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WaterWatch to sue, claiming Deschutes flows managed poorly


WaterWatch of Oregon announced Thursday its intention to sue the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and three Central Oregon irrigation districts, accusing them of violating the Endangered Species Act by failing to ensure adequate streamflows for the threatened Oregon spotted frog.

The group has send a 60-day notice of intent to sue to managers of 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 announcement said,

“The river conservation organization alleges that managing the Deschutes more like an irrigation ditch than a river has caused significant damage to river health,” their statement said, adding that the legal 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,” DeVoe added.

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 that recently notified the Bureau of Reclamation of their intent to file a lawsuit based on endangered species concerns.

“There are a number of issues mentioned in the notice, but the heart of the matter is we are asking the districts and the Bureau to maintain flows adequate to maintain the health of the Deschutes River between Wickiup and Bend,” WaterWatch of Oregon Communications Director Jim McCarthy told NewsChannel 21 by e-mail.

“The notice is focused on the spotted frog, but restoring flows in the Upper Deschutes isn’t just about a single species. It’s also about the fish, wildlife, and people in Central Oregon whose lives and livelihoods depend on a healthy river,” McCarthy said.

The notice says the suit is over “the operation and maintenance of Crane Prairie, Wickiup and Crescent Lake dams and reservoirs harming (the) threatened Oregon spotted frog.”

But DeVoe said, “From our perspective, resto ring flows encompasses more than a single species. 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 groups allege that 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.

WaterWatch said 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 60 days to respond to the notice before a legal challenge is initiated.

Read the full 60-day notice here.

COID Manager Craig Horrell said they are still reviewing the lawsuit notice, “but it is disappointing to COID that one of our cooperative partners, who is at the table of the Deschutes Basin Study Group, has chosen to go down this path.”

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