Oregon’s water supply in good shape

Capital Press/Eric Mortenson

Published on May 10, 2017

 

The water supply outlook is welcome news for Oregon irrigators, who have faced shortages the past few years.

 

The state’s heavy snowpack and water supply outlook held steady in April, good news especially for five Deschutes River irrigation districts that cut back water use last year after getting caught up in a lawsuit over the Oregon spotted frog. 

 

The latest report from the Portland office of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service showed that the statewide snowpack in all river basins was 155 percent of average as of May 1. 

 

For comparison, the snowpack was 11 percent of normal at this time of year in 2015, 62 percent in 2014 and 64 percent in 2016. Heavy snowfall and cold wet weather throughout this past winter and spring broke the drought that gripped the Pacific Northwest the past three years. 

 

Julie Koeberle, an NRCS hydrologist and member of the agency’s snow survey team, said Oregon’s summer water supply hasn’t looked this good since 2011. 

 

“Everybody’s happy this year,” she said. 

 

Koeberle said it’s unlikely that warm weather will rapidly melt the snowpack and change the water outlook for this summer.

 

 “Not at this point,” she said. “The snow remaining is still above normal. With this much snow left, even if we had a rapid snow melt that occurred, we still have a buffer.” 

 

The water outlook is welcome news for the five irrigation districts that were accused in lawsuits of violating the Endangered Species Act by harming the Oregon spotted frog. The complaints were filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and Waterwatch of Oregon against the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which operates Deschutes River system reservoirs, and the Arnold, Central Oregon, Lone Pine, North Unit and Tumalo irrigation districts. 

 

As a result of a 2016 settlement, the districts agreed to maintain minimum river flows at a level that provided better habitat for the frogs. To do that in a period of drought and diminished water levels, the districts had to forgo some of the irrigation water they normally would have drawn from the system. 

 

Things look much better this spring. 

 

“At this point we expect users should get full allotments of water,” said ShanRae Hawkins, spokeswoman for the districts. “Certainly having more water in the basin is helpful to everyone. It’s good for fish, good for wildlife and benefits irrigation users.” 

 

She said the snow-water equivalent — the amount of water in the snow — recently measured 117 percent of normal in the Upper Deschutes and Crooked River basins. The Crane Prairie and Wickiup reservoirs, which store irrigation water, are filling with runoff from melting snow. They stood at 87 percent and 83 percent full, respectively, as of May 8. 

 

“It’s just such a relief,” Hawkins said. 

 

Producers in the area grow carrot seed, flower seeds, peppermint, hay, alfalfa and more.


http://www.capitalpress.com/Oregon/20170510/oregons-water-supply-in-good-shape

 

Read more

This past winter’s ample snowfall means many popular fishing lakes remain inaccessible

By Mark Morical, The Bulletin, @MarkMorical

Eager anglers might have to wait a bit longer to fish their favorite Central Oregon lakes this spring, as heavy snowfall this past winter will keep many of the region’s high-elevation lakes inaccessible for a few more weeks.

While there is no longer an official opening day for high Cascade lakes season, Crane Prairie and Wickiup reservoirs, located southwest of Bend off Cascade Lakes Highway, officially open for fishing Saturday. Both of those reservoirs are ice-free and accessible for this weekend, according to resort owners. Twin Lakes, adjacent to Wickiup, are also accessible.

Crane Prairie and Wickiup remain closed until late April each year to protect the native rainbow trout in those waters, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Most other lakes in Oregon became open to fishing year-round starting in 2016, as part of the ODFW’s simplification of sport fishing regulations.

Tom Shamberger, operations manager with the Deschutes County Road Department, said his crews have been hard at work clearing snow and opening sections of roads in anticipation of fishing season. Cascade Lakes Highway is currently open from the Crescent Cutoff north to the junction with Forest Service Road 42.

Cascade Lakes Highway remains closed from Mount Bachelor to Road 42, and Forest Service Road 40 from Sunriver to Cascade Lakes Highway also remains inaccessible, Shamberger said. He added that his goal is to open the entire Cascade Lakes Highway by Memorial Day weekend.

Meanwhile, anglers seeking to reach Wickiup and Twin Lakes can take Forest Service Road 42 from Sunriver to Cascade Lakes Highway. Those seeking to reach Crane Prairie can take Road 42 to Road 4270.

Lava Lake remains inaccessible due to snow, according to Lava Lake Resort owner Joie Frazee. He said he is hoping for the lake and resort to be accessible by May 6.

Among other high Cascade lakes that remain inaccessible are Todd, Devils, Sparks, Elk, Hosmer and Cultus lakes.

Farther south, Crescent, Odell and Davis lakes are ice-free and accessible, according to the ODFW.

East of La Pine in the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, Paulina and East lakes remain inaccessible as the gate remains closed at 10-Mile Sno-Park, according to Shamberger. The gate will be opened sometime in mid- to late May, he added.

For updates on road openings and closures, check the Deschutes County Road Department website at www.deschutes.org/road and click on the “news, info, and closures” tab.

High lakes that will be open and accessible this weekend or are already open and accessible should provide lots of opportunities for anglers.

Erik Moberly, Bend-based fisheries biologist for the ODFW, said that both North Twin and South Twin lakes were on the ODFW’s stocking schedule for this week. Those lakes were each due to be stocked with 2,500 rainbow trout.

“Plus there’s the holdovers from last year, which should be pretty good,” Moberly said.

Twin Lakes Resort is set to open on Friday, according to co-owner Kate Dunn.

On Wickiup Reservoir, the hot early-season catch is kokanee. Anglers are allowed to harvest up to 30 kokanee per day on Wickiup.

Most anglers jig or troll for kokanee, whose average size in Wickiup is a whopping 18 to 22 inches.

“The water is still cold so the kokanee are bunched up in schools,” Moberly said. “Once the water starts warming up they kind of spread out, and so that’s why a lot of people target those kokanee early in the season. When you find them on your fish finder there’s usually a school of them, so you can catch more than one or two.”

Other species that anglers target on Wickiup are brown trout and rainbow trout.

On Crane Prairie, the main catches are rainbow and brook trout. Rainbows in Crane Prairie average about 14 to 18 inches long, and many are in the 4- to 10-pound range, according to the ODFW. Anglers can also fish for kokanee and largemouth bass in Crane, Moberly noted.

Crane Prairie Resort is set to open on Friday, according to owner Pat Schotz.

— Reporter: 541-383-0318,

mmorical@bendbulletin.com

Read more

Emergency fishing rules meant to protect Wickiup’s kokanee rescinded

By Mark Morical, The Bulletin, @MarkMorical

Just days after implementing two emergency rules to protect the naturally reproducing population of kokanee in Wickiup Reservoir, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife earlier this week rescinded those rules.

The rules would have removed the kokanee “bonus bag” of 25 fish on Wickiup Reservoir, and would have closed the Deschutes River arm of the reservoir a month earlier than usual in late summer.

Wickiup Reservoir will open to fishing Saturday under the regulations printed in the 2017 Oregon Sport Fishing Regulations. Anglers can still harvest as many as 30 kokanee per day (25 plus the daily trout limit of five) on Wickiup, and the Deschutes arm, key spawning grounds for kokanee in late summer, will remain open until Sept. 30.

The flip-flop was due in part to a dramatic backlash from upset kokanee anglers, many of whom like to harvest the fish for consumption. A landlocked sockeye salmon, the kokanee is known as one of the best-tasting fish species in the world.

“There was a high level of concern expressed by the angling community on the magnitude of the change for the bag limit and the timing of it,” said Brett Hodgson, ODFW fisheries manager for the Deschutes District. “This gives us an opportunity to address some of the concerns and to collect additional data to determine if our concern with the water management and natural production are playing out — and to engage the angling community and give them a better understanding of why we are recommending these changes. It was a pretty big change, and we kind of sprung it on them suddenly.”

Because Wickiup is not stocked with hatchery fish, the entire fishery depends on the natural production of kokanee, brown trout and redband trout, according to Hodgson.

Under a new water management regime meant to protect the Oregon spotted frog, which is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, the kokanee population in Wickiup could now be at risk, according to ODFW biologists.

The water in Wickiup is now drawn down for irrigation purposes earlier in the summer, so Crane Prairie Reservoir can remain full longer to protect the spotted frog, which breeds in the shoals of Crane Prairie, according to Erik Moberly, a Bend-based fisheries biologist for the ODFW.

This concentrates fish in a smaller area near the unscreened outlet of Wickiup and makes them more vulnerable to both fishing pressure on the spawning grounds and escaping from the reservoir downstream into the Deschutes River. Biologists say this will limit the annual production of kokanee and trout at Wickiup.

Moberly said the ODFW has data indicating that when the water in Wickiup gets low in late summer, as many as 40,000 kokanee per day leave the reservoir and enter the Deschutes through the unscreened outlet.

The emergency rule to close the Deschutes arm of Wickiup to fishing one month earlier, on Aug. 31, was meant to protect spawning kokanee, which start migrating up the Deschutes arm in late August to spawn.

“We are not anticipating making any changes this year, but there may still be the need to close that spawning area early,” Hodgson said. “There will be no change to the bag limit in 2017.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0318,

mmorical@bendbulletin.com

Read more

Digging rodents threaten canal safety in Central Oregon

Larry Roofener, operations manager for the Central Oregon Irrigation District, talks about how animals burrowing into canals can cause breaching risks while touring the Pilot Butte Canal in Redmond on Monday.

Ground squirrels, rock chucks keep irrigation managers busy

By Aubrey Wieber, The Bulletin

Published Apr 11, 2017

Drive along the Pilot Butte Canal in Redmond in the spring and you’ll see ground squirrels scurry frantically back and forth across the road. Chubby rock chucks sprint from rock to rock.

Both types of rodents pop up, run around and then disappear into burrows. The underground dens and tunnels provide protection from predators and the elements, but they also risk causing millions of dollars in damage to urban developments.

Rodents living along canals pose a huge threat, irrigation district officials say. Their tunnels can cause a breach of the canal, sending surging water through neighborhoods and other urban developments. As a result, keeping tabs on the furry critters and the integrity of the canal is a full-time job for eight “ditch riders” employed by the Central Oregon Irrigation District.

Larry Roofner, operations manager for COID, drove along a portion of the canal sitting just above the soon-to-be Triple Ridge housing development Monday. This is one of the higher-risk areas and is monitored daily.

“We have concern there,” Roofner said. “It carries about 300 cubic feet of water (per second). If that were to breach, there could be damage to what was previously irrigated land but is now a new subdivision and Ridgeview (High) School.”

To try and prevent a breach, ditch riders keep high-powered pellet guns in their vehicles and will shoot rodents when possible. In addition, Roofner said the district contracts with exterminators to kill burrowers, usually through trapping, though he said they can use whatever means they deem necessary.

The district is tasked with maintaining roughly 450 miles of canals throughout the region, and rodent abatement is a part of that. However, not all see it that way.

Oakley Taylor, 61, lives just outside city limits to the southeast of Bend. Last week, she was told by a neighbor that the district was shooting river otters in the canal near her house with a rifle. It turned out to be muskrats being shot with a pellet gun, but nonetheless Taylor was upset. She called the district, as well as the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office.

“They just wanted to come out to the neighborhood and shoot these muskrats or otters or whatever,” Taylor said.

Roofner said he talked with Taylor, explaining that his employees were not killing the animals for sport — as well as the devastation a breach could cause.

Taylor said she appreciated the conversation but thinks the district should make more of an effort to inform people living near the canals of the abatement and doesn’t see why the rodents need to be killed.

“It’s sad, and I guess that is going to be more of the clash between animals and humans, and that isn’t going to go away,” she said.

Taylor is right. When the district’s two canals were first built, the areas surrounding them were far more rural. But now in many places, such as Triple Ridge, they sit above residential areas, and a breach can cause serious damage to hundreds of homes. And the rodents can be ruthless; Roofner recalled digging up a area to find ground squirrels had “honey-combed” the earth on the edge of the canal.

But a more wildlife-friendly solution appears to be on its way. ShanRae Hawkins, spokesperson for the district, said it is working toward piping irrigation water rather than sending it down in open ditches. Hawkins said so far the district is in the engineering planning phase, and there is no timeline for piping. It would be a more efficient way to transport water and would also stop rodents from burrowing into the water supply, which becomes more important as urban density around the canals increases, as it has around Reed Market Road in Bend. A breach in that area, where the water flows at 500 cfs, would be devastating, Roofner said.

“We would have water running down Third Street,” he said.

 

Read more

Digging rodents threaten canal safety in Central Oregon

Ground squirrels, rock chucks keep irrigation managers busy

By Aubrey Wieber, The Bulletin

Drive along the Pilot Butte Canal in Redmond in the spring and you’ll see ground squirrels scurry frantically back and forth across the road. Chubby rock chucks sprint from rock to rock.

Both types of rodents pop up, run around and then disappear into burrows. The underground dens and tunnels provide protection from predators and the elements, but they also risk causing millions of dollars in damage to urban developments.

Rodents living along canals pose a huge threat, irrigation district officials say. Their tunnels can cause a breach of the canal, sending surging water through neighborhoods and other urban developments. As a result, keeping tabs on the furry critters and the integrity of the canal is a full-time job for eight “ditch riders” employed by the Central Oregon Irrigation District.

Larry Roofner, operations manager for COID, drove along a portion of the canal sitting just above the soon-to-be Triple Ridge housing development Monday. This is one of the higher-risk areas and is monitored daily.

“We have concern there,” Roofner said. “It carries about 300 cubic feet of water (per second). If that were to breach, there could be damage to what was previously irrigated land but is now a new subdivision and Ridgeview (High) School.”

To try and prevent a breach, ditch riders keep high-powered pellet guns in their vehicles and will shoot rodents when possible. In addition, Roofner said the district contracts with exterminators to kill burrowers, usually through trapping, though he said they can use whatever means they deem necessary.

The district is tasked with maintaining roughly 450 miles of canals throughout the region, and rodent abatement is a part of that. However, not all see it that way.

Oakley Taylor, 61, lives just outside city limits to the southeast of Bend. Last week, she was told by a neighbor that the district was shooting river otters in the canal near her house with a rifle. It turned out to be muskrats being shot with a pellet gun, but nonetheless Taylor was upset. She called the district, as well as the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office.

“They just wanted to come out to the neighborhood and shoot these muskrats or otters or whatever,” Taylor said.

Roofner said he talked with Taylor, explaining that his employees were not killing the animals for sport — as well as the devastation a breach could cause.

Taylor said she appreciated the conversation but thinks the district should make more of an effort to inform people living near the canals of the abatement and doesn’t see why the rodents need to be killed.

“It’s sad, and I guess that is going to be more of the clash between animals and humans, and that isn’t going to go away,” she said.

Taylor is right. When the district’s two canals were first built, the areas surrounding them were far more rural. But now in many places, such as Triple Ridge, they sit above residential areas, and a breach can cause serious damage to hundreds of homes. And the rodents can be ruthless; Roofner recalled digging up a area to find ground squirrels had “honey-combed” the earth on the edge of the canal.

But a more wildlife-friendly solution appears to be on its way. ShanRae Hawkins, spokesperson for the district, said it is working toward piping irrigation water rather than sending it down in open ditches. Hawkins said so far the district is in the engineering planning phase, and there is no timeline for piping. It would be a more efficient way to transport water and would also stop rodents from burrowing into the water supply, which becomes more important as urban density around the canals increases, as it has around Reed Market Road in Bend. A breach in that area, where the water flows at 500 cfs, would be devastating, Roofner said.

“We would have water running down Third Street,” he said.

— Reporter: 541-383-0376, awieber@bendbulletin.com

Read more

Seismic stability tested at Ochoco Dam

By The Bulletin

Bureau of Reclamation drill operators will begin collecting soil samples in early April at the Ochoco Dam in Prineville to ensure the stability of the dam in an earthquake.

The work is part of the federal bureau’s Safety of Dams program, which is focused on the safety and integrity of its dams. Dam safety drew nationwide attention in February when nearly 200,000 people were evacuated due to the threat of a breach at the Oroville Dam in California.

Crews will work in April near the toe of the dam’s downstream face. Crews will collect soil samples from the embankment and foundation at six drill sites to refine existing Ochoco Dam studies for seismic stability, according to the bureau.

All of the bureau’s dams are periodically reviewed for stability under seismic and hydrologic loading and for indications of internal erosion and physical deterioration. Last year, crews determined the Ochoco Dam was structurally sound, and expect the same results next month.

The bureau advises the public to be aware of drilling equipment near the dam and to stay clear of the area. Work is expected to last through May.

Ochoco Dam has been part of the bureau’s Crooked River Project since 1956.

The dam holds back Ochoco Creek water and stores winter snowmelt for the Ochoco Irrigation District, which provides irrigation to an estimated 18,200 acres in the surrounding area.

Read more

Suitable snow pack?

Central Oregonian I Tuesday, 07 February 2017 | Written by Jason Chaney

Ochoco Irrigation District Manager Russ Rhoden (left) and employees Ryan Middaugh (center) and Justin McKinney check snow depth near Walton Lake and weigh the snow to determine its water content.

Three major snow storms in Prineville have not translated to a significant year-over-year change in mountain snow pack, but snow depth still exceeds the 30-year average.

In late December, when Ochoco Irrigation District personnel went to measure the local snowpack, they found it was pretty similar to last year.

Of course, at that point in time, the area had only experienced one major snowstorm, and two more would hit in early January that would assuredly result in a lot more snow in the mountains than the previous year. At least it would be easy to assume such a result, but as it turns out, the snowpack is still comparable to last year at this time.

“People might be surprised a little bit because we have all of this snow on the valley floor,” said Russ Rhoden, Ochoco Irrigation District manager.

Last week, OID staff members conducted studies at the Ochoco Meadows SNOTEL site and snow course near Walton Lake as well as SNOTEL sites and snow courses at Marks Creek and Derr Meadows near Mitchell. The snow pack at the Marks Creek site increased the most from February 2016 (16 inches) to February 2017 (23.5 inches). The average water content also increased from 5.4 inches in 2016 to 6.6 inches in 2017.

Ochoco Meadows saw a slight increase from 2016 to 2017. OID recorded a snow depth of 40 inches in 2016 and 43 inches in 2017. The water content likewise went up slightly from 13 inches in 2016 to 13.5 inches in 2017.

But at Derr Meadows, the snow depth was 6 inches less this year versus last. In February 2016, OID measured 54 inches of snow depth, but in 2017 it was only 46 inches. The water content followed suit, registering 16.5 inches in 2016 compared to 14.5 inches this year.

Although the significant snowfall in town has not translated to a huge increase in mountain snow pack, Rhoden stressed that the numbers look good for the upcoming irrigation season.

“It is still good,” he said, pointing out that the snow pack for each of the past two years has exceeded the 30-year average for the area. “All of this low elevation snow is obviously going to help conditions.”

Like the snow pack numbers, local reservoir levels are comparable to last year as well. Prineville Reservoir is currently has 67,372 acre-feet of water compared to 75,981 at this time last year. Ochoco Reservoir, by contrast, has more water this year (21,435 acre-feet) than one year ago (19,045).

Perhaps the biggest difference between this winter and last is the temperatures and their impact on the mountain snow.

“This time last year, our rivers were starting to actually pick up. Our runoff was starting to come out earlier,” Rhoden said. “I think that has been the case for the last several years.”

This year, the lower temperatures overall have resulted in a slower melt, which bodes well for water availability through the growing season.

“What we hope for is the snow pack coming out slow,” Rhoden said. “We don’t need any rapid snow melt.”

Read more

Deschutes River Settlement: An Uneasy Truce

Source Weekly OPINION » EDITORIAL January 11, 2017

In terms of water, it’s going to be a good year. Just look outside.

According to the U.S.D.A. Natural Resources Conservation Service, all basins in Oregon have normal to above-normal snowpack, with the Deschutes and Crooked River basin at 126 percent of the median.

“That was not the case last year, when we observed rapid, record-breaking snowpack melt-out and runoff,”remarked Scott Oviatt, National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) snow survey supervisory hydrologist on Jan. 9.

This year, the parties involved in the Spotted Frog lawsuit have settled the suit aimed at restoring a steady flow to the Deschutes River, thereby ensuring at least 100 cubic feet per second (cfs) of minimum flow year-round. It looks like the spring and summer will be rosy; farmers will have water for irrigation and native species will have a fighting chance of survival. In short, there seems to be an uneasy truce between the irrigation districts, the farmers and environmentalists target a year when there’s the promise of abundant moisture gracing our dry high desert, it’s easier to settle into that truce—but it’s not going to last. One thing that’s sure to come up: the timeline necessary for restoring the health of the river beyond the 100cfs mandated by the settlement.

The current Basin Study underway in partnership with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation—a $1.5 million study aimed at providing a road map for the water needs of all—is set to be complete late this year. Until that’s done, the local irrigation districts are biding their time. Environmentalists, meanwhile, say the clock is ticking.

What’s interesting—and what seems to have changed recently—is that some local environmental groups now seem resigned to the notion that piping our irrigation channels is necessary. Piping is intended to keep water from “leaking” out, and to increase water pressure to make delivering water more efficient. That’s not without its drawbacks and aesthetic challenges, but by and large, it seems to be a tentative way forward.

Beyond the current agreement, all the parties will need to compromise.While it’s too soon to know the results of the Basin Study—and the irrigation districts won’t say so yet—farmers will need to reduce on-farm water waste. The irrigation districts will need to convince the public that the huge price tag for piping is worth paying for, and convince us that piping will ultimately mean more water left in the river, beyond the 100cfs. And while removing dams may be the ultimate goal for environmentalists, the fact that yet another power producer continues to seek license for another hydroelectric power plant at Wickiup Dam belies the fact that removing dams on the Deschutes is going to be a long, uphill and perhaps fruitless endeavor.

Readers often ask what they can do to understand this complicated issue. Educate yourself as much as possible about the need for a healthy river. Go to the info sessions offered by the Coalition for the Deschutes and others. Talk to a farmer about water. Conserve water where you can, even amid abundant snowpack. And keep an open mind when it comes time to pay for piping. If it ultimately means more water left in the Deschutes—and we hope the irrigation districts will be willing to follow through on that—then it’s going to be good for us all.

Read more