Deschutes Basin conservation plan out soon
The Deschutes Basin Board of Control, made up of eight irrigation districts in Central Oregon and the city of Prineville, has announced a series of conservation measures aimed at improving and enhancing fish and wildlife habitat conservation in the Deschutes Basin.
The DBBC and city of Prineville are working with local, state and federal agencies to reduce potential impacts to species protected by the Endangered Species Act. One of their initiatives is the Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan. The plan is a multispecies plan designed to improve and enhance fish and wildlife habitat conditions and enable the districts and city to continue to supply water for irrigation and municipal purposes throughout Central Oregon.
Early efforts for the conservation plan focused on determining which species should be covered, what activities by the districts and city might affect those species, and where those effects may occur. Studies identified bull trout, Oregon spotted frog, steelhead trout, sockeye salmon, and spring-run Chinook salmon as the species to be covered by the plan, while other studies examined the effects of district and city activities on habitat.
Surveys and studies focused on a variety of aspects of the Deschutes River, several of its tributaries, and reservoirs in the Deschutes Basin. The work was performed with the input of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, and 20 other state and federal agencies and nongovernmental organizations.
"We believe the plan is a responsible conservation strategy to improve fish and wildlife habitat," said DBBC President Mike Britton. "This approach allows us to meet the needs of farm and ranch families and city residents while conserving water and enhancing streamflow."
With the necessary studies complete, the districts and city passed a major milestone in December 2017, as they presented their proposed conservation measures to address their potential impacts on the covered species to the DBHCP Working Group and stakeholders.
In developing those measures, the districts and city focused on the key criterion for evaluating habitat conservation plans, which is whether the plan minimizes and mitigates, to the maximum extent practicable, impacts by the districts and city on those species.
The proposed conservation measures include specific water management measures for Crane Prairie Reservoir, Wickiup Reservoir, Crescent Lake Reservoir, the Deschutes River, Whychus Creek, the Crooked River, Ochoco Creek, and McKay Creek.
Some of the measures outlined in the proposed conservation plan, including some measures involving reservoir operations designed to benefit the Oregon spotted frog, are already being implemented, as those measures were contained in a 2016 court-approved settlement agreement between five districts, Reclamation, and two environmental groups. Other measures build off years-long efforts by the districts to conserve water and enhance instream flows.
The Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service are in the process of evaluating the proposed conservation plan, specifically to evaluate the proposed conservation measures, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.
"There are many views on what should or should not be included as conservation measures in the final plan. The NEPA process will examine these issues, and we look forward to completing the DBHCP in 2019," said Britton.
The NEPA process was initiated in the summer of 2017 when the Fish and Wildlife Service led four public scoping meetings in Madras and Bend. The Fish and Wildlife Service has selected a NEPA consultant team, which will spend the next year evaluating the proposed plan and preparing a draft environmental impact statement. Once completed, the proposed conservation plan and impact statement will be released for public comment, likely in late 2018 or early 2019. The goal then will be to have a final environmental impact statement and an approved conservation plan by July 2019.
With the approval of the plan, the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service will issue incidental take permits to the districts and city, and so long as they adhere to the approved conservation measures in the plan and follow the terms and conditions of the permits, the districts and city will be authorized to continue their operations covered by the permits.
In 2016, the districts committed to maintaining a flow of at least 100 cubic feet per second in the upper Deschutes River (downstream of Wickiup Dam) at all times, including the winter, when the previous minimum flow was 20.8 cfs.
In the fall of 2017, the DBBC districts and Oregon Water Resources Department evaluated snowpack and runoff conditions and determined they could provide additional flow below Wickiup Dam without jeopardizing the fill of Wickiup Reservoir.
Consequently, the flow downstream of Wickiup Dam remained above 175 cfs from late November 2017 through mid-March 2018. Flows will be increased to 600 cfs by March 31, to support Oregon spotted frog breeding along the Deschutes River between Wickiup Dam and Bend.
About the DBBC The eight Deschutes Basin Board of Control irrigation districts supply water throughout the Deschutes Basin to 8,700 patrons across 155,662 acres. The DBBC 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 DBBC 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, benefitting salmon, steelhead, bull trout, Oregon spotted frog and other species.
For more information on the irrigation districts and their conservation efforts, visit dbbcirrigation.com.