The ecological impacts of the low winter flows out of Wickiup Dam have been documented since 1947. In the early 1980s, after citizens successfully stopped 16 hydro dams from being built on the Upper Deschutes between Bend and Pringle Falls, they turned their attention to fixing the unnatural and damaging low winter flows (storage season) and high summer flows (irrigation season) in the Upper Deschutes River. But the problems persisted.
Fast forward to October 2013, when Coalition co-founder Kim Brannock was running along the river trail and discovered thousands of fish dying in the dewatered mile-long side channel along Lava Island. She came back with some buckets and a few friends and started rescuing fish. Since then, fish salvages in this location have been organized each year, but that’s triage, not a cure. The real solution is to restore more natural, stable flows to the river. The key to accomplishing that goal is to modernize irrigation by piping leaky canals and implement water conservation policies so that water stays in the river.
In mid-October this year, when the flow out of Wickiup Dam is reduced to 100 cfs, the Lava Island side channel will again dry out and fish will be stranded. We look forward to the new era when the annual fish salvage isn’t needed because the winter flows in the Upper Deschutes are always high enough to restore and sustain a healthy river again, but in the mean time, we’ll rescue as many fish as we can!
Many local volunteers from Central Oregon Irrigation District, the Deschutes River Conservancy and Trout Unlimited are again joining the Coalition for the Deschutes for this year’s fish salvage. Contact us for more information.
The video below is from the 2016 fish salvage at the Lava Island side channel. The first half of the video shows views of the Upper Deschutes at different flows in October as releases from Wickiup are “ramped down” so water can be stored for the next year’s irrigation season. The second half shows the fish salvage in action after the flows were reduced to 100 cfs and the Lava Island side channel dewatered.
“Lava Island Fish Rescue” – October 2016