Lawsuit Filed to Stop Harm to Deschutes River

For Immediate Release: January 11, 2016

Jim McCarthy, WaterWatch of Oregon, 541-708-0731
Janette Brimmer, Earthjustice, 206-343-7340, ext. 1029

Lawsuit Filed to Stop Harm to Deschutes River
Mismanagement of flows jeopardizing threatened spotted frog, fish, and
local livelihoods

2013 Upper Deschutes River fish kill. Photo by Doug La Placa.

2013 Upper Deschutes River fish kill. Photo by Doug La Placa.

BEND, OR – Today, WaterWatch of Oregon filed suit in federal district court against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and several irrigation districts over harm caused by their water use operations in the Upper Deschutes River.

Represented by Earthjustice, the river conservation organization alleges that managing the Upper Deschutes like an irrigation ditch rather than a
natural resource has caused significant damage to the river’s health, including harm to the Oregon spotted frog, a threatened species under federal law.

WaterWatch’s challenge, filed in U.S. District Court Eugene Division, deals specifically with the stretch of the Deschutes between Wickiup Reservoir and the City of Bend.

“The Upper Deschutes is a potential blue-ribbon trout stream but is probably better known for fish kills because it is managed more like an irrigation canal than a river,” said John DeVoe, Executive Director of WaterWatch of Oregon. “We can and must do better by this irreplaceable natural asset.”

The lawsuit by WaterWatch ­ a group with long involvement in Deschutes restoration efforts follows a similar filing from the Center for Biological Diversity, a national advocacy group that has also filed suit against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation based on protections for the Oregon spotted frog.

“Reclamation has a responsibility to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure their dam system management is not jeopardizing the survival of threatened wildlife, and discontinue practices that are driving wildlife toward extinction,” said Janette Brimmer, an Earthjustice attorney representing WaterWatch. “Essentially, the law requires Reclamation to follow the first rule of holes –­ when you are in one, stop digging.”

As a result of water storage and irrigation operations, the once stable natural flows of the Upper Deschutes have been replaced by dramatic and unnatural flow swings, which damage water quality while harming fish and wildlife.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 caused a kill that claimed nearly 3,000 fish and sparked outrage throughout the state.

“WaterWatch has worked for almost a decade with local irrigation districts, government agencies and other stakeholders to address water management in the Upper Deschutes and the rest of the Deschutes Basin. Over that time, there has been no change in the management of Upper Deschutes flows,” said DeVoe. “Fish and wildlife continue to die every year because of the extreme nature of this artificial flow regime. It is long past time for action. If we want a healthy river, fish, and wildlife, we have to act now.”