WaterWatch of Oregon Issues Warning to Protect Deschutes River


Jim McCarthy, WaterWatch of Oregon, 541-708-0731

60-Day Notice is available here.

WaterWatch of Oregon Issues Warning to Protect Deschutes River
Irregular streamflows are harming fish, wildlife and local livelihoods

Bend – Today, WaterWatch of Oregon announced its intention to challenge the Central Oregon Irrigation District, North Unit Irrigation District, Tumalo Irrigation District, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation over harm caused by their water use operations in the Upper Deschutes River. The river conservation organization alleges that managing the Deschutes more like an irrigation ditch than a river has caused significant damage to river health. WaterWatch’s challenge deals specifically with the stretch of the Deschutes between Wickiup Reservoir and the City of Bend.

“The Deschutes River and its tributaries are central to the economy and quality of life in Central Oregon and the state as a whole,” said John DeVoe, Executive Director of WaterWatch of Oregon. “But pressures from water diversions, dams, and a growing population have caused real problems that must be addressed now if we want to hold on to this invaluable natural resource.”

The warning notice from WaterWatch – a group with long involvement in Deschutes restoration efforts – follows a similar filing from the Center for Biological Diversity, a national advocacy group who recently notified the Bureau of Reclamation of their intent to file a lawsuit based on endangered species concerns.

“From our perspective, restoring flows encompasses more than a single species,” said DeVoe. “This is also about the fish, wildlife, and people in Central Oregon whose lives and livelihoods depend on a healthy river.”

As a result of water storage and irrigation operations, the once stable natural flows of the Upper Deschutes have been replaced by dramatic and unnatural flow swings, which damage water quality while harming fish and wildlife.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.

The irrigation districts and the Bureau of Reclamation have sixty days to respond to the notice before a legal challenge is initiated.