Judge To Hear Water Case For Upper Deschutes

Judge To Hear Water Case For Upper Deschutes
by Amanda Peacher

March 20, 2016

A federal judge in Eugene will hear a case Tuesday about water management in the Upper Deschutes River.

Environmental groups want to see more regular flows coming out of Wickiup Reservoir on the Upper Deschutes River. They say the way the river is managed now harms threatened spotted frog habitat. During irrigation season, managers release a lot of water, but when winter comes, managers cut back flows by 75 percent or more. The Bureau of Reclamation and the Oregon Water Resources Department manage how much water is released. The agencies hold back water in the fall to start recharging the reservoir. The stored water augments the natural summer flow in the river primarily to be used by junior water rights farmers in Jefferson County.

Last October, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife estimated that 500 to 1,000 fish died because of low water in the Deschutes. The fish die-offs have become an annual occurrence, such that volunteers prepare to help recover stranded fish each fall.

Jim McCarthy with WaterWatch of Oregon says his organization opted to file a lawsuit against the Bureau of Reclamation after eight years of trying to collaborate through a collaborative effort called the Habitat Conservation Plan Working Group.

“The way I’d describe it is it’s a little like spending eight years engaged,” McCarthy said. “If I’d been engaged eight years and I hadn’t set a wedding date, I would expect my fiance would leave me.”

Irrigation users worry the lawsuit could threaten their access to water.

Gov. Kate Brown’s office also announced the state will be participating in the case to find a collaborative solution.