Statement Regarding Ongoing Upper Deschutes River Lawsuit


March 24, 2016

WaterWatch and Center for Biological Diversity Statement Regarding Ongoing Upper Deschutes River Lawsuit

On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Aiken indicated during a hearing that she would deny WaterWatch of Oregon and Center for Biological Diversity’s motion requesting immediate changes to flows in the Upper Deschutes River to prevent ongoing harm to the threatened Oregon Spotted Frog as well as other wildlife and fish. The judge disagreed that the requested relief was required at this time.

The main case over Upper Deschutes water operations and the effects on the imperiled Oregon Spotted Frog is still to come – barring a settlement, which is always possible. We remain confident that we have a strong case and have asked the court to move the matter forward with a schedule for mediation and ultimately, for trial.

It is important to note that Judge Aiken led a robust discussion at Tuesday’s hearing of the harm caused in the Upper Deschutes by current irrigation district water operations. For example, she pressed the federal government’s attorney to explain why late fall and winter flows could not be increased, consistent with recommendations of federal agency scientists, to at least 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) from the current 20 to 30 cfs in this period. She said it was “common sense” to consider this option to reduce harm to wildlife.

In other positive news, in the lead up to the hearing, the Bureau of Reclamation and three irrigation districts opted to slightly change water management of the Upper Deschutes River in the early spring period by releasing water earlier to make reproduction less difficult for Oregon Spotted frogs. This is small step, and by no means resolves the considerable disruption that the current flow management causes in the frog’s reproduction cycle, including the harm caused by extreme low flows in the fall and winter. However, this is a step in the right direction. The Bureau of Reclamation has also begun consultation, as required by law, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over potential harm their operations cause to the Oregon Spotted Frog. This was one of the key demands of the conservation groups’ lawsuit. It is clear that these changes wouldn’t have happened without the pressure exerted by the lawsuit. So, although the court proceeding has just begun, positive change is already happening as a result. As this ongoing process continues to highlight the harmful effects of current irrigation district water operations, we expect pressure will continue to increase for the changes needed to improve the health of the Upper Deschutes River.