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NUID, COID, Tumalo irrigation districts named



FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE PHOTO - WaterWatch files a lawsuit aimed at saving the habitat of the Oregon spotted frog. The lawsuit is the second filed against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation concerning the spotted frog. Last month, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a similar lawsuit.A second lawsuit concerning the Oregon spotted frog was officially filed by WaterWatch of Oregon on Monday, Jan. 11, in U.S. District Court Eugene Division.

The lawsuit, which was threatened in August, was filed against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, North Unit Irrigation District, Central Oregon Irrigation District, and Tumalo Irrigation District. It claims dams and reservoirs managed by the Bureau and the three irrigation districts are harming Oregon spotted frog habitat.

“The Upper Deschutes is a potential blue-ribbon trout stream but is probably better known for fish kills because it is managed more like an irrigation canal than a river,” said John DeVoe, executive director of WaterWatch of Oregon. “We can and must do better by this irreplaceable natural asset,” he added.

Last month, on Dec. 18, the Center for Biological Diversity also filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation over the Oregon spotted frog (which was recently listed as a threatened species), contending that the federally protected spotted frog is being harmed by the operation of the Crane Prairie and Wickiup dams on the Deschutes River.

A press release from the Deschutes Basin Board of Control, a group of eight irrigation districts in Central Oregon, which has been working on water conservation and habitat restoration projects, noted the two lawsuits could result in reduced water supplies to thousands of farm and ranch families throughout Central Oregon, which could result in social, economic and environmental consequences to communities.

NUID Manager Mike Britton, who is also president of the Deschutes Basin Board of Control, stated, “We are working diligently with many different interests, including conservation groups, to protect this frog. These lawsuits won’t help any of us collaboratively improve habitat for these species.”

The WaterWatch organization alleges because of the way irrigation districts store and release water, “the once stable natural flows of the Upper Deschutes have been replaced by dramatic and unnatural flow swings, which damage water quality, while harming fish and wildlife.”

DeVoe said WaterWatch has been working with agencies on Deschutes Basin water management issues for almost a decade, but there has been no change. “It’s long past time for action. If we want a healthy river, fish and wildlife, we have to act now,” DeVoe said.

In response to that statement, Britton disagreed. “There have been changes. Tumalo Irrigation District increased its instream flows, COID released water last spring to help the frog, and we’ve been doing piping projects for years,” he said.

“This group wants winter water, and that’s what we’re all working toward now. But in water short years like this, we don’t have a lot of options, and to serve our patrons, we need to store water,” Britton said.

The irrigation districts are in the process of developing a Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan, which when completed, will recommend measures to improve the frog’s habitat. Six federal grants totaling $2.6 million, matched with $2.7 million from the irrigation districts and city of Prineville are being used to do scientific studies on the frog to develop the plan.

In addition, the Bureau of Reclamation has provided nearly $7 million in WaterSmart grants to the irrigation districts for projects to line and pipe canals, and install hydropower facilities. The projects have conserved water, increased instream flows, and benefitted fish and other wildlife, including the spotted frog.

“The districts are spending millions of dollars on projects to benefit the environment. We can improve habitat for the Oregon spotted frog and other species, but we have to work together,” said Ken Rieck, general manager of Tumalo Irrigation District.

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