anglers and I encourage you to attend. BWSG shows what is possible in terms of restoring flows in the upper Deschutes River but it does not require any actions be taken. Public pressure can change that.Read More »
For over 20 years Portland General Electric and now the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs have been hosting the Pelton Round Butte Fisheries Workshop. This is an annual gathering of state and federal agencies, NGOs, and the curious to review and discuss the latest science on the Deschutes and its tributaries. I have been going for a few years and find it fascinating. This year should have the usual updates on reintroduction and fisheries health, the final results of the macroinvertebrate study, and the results of the water quality study. It will be very interesting.
This year the workshop will be June 13 & 14 at Tetherow Resort in Bend. Everyone is welcome and I encourage you to attend. To get on the email list, contact Jessica Graeber (Jessica.Graeber@pgn.com).
At last year’s conference, I took over 7 pages of notes. Below are the highlights from those notes.Read More »
The Deschutes River 2017/2018 summer steelhead season still has a few weeks left but returns have been bleak. As of the end of January 2018 only 13 upper basin origin steelhead have been captured in the Pelton trap a little upstream from the Warm Springs Bridge, and none in December. This will likely be the lowest return year since upper basin returns began in 2011.Read More »
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 »
As reported in the NY Times, today NASA stated that 2017 was the second hottest year on record, trailing only 2016. Unfortunately, “this is the new normal”. While the Pacific is currently a little cooler than normal due to a weak La Niña condition, it is not expected to last. “It doesn’t seem like there’s any evidence things are cooling down.” This is not welcome news for Central Oregon steelhead anglers.
NOAA Fisheries released a report yesterday stating that sea lion populations have rebounded to new highs and are now at their “optimum sustainable population”. As discussed in a prior post, sea lions have become a significant threat to some anadromous fish populations. Hopefully this finding will allow some action to protect threatened steelhead and salmon populations.Read More »
The proposed Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan includes a section on the Crooked River (see pages 34 to 37). While I have heard some in the angling and conservation communities speak favorably about the proposal for the Crooked, I am not in agreement.
In summary, my concerns are:
- There is no scientific justification for the 50 cfs average minimum target during the winter and it is unclear what is meant by “average”.
- There is no provision for reducing the incidence of gas bubble disease.
- There is no mention of water quality.
- It does not address the low flow, high temperature problem that exists below the Wild & Scenic section during irrigation season.
As Central Oregonians know, the City of Bend is expanding and incorporating land into its urban growth boundary, land that may have irrigation water rights. This land will primarily be used for housing or commercial purposes and, with perhaps the exception of the Park District, will no longer need irrigation water. Water from one of the three existing municipal water systems will be used instead. Unfortunately, the irrigators are not returning the now unneeded water back to the Deschutes. Read More »
The US Forest Service is currently seeking public comment on two project proposals on the upper Deschutes River, both are designed restore degraded riparian areas along the river.Read More »
The lower Deschutes is an emotional subject for many with claims and counter claims often made by the many parties studying the issues affecting the river. A current example of this is Black Spot Disease. Technically an infection and not a disease, the black spots are caused by a parasite that exists across North America including many rivers in Oregon.Read More »
One of the most important issues for anglers and river lovers in the Deschutes Basin is restoring flows in the upper Deschutes River. This is a complex topic where I will spend significant time posting with explanations and analysis, but last week the eight Central Oregon irrigation districts and the City of Prineville presented the outline of their proposed Habitat Conservation Plan for the upper Deschutes Basin. There were a few reasonable ideas presented but overall it was bad news for the upper Deschutes. Read More »
Last week Merrill Lynch Research released a “Climate Change Primer” outlining the challenges and potential investment opportunities climate change provides. Of course, climate change impacts our fisheries as well. The Merrill Lynch report begins with the statement that climate change is the top global risk we face. Read More »
One of the most important issues for local anglers and river lovers is the dismal state of the upper Deschutes River (above Bend). This is a complex topic that I will cover in depth over time, but for those of you who have some familiarity with it, my Upper Deschutes Backgrounder could be of interest.
In response to the Oregon Spotted Frog being listed as an endangered species, more water is being released into the upper Deschutes in the winter in order to provide improved overwintering habitat. At the same time, levels in Crane Prairie Reservoir are being more stably managed for consistent habitat. As a result, levels in Wickiup Reservoir should see larger draw downs in the winter which in turn will likely negatively impact its fish population. As a result, ODFW is changing the regulations for Wickiup to reduce the number of kokanee that may be harvested.Read More »
After years of effort the final funding for a volitional fish ladder at Opal Springs Dam was obtained earlier this month. There are some regulatory hurdles remaining but construction should begin in the spring and be complete within two years. Opal Springs is a small hydroelectric facility owned by Deschutes Valley Water District about a quarter mile up the Crooked River from where it enters Lake Billy Chinook. Downstream fish passage has been available, mostly through the turbines, but not upstream passage.Read More »