WaterWatch Newsletter – Summer 2010
WaterWatch has some awesome volunteers that we should all thank!
Thank you to Greg Reinert, Caroline Ponzini-Beck, Lisa Molseed, Drew Kerr, Karen Long, Rob Kirshner, John McKinnon, David Robinson, Ian Simpson, Dawn Winalski, Pam Davee, and Todd Zilbert for your extraordinary help protecting Oregon Rivers!
1. Stream of Consciousness
2. Freeing the Rogue – Three Major Successes in this Historic Campaign
3. It Ain’t Easy Being Green
4. The McKenzie River at Risk
5. Meet Drew Kerr, WaterWatch Legal Fellow
6. Oregon’s Rivers Threatened as California Miners Migrate North
7. Oregon’s Quest to Create a Statewide Integrated Water Resources Strategy is Underway
8. Water Briefs
9. Welcome to David Moskowitz
10. Ken Morrish Photo Series
11. WaterWatch Seeks Volunteer Expertise!
12. Match Making
By John DeVoe, Executive Director
Oregonians are lucky to live in the midst of some of the world’s greatest migrations. It’s part of the unique quality of life we enjoy as Oregonians. Salmon and steelhead, multiple species of waterfowl on the Pacific Flyway, neotropical songbirds, the swifts that use the chimney at my kids’ school, gray whales on the coast – these species are involved in some of the longest and most amazing migrations on the planet, traveling thousands of miles across multiple international boundaries during their respective migrations.
While successful migration is a complex business that relies on many factors, it is clear that without adequate, clean, timely fresh water in streams, lakes and wetlands across Oregon, many of these migrations would be at risk of catastrophic failure. Without adequate water, the wetlands relied upon by migrating birds simply dry up, eliminating food sources, cover and nesting and rearing habitat. Without sufficient cold, clean water at the right times of year, salmon and steelhead cannot return to their home waters to spawn successfully – and they cannot leave their home waters as young fish to continue their lives in the Pacific Ocean.
More than 80% of the migratory birds that follow the Pacific Flyway use the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges. Basin refuges support the largest population of over-wintering bald eagles in the lower 48 states as well as an estimated 400 other species of birds and wildlife. As late as the 1950s, up to 7 million waterfowl relied upon refuge wetlands in the basin. Pre-development, basin wetlands may have supported the largest concentrations of waterfowl on the planet, an estimated 10 million birds. Today, waterfowl estimates are a mere 10-15% of pre-development numbers. A large part of that decline is related to the loss of wetlands in the basin.
People migrate too. In Oregon, many people closely follow the very species that migrate to and through Oregon. According to a report prepared by Dean Runyan Associates*, in 2008 a large percentage of total travel related expenditures in Oregon was directly tied to freshwater fishing and wildlife viewing opportunities that result from clean, cold, timely fresh water, particularly in rural areas of the state. In 2008, over 631,000 people participated in freshwater fishing across our state. There were more than 1,700,000 trips for trout, over 900,000 trips for salmon and 953,000 trips for steelhead in Oregon. There were also approximately 1,700,000 wildlife viewers who took over 5.5 million bird watching trips in Oregon.
In five rural counties (Baker, Crook, Sherman, Union and Wallowa), the travel related expenditures by freshwater anglers, hunters and wildlife viewers approached 40% or more of the total travel related expenditures estimated for those counties. In four other rural counties, between 64 and 88 cents of every dollar spent on travel in the county resulted from freshwater fishing, hunting or wildlife watching. (Morrow 64%, Harney 78%, Wheeler 78% and Lake 88.6%) When they weren’t traveling to fish in Oregon’s rivers and lakes or to view wildlife, people also spent almost a billion dollars in Oregon on specialized equipment to use in these activities. Those are big numbers. And, those large numbers translate into jobs – lots of jobs – across Oregon. Jobs for rural Oregon. Jobs for urban Oregon. Jobs that depend directly on the health of our rivers, lakes and wetlands. Jobs that we would lose without adequate water for our rivers, streams, lakes and wetlands. Jobs versus the environment? No, jobs because of the environment.
WaterWatch’s work helps ensure that our migratory friends in the natural world have enough water at the right time of year to continue migrating to and through our wonderful state. People follow the migrants. And, importantly, jobs follow the people.
Thank you for your support of WaterWatch.
*Fishing, Hunting, Wildlife Viewing and Shellfishing in Oregon, 2008 State and County Expenditure Estimates. View the report and an interactive website.
1. Savage Rapids Dam. Removed!
As a result of WaterWatch’s 21-year campaign to remove Savage Rapids Dam, on October 9, 2009, the Rogue River flowed freely at the former dam site for the first time in almost 90 years. Once known as the biggest fish killer on the Rogue River, Savage Rapids Dam no longer harms the Rogue’s famous salmon and steelhead runs.
2. Largest water right conversion in Oregon’s history. Completed!
In addition, Savage Rapids Dam’s 800 cfs water right to operate its pump-turbine system was converted to an instream water right to protect Rogue River stream flows into the future. This is by far the largest transfer of water to an instream water right in Oregon’s history and likely the history of the West.
3. Gold Ray Dam. Breached!
With the removal of Savage Rapids Dam, Gold Ray Dam remains the number one priority for removal on the Rogue River. Over the last four years WaterWatch has secured funding and built political support for removal of this obsolete, non-operating hydroelectric dam owned by Jackson County. The County agreed to remove the dam this year and dam removal construction began on June 15. Construction had been temporarily halted by litigation filed by dam removal opponents, but WaterWatch, Rogue Riverkeeper and the Rogue Flyfishers represented by the Western Environmental Law Center intervened and supported Jackson County in defeating an appeal to the Land Use Board of Appeals and preventing issuance of a federal court injunction. Removal of Gold Ray Dam is now well underway and the river will be flowing freely through the site by the middle of August. We are close to reestablishing one of the longest free flowing reaches of river in the West! With the removal of Gold Ray Dam, the Rogue River will run freely for 157 miles from Lost Creek Dam to the Pacific Ocean for the first time in over a century.
They claim they’re green, but Lake Oswego, Tigard and other cities are aggressively pursuing plans to drain the Clackamas River at the expense of imperiled salmon and steelhead.
Lake Oswego, Tigard, Oregon City, West Linn and two additional water providers (North Clackamas County Water Commission and Sunrise Water Authority) want a big piece of the Clackamas River – nearly 100 million gallons per day. And, that is in addition to the 100 million gallons per day that these and other water developers can already take from the lower river. Together, in a dry year, this can represent 40% or more of the stream flow of the Lower Clackamas in the summer and fall months.
WaterWatch challenged the state’s decision to allow more water development in 2008. This spring, WaterWatch, the Oregon Water Resources Department (Department) and the cities went to trial. The central issues were: (1) whether the amount of water sought by the cities is excessive when compared with their actual need; and (2) whether the Department violated the law by proposing to allow more water use by these cities that would frequently drain the Clackamas below levels the state says are necessary to maintain imperiled salmon and steelhead.
Laws secured by WaterWatch in 2005 require the Department to ensure that certain types of municipal water development must be done in a way that “maintains the persistence” of fish protected under the State and Federal Endangered Species Acts. The lower Clackamas River provides habitat for four such species: spring and fall Chinook, winter steelhead and Coho salmon.
Under this law, the Oregon Department of Fish Wildlife (“ODFW”) has advised that the minimum summer flow needed for the protected salmon and steelhead is 650 cfs, jumping to 800 cfs for spawning in mid September. Despite the law and the ODFW advice, the Department placed absolutely no limitation on the proposed new summer diversions by these cities. All evidence in the record clearly shows that removing an additional 100 million gallons per day will drop river flows well below 650 cfs for significant periods of time during the summer months. The Department also failed to protect the mid-September spawning flows.
The Department’s failure to protect Clackamas flows needed for imperiled fish is especially galling in light of the flimsy claims of future water demand by these water developers. For instance, one water provider claimed it needed water in order to serve two future natural gas-fired power plants, larger than any currently built in Oregon, despite the fact that no power provider has plans to construct such facilities in the area.
The cases are complex but the messages are clear. One, there is plenty of water available in the Portland metro area for municipal use without degrading the Clackamas River if metro cities can learn to share. Two, the “green” and “sustainable” images these cities seek to promote (see Lake Oswego’s website, for example) fundamentally conflict with their water supply development practices. Clearly it is time for greater public oversight of the Department’s processes as well as new sideboards on the Department’s seemingly unlimited discretion to make decisions based upon the flimsiest of claims.
An Administrative Law Judge issued a proposed ruling on August 2 supporting the increased diversions, which WaterWatch will challenge first before the Department and then at the Court of Appeals if necessary. Oregon must protect the Clackamas River and its ESA-listed salmon and steelhead as it allows the cities to secure adequate water supplies to meet reasonable water needs.
The McKenzie River at Risk: The state proposes to issue a large, purely speculative water right from this treasured river
In January, the Department proposed to allow a privately held entity, Willamette Water Company LLC, to use 34 cfs (nearly 22 million gallons per day) from the McKenzie River without any assessment of whether or how Willamette Water Company could use the water. Willamette Water Company claims that it would sell the water to various cities (including Cottage Grove and Creswell) and a large area of rural Lane County, but its application fails to demonstrate a need for the water. Willamette Water Company’s attempt to secure this large permit raises serious issues regarding private speculation in Oregon’s publicly owned waters. WaterWatch challenged the Department’s decision because Willamette Water Company has no demonstrated need for this water from the McKenzie River.
Also at issue in this case is the state’s application of its sensitive fish stock rules, which were developed to protect rivers that are home to sensitive, threatened and endangered species. In this case, the Department proposed to protect flows recommended by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife above existing instream water rights on the McKenzie. WaterWatch supports the Department’s proposed water right conditions to protect additional flows needed for fish. Willamette Water Company challenged the Department’s proposed protection of these flows. Eugene Water and Electric Board, which already holds excessive water permits on the McKenzie River, is also involved in this case and does not support the state’s proposed protection of additional flows needed for fish. Will the McKenzie be the next Clackamas? WaterWatch will keep you posted.
WaterWatch was very fortunate to have the excellent assistance of Drew Kerr during the Clackamas contested case litigation. Drew first came to WaterWatch as a standout volunteer but was quickly retained as a Legal Fellow to assist with the litigation. A 2009 graduate of Lewis and Clark Law School and member of the Oregon Bar, when not ably helping draft briefs, respond to motions or preparing for trial, Drew can be found surfing off the Oregon coast, racing Dragon Boats or working to ban single use plastic bags. Thank you Drew!!!
In 2009, California Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law Senate Bill 670 which prohibited the use of vacuum or other suction dredging equipment for instream mining in any California river, stream or lake. The result? California miners are flocking north to Southern Oregon’s beloved rivers. Oregon officials are taking note. Governor Kulongoski, Senator Ron Wyden, Senator Jeff Merkley, Congressman Peter DeFazio, and a contingent of eighteen Oregon state legislators have all asked the Obama Administration to withdraw Southern Oregon’s Siskiyou Wild Rivers area from the Mining Law of 1872—which would help protect the rivers in these areas from all types of mining.
Multiple conservation groups are working to stop suction dredge mining from destroying Oregon’s rivers. Tactics vary from pushing for water quality reforms, to opposing individual projects, to advocating for widespread federal mining law reforms. WaterWatch’s approach to this critical problem is somewhat unique—to challenge Oregon’s longstanding position that suction dredge operators do not need a water right permit. Our assessment is that this is an illegal use of water because suction dredging, while not permanently consuming the water like crops, does in fact “take control” of Oregon’s water and puts this water to “beneficial use” to extract the gold from other sediments. In June, WaterWatch led a coalition of fifteen conservation groups in asking the Department to immediately regulate all suction dredge operators who lack a water right, and to require new operators to apply for a water right, which triggers an environmental review.
In other mining news, this spring WaterWatch (joined by Oregon Wild) was successful in blocking a request by the Douglas County Prospector’s Association that would have granted up to 400 members of the Association the right to mine at twenty different sites in the Umpqua River Basin. This victory helps to protect the Umpqua and important salmon and steelhead habitat.
In another recent success, WaterWatch also recently stopped a gravel mining operation on the Little Applegate River in Southern Oregon that would have significantly impaired water quality and aquatic habitat on this important stream.
WaterWatch also continues its work to stop un-permitted use of water at a gold mining operation on the Little Chetco River in Southern Oregon. WaterWatch, joined by Western Environmental Law Center and Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, filed a complaint with the Department to stop the un-permitted use of water for gold mining and an associated “tourist outpost” on the Little Chetco River. The Department has contacted the owner on at least three occasions to address this un-permitted use, but has not yet confirmed compliance because of the difficulty of access. We will continue to press for a protective resolution of this matter.
In the 2009 Oregon Legislature, WaterWatch played a key role in drafting and securing passage of HB 3369. One element of the bill requires development of a statewide Integrated Water Resources Strategy (Strategy). Because the Strategy is to be “integrated”, Oregon will, for the first time, address water quantity, water quality, climate change adaptation and ecological needs together while developing new water resource policies and scientific work. The Strategy will affect every watershed in the state.
Importantly, the new law calls for consideration of river needs on equal par with traditional out-of-stream water uses. In doing so, the law clearly contemplates the analysis of the full range of future flows needed for fish and river health, from summer base flows to high winter peak flows. However, despite the state’s longstanding authority to protect flows for fish, some legislators have tried to pull the plug on the state’s efforts to include this protection as part of a state “strategy”. Other legislators are pushing back.. We urge you to advocate that the strategy both study and recommend protection of the full range of flows needed for river health by filling out a survey found on the website noted below.
WaterWatch is actively working for healthy rivers as part of this strategy. The Strategy will likely focus on developing recommendations statewide, but the Strategy may also identify data, planning and funding needs or technical resources that would be beneficial to specific regions or basins of the state. For further information on the Strategy and to provide your comments on Oregon’s water future, visit the WRD’s website.
WaterWatch watchdogs virtually every water allocation decision in Oregon, stepping in when necessary to protect Oregon’s rivers. A sampling of recent actions we’ve taken include:
- Protecting stream flows in the John Day River Basin: WaterWatch, joined by the Native Fish Society, opposed a proposal to build 86 in-channel reservoirs on a number of small tributaries to Thirtymile Creek in the Lower John Day subbasin. This use, if allowed, would block steelhead access to spawning areas, undermine ongoing restoration efforts in the basin, capture important flows needed by fish and draw cattle to the stream. We are waiting for the Department’s decision.
- Ensuring Facebook’s Server Farm in Prineville doesn’t deplete Crooked River flows: Facebook recently broke ground on a new data center in Prineville, Oregon, squarely within the Deschutes Basin Groundwater Study Area. Because of the close connection between ground and surface water in the Deschutes, new groundwater uses in this area must purchase or lease water and place it instream to mitigate the effects of their groundwater use on stream flows. Facebook initially refused to provide mitigation. WaterWatch opposed Facebook’s groundwater use unless full mitigation was provided. Once Facebook agreed to provide the full mitigation sought by WaterWatch, the Department approved Facebook’s request.
- Protecting Lake Abert: WaterWatch is working with scientists, birding experts and others to help restore flows from the Chewaucan River into Lake Abert. Lake Abert is an important stop for migratory birds on the Pacific Flyway and harbors shorebirds and nesting Snowy Plovers. Birds feed on the lake’s brine shrimp, which in turn are dependent on a healthy lake. The large on-channel reservoir at Rivers End Ranch substantially blocks flows near where the river flows into the lake. Though the reservoir was approved in the early 1990’s with representations that it would be operated in a manner protective of lake levels, a series of problems – most seriously the disturbance of Native American Indian burial sites during construction of the dam – unfortunately has resulted in a lack of follow-through in ensuring the lake’s health. The ranch has applied for an extension of time to develop the reservoir permit. WaterWatch and others submitted extensive comments on the permit and will work to secure a result protective of Lake Abert.
- Supporting broad designation of Bull Trout critical habitat: Recently, the US Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to designate Critical Habitat for Bull Trout. Unfortunately, the Obama Administration’s proposed critical habitat designation was less protective than what the Bush Administration proposed in 2002. WaterWatch supported broad designation of critical habitat, including designation of those stream segments that were proposed in 2002 but not in 2010 (i.e. select segments of the upper Deschutes, the John Day, Walla Walla, Umatilla, and Klamath Rivers).
- Ensuring that Oregon’s Coastal Basin Plans are not undermined: Basin plans are rules that define the permitted uses of water in every basin in Oregon (except the Klamath). Recently, the Department proposed what were touted as “housekeeping” amendments to Oregon’s five coastal basin plans—the North Coast, Mid Coast, South Coast, Rogue and Umpqua Basins plans. Far from “housekeeping”, the proposed changes would have significantly undermined existing stream flow protections. Included were proposals to subordinate instream water rights to storage, open up currently protected basins to new dams and lessen quality protections. WaterWatch submitted extensive objections to these proposals. As a result of our actions, the Department did not move the proposals forward at the June Water Resources Commission as scheduled.
WaterWatch of Oregon is pleased to announce that David Moskowitz has joined WaterWatch as the Director of Development. David brings extensive knowledge and experience with strategic planning, fund raising, communications, director cultivation, donor and membership cultivation, event planning and management as well as overall capacity building. With David’s strong experience with both government relations and non-profit organizations, he adds a strong skill set to Water Watch’s overall strategic endeavors. David took his post in early March as he wrapped up consulting duties on behalf of numerous organizations. Contact David at 503-295-4039 ext. 2.
Through a generous donation from noted photographer and conservationist Ken Morrish, WaterWatch will recognize donors who pledge to support the organization at a level of $500 or more annually for four consecutive years with an annual Ken Moorish photo. Ken has donated a series of his river photography prints that are delivered to your home or office in quality mats and frames ready for your wall or as gifts. If you would like to sign up for the Ken Morrish Photo series, or increase the amount of your giving for four years in order to qualify for the Ken Morrish photo series, please visit our website.
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The 8th Annual Auction & Dinner Benefiting WaterWatch
Saturday, October 23, 2010, 5:00 PM
Ambridge Event Center, Portland