Riviere des Chutes; the Peculiar River
Our Deschutes by any other name
Join us for a video tour of the Upper Deschutes River with digital storyteller, Scott Nelson, and learn about how the river functions today.
What: A science-based video tour and panel discussion about the Upper Deschutes River.
When: Tuesday, June 9th, 2015. Program begins at 6:30 pm.
Where: The Environmental Center
Why: The Deschutes River is the life-blood of Central Oregon, but it is in trouble. Learn about how the river functions and the issues affecting all of us, whether we can see them or not.
Scott Nelson: Digital Storyteller and Deschutes River advocate
Kate Fitzpatrick: Deschutes River Conservancy Program Director
Matt Shinderman: OSU-Cascades Natural Resources Instructor
Sponsored by Central Oregon LandWatch and WaterWatch
The Deschutes River was long ago dubbed the Peculiar River because of its steady flows that varied little with the seasons and through the years. That used to be true. Today, the upper reaches of the river fluctuate according to the demands of irrigation.
“It was one of the most constant-flowing rivers in the world,” Scott Nelson told the Bend Bulletin earlier this year. “And we’ve changed it,” he said.
“People don’t know what is going on beyond the river they see [in Bend].”
These excerpts from The Bulletin explain the cause of the problems:
“The change came with the completion of the dams forming Crane Prairie Reservoir in 1922 and Wickiup Reservoir in 1949.
“Before the dams went in, the Deschutes River flowed a fairly consistent 700 to 800 cubic feet per second (cfs) year-round, said Brett Hodgson, district biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in Bend. There would be occasional increases and decreases in flow, he said, but “no big changes like we currently experience.”
“Since Wickiup Dam was built, the flows out of Wickiup Reservoir and along the section of river just below the dam have varied greatly throughout the year — very low in the winter, when water is being stored in the reservoir, and very high in the summer, when water is being released from the reservoir and sent downstream to irrigators.
“Decades worth of data from the Oregon Water Resources Department shows wintertime flows just below Wickiup Dam dropping to about 20 cfs and summertime flows reaching as high as about 2,000 cfs.”
The consequences of the dramatically altered flows due to Wickiup Dam management have long been known. In 1947, a report by the Oregon State Game Commission documented damage to fish and wildlife, sport fishing, and the economy of Central Oregon.
Fish were being stranded and killed in shallow water, and gravel spawning beds were being dried out during low flows and smothered by silt during high flows. Waterfowl nesting areas and nests were being lost. And the economic benefits of a productive river were diminished.
Pioneer rancher Frances Day Stearns described the river she knew in 1887 as"literally full of fish of all sizes. We could stand on the log and throw fish into the frying pan."
Local fly fisherman and author Bruce Bischof describes the Deschutes today as a “mere shadow of itself.”
“In the 1970’s and 80’s,” he wrote “the Upper Deschutes was still considered one of the finest blue ribbon trout streams in the Western U.S.” That is no longer true.
“Although during peak summer flows, the river is beautiful by visual standards, it is virtually sterile by healthy stream standards.”