A three-year study on the Upper Deschutes Basin looks into future of water management.

HOLLY M. GILL - Mike Relf, from the regional office of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, in Boise, Idaho, discusses the objectives of the Upper Deschutes Basin Study at a meeting March 6.Preliminary findings from a three-year study on the Upper Deschutes Basin, due out later this year, were the topic of discussion at a meeting last week in Madras that drew about 40 community members.

Representatives of the 38-member Basin Study Work Group, which includes Central Oregon cities, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, conservation organizations, irrigation districts and others, collaborated with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on the study.

"While the study does not propose any specific project, program, or plan, it will provide a current and broadly shared basis for future water management in the basin," said Mike Britton, manager of North Unit Irrigation District.

HOLLY M. GILL - Roy Hyder, of Metolius, at left, talks with members of the Upper Deschutes Basin Study Group, from left, Niklas Christensen, of the Watershed Professionals Network, Ray Hartwell, of Summit Conservation Strategies, Kate Fitzpatrick, of the Deschutes River Conservancy, and Kyle Gorman, of the Oregon Water Resources Department.
Mike Relf, of the regional office of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, in Boise, which is sharing in the cost of the $1.5 million study, was impressed with the cooperation among the districts in the Upper Deschutes Basin.

"What strikes me in this basin is the collaboration," he said. "To have those 40-some entities all come together — that's what strikes me."

Kate Fitzpatrick, of the Deschutes River Conservancy, one of the presenters, said that the three-year study is looking at ways to balance the water needs for agriculture, rivers and cities.

The study is looking at how climate change might affect water supply, assessing future water supply and demand, finding opportunities to increase efficiencies, and creating strategies to meet future water needs.

"I think the preliminary findings are consistent with the tasks the group set out to achieve," said Britton. "I'm sure there will be varied interpretations or views of the study and its results once it is final and people have time to digest the information that was developed."

The basin study is expected to be completed by the end of the year. "Initially, it was to be completed by May 2018, but I suspect an extension will likely be requested of the USBR and Oregon Water Resources Department in light of some hydrologic modeling delays and to allow sufficient time for final review of the study elements," said Britton.

Goals of the study are to: secure and maintain stream flows and water quality in the Deschutes Basin for the benefit of fish, wildlife and people; secure and maintain a reliable and affordable supply of water to sustain agriculture; and secure and maintain a safe, affordable and high quality water supply for urban communities.

"I think we've all long known what the basin needs to address the shortfalls of the basin and its water supply," said Britton. "This study takes a deeper dive into questions folks have had for many years — additional basin storage for example."

"Storage concepts are not so much new storage rights," said Relf, "but can we move it around?"

Regarding the existing storage at Wickiup Reservoir, which stores water for NUID, Relf said the study is looking at the potential for off-channel storage sites closer to the district. However, he said, construction costs could exceed $100 million to $300 million.

"Currently, in a wet year, shortages are relatively small," he said. "In a dry year, they go up."

"The direction the study takes, once complete and final, largely depends on the ability of a group or organization to implement the findings of the study, keeping in mind some portions of the study findings require very large capital investments," said Britton.  

The preliminary results of the study are on the Bureau of Reclamation's website at, or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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