Every October, those that control the faucet at the head of the Deschutes River at Wickiup Dam, turn things down to begin storing water for next years irrigation needs. The photo above shows the Upper Deschutes River about a half mile below the Wickup Dam – this photo can only be taken during the height of irigation release – in fact the low winter flows would prevent me from even floating this section in my drift boat. But graphs speak louder than words:
The green line above shows the recorded flows of the Deschutes below Wickiup dam for the “Water Year” of 2017. You can see that at the peak release, roughly around 1750cfs were being blasted down the Deschutes to fill water rights across the high desert of Central Oregon. Zooming in a bit on the current Water Year – this October – you can see the flows being reduced daily:
The final winter flow will end up being around 100CFS. Downstream from the dam a few tributaries add to this meager flow. Even with the help from the Little Deschutes, Fall, and Spring Rivers – this drastic reduction in flows results in a very bad situation for the health of the Deschutes.
The Coalition for the Deschutes – a local non-profit that I serve on the board for – is working with local stakeholders to try and get more water back in the river year-round, but this is a lengthy process. What the above charts mean, right now, is that fish will be stranded in a few days as side-channels created by the high irrigation levels are cut-off from the main stem of the river.
Each year thousands of fish are stranded, and many die off as the winter flows cut them off from the life blood of the main river. Stream banks are exposed. Habitat is destroyed. Fragile riparian habitat is dried up. It is a sad state.
But, each fall a group of volunteers comes together to help the stranded fish. An impromptu bucket-brigade is formed that gathers fish that have been electro-shocked from the side-channels, and walks them back to the main-stem of the river. Not all survive, but over the past few years thousands of fish have been saved:
If you are in Bend, and would like to participate, please reach out and get involved. Or better yet, if you love the Deschutes, please follow the efforts of the Coalition for the Deschutes, and help us work to find a permanent solution to this ongoing problem.