Monday, August 24, 2015
The following article was from the Madras Pioneer. The North Unit Irrigation District in Madras calls a town hall meeting on Wednesday, August 26, 2015 at 5:30 pm at the Madras Performing Arts Center.
NUID calls town hall over threatened lawsuit
WaterWatch, other groups file intent to sue
A lawsuit against North Unit Irrigation District and three other groups is being threatened by WaterWatch of Oregon, a nonprofit river conservation group, over alleged harm caused by water operations in the Upper Deschutes River.
WaterWatch sent a 60-day notice on Aug. 13, of its intent to sue the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the managers of NUID, Central Oregon Irrigation District and Tumalo Irrigation District, if complaints are not remedied within that time.
NUID Manager Mike Britton said the NUID Board of Directors has called a public town hall meeting for 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 26, at the Madras Performing Arts Center.
“It’s for anybody who has an interest in it and will be an informational discussion. It’s so everybody will be on the same page versus the rumor mill,” Britton said.
Britton is also the president of the Deschutes Basin Board of Control, which represents the seven irrigation districts that draw water from the Deschutes Basin.
“WaterWatch has been part of our collaborative process. Given that they know the work that’s been done, I would have thought they’d have more patience with the process,” Britton said.
“These environmental groups aren’t taking into account all the good work the basin district and its partners have been able to accomplish in recent years,” Britton said, adding, “Litigation will only distract from the work done for the spotted frog and other species. It will take away time, resources and funding from the projects these folks will be asking for eventually.”
The area of concern is the section of the Deschutes River between Wickiup Reservoir and the city of Bend. The WaterWatch statement claimed the irrigation districts were “managing the Deschutes more like an irrigation ditch than a river (which) has caused significant damage to river health.”
The group said the operation of irrigation reservoirs “has severely altered the natural system, creating extremely high flows in the summer months … followed by a sharp drop in flows in October and extremely low flows in winter.”
When reservoirs are refilling in the fall and winter, the group said it “causes streamflows to drop far below levels needed for fish and wildlife.” The “wildly fluctuating” water flows harm wildlife habitat, cause erosion and release nutrient pollutants and sediment into the river, the notice said.
Area animals listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act include steelhead, bull trout and the spotted frog, and the WaterWatch notice said “water rights in the Upper Deschutes exceed the river’s capacity” to return enough water to the river for those animals.
The group said spotted frog habitat was being harmed, and therefore the named agencies were violating the Endangered Species Act.
There was also public concern in 2013, when low river flows led to hundreds of trout and other fish getting stranded in a side channel of the river.
The notice said if ESA regulations, including maintaining water flows to fully protect spotted frogs, their eggs and habitat, were not remedied within 60 days, WaterWatch would file a citizen lawsuit with the U.S.District Court to compel compliance.