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Another fall, another Deschutes River fish rescue

This week, Central Oregonians will come together to rescue fish and mitigate impacts caused by drought and scheduled, seasonal streamflow changes in the Upper Deschutes River.

Streamflows in the Upper Deschutes from Wickiup Reservoir to Bend are being reduced to refill reservoirs for the 2020 irrigation season. As a result, fish can become stranded along a 1-mile stretch of channel that dries out every year, from Lava Island Trailhead to Meadow Camp off the Deschutes River.

Nearly 50% of Central Oregon farmers depend on the water stored within Wickiup Reservoir.

“The fish rescue is a temporary measure,” said Lisa Windom, special projects coordinator for the North Unit Irrigation District. “The irrigation districts are working toward long-term solutions to balance the flows.”

By piping open irrigation canals, promoting on-farm conservation by patrons (piping private deliveries, converting to sprinklers), and entering temporary instream leases, irrigation districts have the opportunity to conserve millions of gallons of water each year. The conservation projects will allow for the continued increase in winter flows in the Upper Deschutes River, improving fish and wildlife habitat.

Over the next five years, the districts are expected to pipe more than 400,000 feet of open canals across Central Oregon, to the tune of nearly 94 cubic feet per second in water savings.

“The conservation measures and management practices the districts are implementing will benefit the river and our region’s farmers and communities,” said Craig Horrell, president of the Deschutes Basin Board of Control. “Our long-term plan is to release more flows during the winter, keeping the side channels connected to the river and eliminating the need for fish rescues.”

In the meantime, the irrigation districts are partnering with the Deschutes River Conservancy, the Deschutes Redbands Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Coalition for the Deschutes, and dozens of volunteers from the community to collect stranded fish and relocate them to the main river channel.

“While we’re looking forward to the day when the fish rescue isn’t needed anymore, we’re excited to help with the fish rescue again this year. It’s an opportunity for farmers, anglers, and river advocates to work side-by-side, for the sake of the fish,” said Gail Snyder, executive director of the Coalition for the Deschutes.

The fish rescue is an example of how river advocacy organizations, irrigation districts, businesses, nonprofits and individuals have come together in support of a “Shared Vision for the Deschutes.” Shared Vision partners believe they will be able to restore the river to a healthy condition in the shortest time practicable by working together as partners in a genuinely collaborative manner for the betterment of all.

About the Deschutes Redbands Trout Unlimited Chapter (TU)

The Deschutes Redbands TU chapter currently has over 550 members dedicated to working with all organizations in the area to improve the Upper Deschutes Watershed. These goals are rooted in our desire to conserve, protect, restore, and advocate for Central Oregon coldwater fisheries and the watersheds that support them. Deschutes Redbands TU Chapter

About the Coalition for the Deschutes (CFD)

The Coalition for the Deschutes works to restore the Deschutes River so fish, farms, and families all can thrive. Read more about the Shared Vision for the Deschutes on our website.

Coalition for the Deschutes

About the Deschutes River Conservancy (DRC)
The Deschutes River Conservancy was founded in 1996 as a collaborative, multi-stakeholder 501(c)3 non-profit organization with the mission to restore streamflow and improve water quality in the Deschutes Basin. The Board of Directors is comprised of key public and private interests, including federal, state, local government, irrigation, development, hydropower, recreation, tribes, and environment. Deschutes River Conservancy

About the Deschutes Basin Board of Control (DBBC)

The Deschutes Basin Board of Control represents eight irrigation districts in Oregon’s Deschutes Basin. The districts supply water throughout the Deschutes Basin to 8,700 patrons across 155,662 acres. The districts work in partnership with conservation groups and local, state, and federal agencies to increase instream flows in rivers and creeks while improving fisheries passage and ecologically important habitat. Since 2000, the districts have increased instream flows by nearly 80,000 acre-feet in the Deschutes River, Little Deschutes River, Ochoco Creek, Whychus Creek, Tumalo Creek, and Crescent Creek, benefiting salmon, steelhead, bull trout, Oregon spotted frog and other species. For more information on the irrigation districts and their conservation efforts, visit

KTVZ 2019

Article Topic Follows: Central Oregon

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