Habitat Conservation Plan finally completed
After 12 years of effort, regional irrigation interest could celebrate on New Years Day as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Served announced completion of the Deschutes River Basin Habitat Conservation Plan.
The approval of the HCP guarantees irrigation districts 30 years of access to Deschutes River Basin water.
The Deschutes River in Central Oregon supplies fresh, clean water to people, farms, and wildlife. Although abundant, this precious resource must serve many purposes, including agricultural, environmental, residential, and recreational use. Protecting and managing its water supply is important to the local community, which has come together to assist in developing a durable solution that will provide long-term water certainty.
Habitat Conservation Plans are voluntary agreements between the USFWS and landowners, private companies, or other non-federal entities that ensure harmful effects to threatened and endangered species are avoided, minimized, or offset. This HCP is a collaborative strategy to share water resources in the Deschutes Basin, covering irrigation and related water management operations while enhancing fish and wildlife habitat.
The Deschutes River Basin HCP is a large-scale planning effort designed to help the irrigation district members of the Deschutes Basin Board of Control (a group which included the city of Prineville) meet current and future water needs while enhancing fish and wildlife habitat. The HCP will cover approximately 10,700 square miles of land in Central Oregon. Bounded by the Cascades Mountains on the west, the Ochoco Mountains on the east, and the Columbia River to the north, the Deschutes River Basin includes six major tributaries above Lake Billy Chinook.
The HCP will eventually become part of an application for one or more Endangered Species Act incidental take permits (ITPs) that would authorize incidental take of listed species caused by covered activities. The potential applicants for the ITP(s) include the city of Prineville and members of the Deschutes Basin Board of Control — North Unit, Ochoco, Arnold, Central Oregon, Swalley, Three Sisters, Tumalo, and Lone Pine irrigation districts.
The National Marine Fisheries Service is a cooperating agency in the draft EIS process. Conservation measures in the HCP would be designed to minimize and mitigate impacts caused by the take of covered listed species that may result from the storage, release, diversion and return of irrigation water by the districts and the city of Prineville.
The aquatic species covered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in this HCP include the Oregon spotted frog and bull trout.
The Deschutes River Basin HCP delivers predictability to water managers by providing certainty on a water storage, release, diversion, and return paradigm for the next 30 years in the Deschutes Basin. It accomplishes this goal through a combination of adjusted water management practices, increased funding for conservation projects and in-stream leasing programs, more gradual ramping up and down of the irrigation season releases, support for on-farm water conservation, maintenance of fish screens, and related items — all to better align the water management operations with the life-history needs of covered species.
The city of Prineville and irrigation district members of the Deschutes Basin Board of Control applied for an Endangered Species Act incidental take permit that would authorize incidental take of listed species caused by covered activities. The term "take" means to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct. Conservation measures in the HCP were designed to minimize and mitigate potential impacts or the "incidental take" through harm of species covered under this plan that may result from their otherwise-lawful water management activities.
"The HCP will result in long-term benefits to Deschutes River fish and wildlife, the region's water resources, and provide regulatory certainty for our farmers, ranchers and communities," said Deschutes Basin Board of Control President Craig Horrell. "To meet the goals and objectives set forth in the HCP, the districts will continue working together to conserve and manage flows for the benefit of the entire community."
The Service regularly engages conservation partners, the public, landowners, government agencies and other stakeholders to identify innovative strategies for conserving and recovering species while supporting important economic activities.
This effort has been a 12-year collaboration among a large group of diverse stakeholders — irrigators, municipalities, recreationists, federal and state agencies, and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.
"This HCP exemplifies how the agricultural industry, conservation groups, and government successfully work together towards a shared conservation goal," said Paul Henson, the Service's Oregon State Supervisor. "The plan provides predictability to water users, durable conservation to aquatic species, and long-term ESA coverage to irrigators."
Together with partners, and with substantial public involvement, we have achieved a viable solution that will provide long-term water certainty and protect wildlife in the Deschutes Basin. Collaborations like this are the key to successful conservation of our natural resources.
Most of this story is by Jodie Delavan, public affairs specialist for the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office. Other elements by the Madras Pioneer and Central Oregonian staff.
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