On Tuesday, Tod Heisler spoke with an impassioned crowd of more than 80 river advocates who attended our event, Last Chance for the Deschutes, at Worthy Brewing. He reflected on the dire state of the river and discussed real solutions that have been omitted from the irrigation district's proposed Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP).
The Deschutes River is on the Brink of Ecological Disaster
Since the completion of Wickiup Dam in 1949, the Upper Deschutes has suffered significant ecological decline. The once stable flow is now highly volatile, varying from low flows of 20 cubic feet per second (cfs) in the winter to flood-level flows as high as 1,800 cfs in the summer.
The low flows dry the banks and weaken the riparian vegetation; the subsequent high flows uproot and wash away the vegetation critical to anchoring the fine volcanic soils of the streambanks, resulting in severe erosion and a river channel that is 20% larger than it was in its natural state. These highly volatile seasonal flows have decimated native fish populations.
Stop the Unnecessary Waste of Water - Return it to the River
A portion of the irrigation water in our region is used efficiently and for real agricultural output. Unfortunately, much of the water in Deschutes County irrigation districts is wasted. Despite climate change and threatened frogs and fish, there is no culture of conservation in these districts. Instead, irrigation district patrons are told to “use it or lose it,” use all of their water or risk losing it. But, in reality, there is very little risk in losing a water right and many ways to both reduce water use and protect the rights.
Take Action Now: The HCP is the River's Last Chance
The Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) is an enforceable agreement between irrigation districts and federal agencies meant to reduce the harmful effects of irrigation, but the plan currently put forth is woefully inadequate to address the health of the River, and the welfare of its fish and wildlife. The problem is that the streamflow levels are set too low and the process will be phased in over too long of a period, such as 30 years.
This is most likely the best opportunity you will have in your lifetime to influence the health and future of the Deschutes River and its tributaries. Your public comment during this process is the best chance in many decades to set new streamflow goals for the River to save the species that depend on it.
How to Comment
The easiest way to submit comments is through the form provided on our website: https://www.centraloregonlandwatch.org/deschutes. We encourage you to modify the text to reflect your own perspective using talking points below.
Visit the Public Notice website for instructions on how to comment online or via hard copy.
Suggested Talking Points
The proposed HCP stream flows in the Deschutes and its tributaries are not adequate for the protected species. The Plan will allow the Districts to do nothing to improve Upper Deschutes winter flows for five more years, do essentially what they can already do now for years 6 through 10 and reach a target winter flow of 400 cfs by year 30 (that’s 2049), after many of us are dead and gone. Recent federal science indicates that at least 600 cfs is needed in the winter. Likewise, for the tributaries, greater flows are necessary for the steelhead, bull trout and other species.
With climate change there will be major impacts to the river system, and the species and farmers that rely on it. It is important to come up with a fair and efficient system for use of water in the Deschutes River Basin NOW.
The irrigation district plans are flawed in relying so much on expensive big piping to reduce water use when far cheaper approaches are available such as piping private ditches, eliminating flood irrigation, and offering incentives to use less water.
The approach of the HCP is misplaced in failing to create strong incentives for conservation of on-farm water.
More information at www.centraloregonlandwatch.org/deschutes.