Upper Deschutes River, OR
Oregon’s Deschutes River is one of the West’s most iconic rivers. Little Lava Lake in the Cascade Mountains is its point of origin. It then flows north 250 miles, gaining size and volume to its confluence with the Columbia River. The Deschutes provides a variety of social and ecological values including water for irrigation, habitat for fish and wildlife, sustenance for Native Americans, power for generating electricity, as well as myriad recreational opportunities.
Increasing demands on the river over the past 100 years have had a significant affect on habitat, water quality and native species. Pressures have come from municipal and residential development, water withdrawals for irrigation and human use, logging, grazing and recreation.
In an effort to restore healthy salmon and trout populations in Oregon’s upper Deschutes River, the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, the Deschutes Basin Land Trust and the Deschutes River Conservancy formed a partnership to collaboratively address the highest priority ecological needs across several Deschutes basin tributaries.
While many groups and agencies had worked to improve ecological conditions in the upper Deschutes in the past, there was little cohesion or understanding of how the actions of each group reinforced the actions of other related efforts. Today this collaborative group is working together to achieve shared restoration objectives and carry out prioritized activities to restore water quality, conserve key properties in the watershed, improve critical habitat, remove fish migration barriers and restore streamflow to chronically dewatered streams.
In 2006, the Upper Deschutes River became a Model Watershed Program partner, securing essential funding to improve group cohesion and monitor the relationship between each group’s actions and the bigger picture results. BEF provides technical support, funding for monitoring and evaluation, and the services of an independent scientific review team for at least the first 10-years of the partnership.
Now, with a sustained central monitoring program that assesses and tracks shared objectives, it looks likely that coordinated efforts in the Deschutes are on track to achieve a range of restoration milestones.
Since entering the Model Watershed Program, the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council has worked with its partners to complete significant project work including removing fish passage barriers, screening irrigation diversions, restoring stream habitat and augmenting instream water flow. These efforts are beginning to show positive results. Water temperatures have decreased along reaches where flows have been restored, and aquatic insect populations—an important indicator of stream health—have improved.
—Ryan Houston, Executive Director, Upper Deschutes Watershed Council