Agreement Reached to Protect Upper Deschutes River

For Immediate Release
October 28, 2016

Jim McCarthy, WaterWatch of Oregon, 541-708-0731,
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, 503-484-7495,
Janette Brimmer, Earthjustice, 206-343-7340 x 1029,
Laurie Rule, Advocates for the West, 503-914-6388,

Agreement Reached to Protect Upper Deschutes River
Deal Provides Modest Near-term Flow Boost, Sets Timeline for Science-Based Improvements to Benefit Water Quality, Threatened Oregon Spotted Frogs

Upper Deschutes River

Upper Deschutes River

PORTLAND — The Center for Biological Diversity, WaterWatch of Oregon, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and several irrigation districts today reached an interim agreement to temporarily boost flows in the Upper Deschutes River to reduce harm to the Oregon spotted frog, a threatened species protected by the federal Endangered Species Act. The deal also requires the Bureau of Reclamation and the water districts to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to create a long-term plan on a set timeline that will further reduce harm to the frogs.

The agreement stems from lawsuits brought by the two conservation groups arguing that management of Crane Prairie and Wickiup dams on the Upper Deschutes River is driving the struggling frogs toward extinction. The groups also argued that the Bureau of Reclamation had failed to follow the law and consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service in a timely manner to reduce the harm from its river management operations.

“This agreement is an important first step to ensuring that the Deschutes River dams don’t drive the Oregon spotted frog to extinction,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “This is the first of many steps to restore a natural flow regime in the Deschutes, which will benefit not only the Oregon spotted frog but the fish and people dependent on the health of the river.”

The 2-inch- to 4-inch-long, black-spotted frog, now known to inhabit fewer than 100 sites, lives on the margins of both reservoirs and along the river below the dams. Large fluctuations in both the size of the reservoirs and the river’s flows alternately flood and dry out the frog’s habitat, in violation of the Endangered Species Act. The flow regime also damages water quality while harming fish and wildlife. One of the most visible recent examples of this harm occurred in October 2013, when a rapid flow reduction due to irrigation management killed nearly 3,000 fish and sparked outrage throughout the state.

“Our goal has always been a science-based water management plan that benefits frogs as well as fish, other wildlife and the people of Central Oregon who cherish and rely on the Upper Deschutes,” said John DeVoe, Executive Director of WaterWatch of Oregon. “The interim flow measures are a step in the right direction while parties work toward the main objective: establishing substantive flow improvements in the river. We will be holding parties to achievement of this goal under the timeline defined by the settlement.”

The frog, which was protected last year under the Endangered Species Act, was once common from British Columbia to Northern California along numerous rivers and lakes, including the Deschutes and Willamette rivers. But the frog, known for the unique clicking sound it makes, has suffered massive declines because of loss of its wetland habitats, largely caused by dam building, urban and agricultural development and livestock grazing.

“This agreement will result in timely completion of consultation with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other spotted-frog experts to provide long-term protections for the frog, as well as interim changes to river flows that benefit frogs immediately, without having to resort to further litigation,” said Laurie Rule, an attorney from Advocates for the West representing the Center.

“The bottom line of this settlement is moving off of the status quo that has been harming frogs and fish,” said Janette Brimmer, the Earthjustice attorney representing WaterWatch. “This deal mandates consultation to improve Upper Deschutes River flow management by a certain date, and we fully intend to keep the parties on schedule and to monitor future developments very closely in order to ensure that adequate protections are put in place quickly.”

The Center is represented in litigation by Laurie Rule and Elizabeth Zultoski of Advocates for the West. WaterWatch of Oregon is represented by Janette Brimmer and Anna Sewell of Earthjustice.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

For 30 years, WaterWatch of Oregon has protected and restored water to Oregon’s rivers, streams and lakes for fish, wildlife and people.