Central Oregon Irrigation District

The Future of the Deschutes River Basin is at Stake

The biggest decision-point in our lifetimes for the future of the Deschutes River Basin was triggered last week when irrigation districts submitted a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Suffice to say, the plan put forth by the irrigation districts does not sufficiently address the scale of the River’s problem.

Irrigation Districts and the Deschutes River

The time has come to put real collaborative and effective water conservation approaches to work. Otherwise, threatened fish and wildlife in the Deschutes basin will be blamed for our water woes when the solution to the problem has been in the hands of the irrigators all along.

The Deschutes Basin’s Last Great Problem

The Deschutes River and the fish and wildlife who depend on it are suffering, but there is enough water for farms and fish.

The current system of delivering water for irrigation encourages inefficient use of water by senior water rights holders and very efficient use of water by junior water rights holders. This results in higher crop yields and economic value on farms that have implemented practices to improve water use efficiency. How can we encourage all irrigators to implement efficient practices?

The Deschutes Basin's Last Great Problem, written by Dave Seminara and published in Bend Magazine, explores the problem and perspectives from different groups, including our Executive Director Paul Dewey.

The river is oversubscribed for irrigation purposes. The Upper Deschutes was once one of the best places in the country for trout fishing, but now it’s not even in the top 100.
— Jeff Perin
Low flows in the Upper Deschutes in 2015, below Wickiup Reservoir. Photo by Scott Nelson.

Low flows in the Upper Deschutes in 2015, below Wickiup Reservoir. Photo by Scott Nelson.

"The competing visions for the management of the upper Deschutes River, which has drawn people and sustained life for millennia, are as old as the West itself.

On the last Saturday in January, a bright, sunny affair when the promise of spring felt near, the Fly Fisher’s Place in Sisters was full of impatient anglers debating the merits of some of the shop’s 1,400 flies. But the light vibe turned serious when I asked Jeff Perin, the shop’s owner, about his connection to the Upper Deschutes River. Seated at a table in the back room of his meandering store, Perin spoke about the river wistfully, as though retelling the story of a once great athlete who had fallen upon hard times.

“I got hooked on the river the very first day we moved here, back in June 1980,” he said, his alert blue eyes shadowed by a stiff-billed fishing cap.

Perin, then in sixth grade, didn’t catch a single fish that day. In fact, he fell into the river. But his older cousin caught a slew of rainbow trout, enough to make a big impression and cement what would become a lifelong passion for the river. Perin can recall days of remarkably good fly-fishing on the Upper Deschutes as recently as three years ago, just before a devastating fish kill in October 2013 that galvanized attention to a problematic twenty-five-mile stretch of the river between the Wickiup Reservoir and Sunriver, where low streamflows have had a harmful impact on fish and wildlife." Read the full article here.

Remember the River

Irrigation season began just a few weeks ago, which means Deschutes River water that was held back in the reservoirs all winter will now flood downstream throughout the summer. This cycle of drying out before flooding again causes erosion of the riverbanks, contributes to the silt in Mirror Pond, and creates an inhospitable environment for fish and other critters.

Our video, Saving the Deschutes River, highlights these unnatural management practices and proposes solutions for more efficient on-farm use of water. We are pleased to announce that this video will be screened at the Portland Film Event Stories of our Watersheds at the Hollywood Theatre tonight. 

The films selected for this event represent a diverse set of rivers and watersheds from the Pacific Northwest to the Middle East. Selected films share stories from a variety of conservation organizations, tribes, watershed councils, agencies and filmmakers.

If you can't attend, watch and share our video online by clicking below!



Low Deschutes River Flow Reveals Mirror Pond Mudflats

Three factors combined to cause the Deschutes River’s low flow as it passes through the city: slight releases from Wickiup Reservoir, nearly half average flow from the Little Deschutes River and temporary irrigation diversions, or “stock runs.”