In 1947, the Oregon State Game Commission documented what happened when flows at Wickiup Dam were reduced to 50 cubic feet per second (cfs) from about 650 cfs. The Commission, now the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, implored the state to permit minimum winter flows of no less than 200 cfs. However, in 1955 the State Engineer unilaterally set the legal minimum winter flow at 20 cfs. This year, for the second year in a row and thanks to the hard work of many, the low flows will not dip below 100 cfs. We’re headed in the right direction: modernize irrigation and restore the river!
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
Back to the Future: Upper Deschutes Historic Fishery: The Way it Was…and Can Be Again
Monday, October 23, 6:30 – 7:30 pm
Brooks Room, Bend downtown library
Join former Coalition for the Deschutes board member, Craig Lacy, for a presentation about the Upper Deschutes fishery of decades past.
Bend resident Craig Lacy has been an advocate for wild rivers and wild fish for more than four decades. During the early 1980s, Craig worked as a guide for a flyfishing business out of Sisters. In 1985, he started his own outfitting business, Whitewater and Wild Fish, becoming the first full-time outfitter out of Bend to do extended trips on the Deschutes. The business grew over the years, with seven guides taking flyfishers throughout the area, including the high cascade lakes, the Deschutes and the John Day. In the mid 1980s, Craig served as the Chairman of the original Coalition for the Deschutes, which worked to successfully stop 16 proposed hydro-electric dams on the Deschutes, all of which would have been within 15 miles of Bend. Craig and company succeeded in getting the Deschutes added to the state scenic waterway list, which not only stopped the hydro projects from going forward but also gained long-standing state protection for the river. It also inspired activists from around the state to seek similar protection for their own beloved rivers. In 1987, Craig was named “Oregon Flyfisher of the Year” by the Federation of Flyfishers, primarily because of his conservation work.
In 1995, after 11 years of guiding, Craig decided to give his back a rest and work on a degree in fishery science at Oregon State University. With his degree in hand, Craig began consulting on river issues and has contributed to studies and planning for the Deschutes and Crooked Rivers. More recently, Craig helped launch the “new” Coalition for the Deschutes in 2016.
Fall Talks and a Field Trip
Fall is shaping up nicely with speaker and outdoor events related to the Deschutes River and Basin. Also, check the Upcoming Events page for updates and to register.
Wed, Sept. 27 – Perspectives on Lower Deschutes Water Quality
Thurs, Oct. 19th – Upper Deschutes River Hydrology
Wed, Oct 25 – Long and Winding River field trip, part 2. Save the date
Thurs, Nov. 2 – Lessons from Down Under: What I Learned in New Zealand about Rivers, People, Cows, and Water Management
Perspectives on Lower Deschutes Water Quality
Wednesday, September 27, 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Hollingshead Barn, 1235 NE Jones Rd, Bend, OR 97701
The Deschutes Redbands Chapter invites you to their annual meeting and a presentation by Dr. Max Bothwell about water quality in the Lower Deschutes. Dr. Bothwell has spent his career researching the issue of algal growth in rivers throughout North America, including the rivers on Vancouver Island and the Thompson River.
For more information, please contact Mike Tripp.
Bridget Moran from the USFWS Bend field office gave an excellent interactive presentation tonight at our “Speaking of Fish and Frogs” event. She discussed frog and fish species listed under the ESA (Endangered Species Act) within the Deschutes River Basin, including the closely coupled Deschutes River Basin HCP (Habitat Conservation Plan). She kindly shared her presentation. Bridget also shared a handout on the HCP status. You can view both of these PDFs below.
This presentation was given by Margi Hoffman with Farmers Conservation Alliance. It provides an overview of the federal Watershed Protection and Flood Plain Prevention program that Central Oregon irrigation districts are proposing to apply to for partial funding for irrigation modernization projects.
As stakeholders in the future, we all have a vested interest in how rivers and groundwater are managed. Aging water infrastructure, a warming climate, and more people moving to Oregon from warmer, drier regions are already happening, and more is in our future.
Families, farmers, and fish will all be affected…
In 2012, Oregon adopted its first Integrated Water Resources Strategy (IWRS) to address water management issues today and in the future.
If IWRS sounds wonky, then think of it in terms of dealing with climate change and drought, ensuring that we have healthy ecosystems, making sure we have adequate water for cities and agriculture, and more.
Here is the powerpoint about the IWRS that was presented by Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) at our recent program.