For years, the eight irrigation districts that serve Central Oregon have been working together with local municipalities, state and federal agencies, and environmental groups to improve our collective irrigation network in a way that better serves our community, conserves water, and improves fish and wildlife habitat.
We’re currently taking a number of constructive steps to improve Deschutes river habitat for all species, including the threatened Oregon spotted frog. Here are just a few of the many steps we’ve taken to protect our wildlife:
We’ve increased flows in the Deschutes River below Wickiup Reservoir to benefit fish and wildlife.
Over the past 16 years more than 80,000 acre feet of water annually has been restored to rivers throughout Central Oregon, improving habitat for salmon, steelhead, bull trout, the Oregon spotted frog, and other species.
We’ve specifically benefitted Oregon spotted frog breeding and rearing habitat by dedicating storage capacity in Crane Prairie Reservoir and stabilizing its surface water elevation during the spring and summer. In addition, we’re working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a detailed monitoring and adaptive management plan at the reservoir to measure the benefits being provided to the species.
We’ve also led the way in piping canals to conserve water. By piping leaking canals, we are able to decrease the amount of water needed for irrigation, thereby increasing the amount of water available for fish and wildlife species.
Right now we’re currently working with more than twenty stakeholders to complete the Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan for federal review and approval. Together with state and federal agencies, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Portland General Electric, and local conservation groups, this collaborative, scientifically based multi-species plan will create a comprehensive strategy to effectively protect and enhance natural habitat while meeting the water needs of our community.
Our efforts are inclusive, science-based, and meant to benefit everyone who lives and works in Central Oregon. Unfortunately, seeking to solve a complicated issue like habitat protection and water management through the courts will only lead to more litigation, uncertainty, and court-issued mandates that have little to no basis in the scientific realities of species protection.
There is also the issue of local family farms and ranches. The Center for Biological Diversity’s preliminary injunction calls for shifting the entire use of Wickiup Reservoir and Crane Prairie Reservoir and some use of Crescent Lake away from irrigation and to Oregon spotted frogs. This abrupt and massive shift of water away from the heart of our fragile economy at the beginning of the growing season would cause devastation to hundreds of businesses throughout Bend, Redmond, Madras, and Tumalo while doing little to protect the long-term prospects of the Oregon spotted frog. In fact, these extreme actions will do more harm to frogs than help.
We are asking the Center for Biological Diversity and WaterWatch of Oregon to work with the rest of our community to complete the Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan. In doing so we can continue to focus on developing and implementing measures to benefit the Oregon spotted frog, rather than tying the matter up in courts for years and perhaps losing a crucial opportunity to make a difference.
This is a difficult issue that dozens of groups have spent years trying to solve. The solution to this problem is not a quick fix or something that can be done overnight. While the development of the Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan may not be moving as fast as some would like, it’s the best way to ensure productive, long-term results. And while it has indeed taken time to draft that plan, we are nearing the finish line.
To discard that work now and put the fate of the Oregon spotted frog and our local economy into the hands of the judicial system will only serve to produce a judicial decision, not a scientific solution nor one that appropriately balances the needs of the Oregon spotted frog with the needs of local ranchers, farmers, the tourism industry, and the countless number of families that rely on our irrigation system.
We take our responsibility to Central Oregon seriously. Those who came before us made Central Oregon what it is today by carving more than 700 miles of canals out of dense volcanic rock using only horses, shovels, and primitive machinery. Today we are tasked with overseeing this vital network while managing the challenges of upgrading a century-old system in a way that best serves the needs of our patrons now and in the future in addition to the needs of our wildlife. Everything we do is based on managing the region’s water responsibly so there will be water for all in the years, decades, and centuries to come.