It was 2013 when Kim Brannock of Bend first witnessed thousands of dying fish in a side channel of the upper Deschutes River near Lava Island. As co-founder of the Coalition for the Deschutes, she was sickened by the sight, only to find out it had been occurring for decades with seasonal irrigation water flows that run extremely heavy in the summer and light in the winter.
When growers need water, the flow from Wickiup Dam is at its highest level, often causing washed-out channels that damage sensitive riparian environments essential to the health of the river and its fish.
When the growing season is completed by mid-October, the flows are slowed dramatically in order to store water in Crane Prairie and Wickiup reservoirs for the next season. Fish become stranded in side channels with no way to swim to the main stream. The result of this on-and-off water flow is that fish often die. The cycle repeats itself year after year.