By Dylan J. Darling

The Bulletin

Environmentalists and irrigators have differing opinions on how a court order being sought for changes in Deschutes River flows upstream of Bend would affect farms, ranches and other water users.

The Center for Biological Diversity and WaterWatch of Oregon filed for a preliminary injunction last week , requesting the Bureau of Reclamation and three irrigation districts in Central Oregon manage the river’s water differently. The irrigation districts named in the filing are the Central Oregon, North Unit and Tumalo.

The groups want changes to operations at Crane Prairie Reservoir, Wickiup Reservoir and Crescent Lake, and asked the court to issue the preliminary injunction by April 1, according to court records. The demand follows separate lawsuits by the Center for Biological Diversity in December and WaterWatch in January, both focused on the river.

Currently the bureau keeps wintertime flows in the Deschutes River reduced in order to fill upstream reservoirs. Summertime flows are then higher to supply farmers, ranchers and other water users.

The problem, says Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity, is this leaves the Oregon spotted frog and other river animals with little water. He said the group, which is based in Arizona and has an office in Portland, wants to find a way for the amphibians and irrigators to coexist.

“We think there is a solution to this problem,” Greenwald said. “That there is enough water in the river both to ensure that the frog isn’t harmed or driven to extinction and that farmers get the irrigation water they need.”

Increased conservation by irrigation districts could make this happen, he said. In calling for conservation, he singled out the Central Oregon Irrigation District for wasting water. The district delivers water to 45,000 acres of agriculture land between Bend and Redmond.

Saving water takes projects like canal piping, which are not done quickly, said Shon Rae, communications manager for the Central Oregon Irrigation District.

“It’s a lot of money and time,” she said.

So if the court orders a change in how the Deschutes River is managed this spring, people who draw water from the district may face “abrupt and severe restrictions,” according to a news release last week from the Deschutes Basin Board of Control. The group represents eight irrigation districts.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Oregon spotted frog as threatened in August 2014, citing its declining habitat.

Changing how the Deschutes River is managed would leave more water in the river for the frog and improve its habitat, said Jim McCarthy, communications director for WaterWatch of Oregon. The Portland-based environmental group is the other partner in the preliminary injunction filing. The groups are requesting a ruling before the beginning of April, which is breeding season for the frog. April is also when irrigation typically starts in Central Oregon.

“We need change now,” McCarthy said. “We can’t let this river decline.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7812,

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected. An earlier version of this article misidentified the irrigation districts named in the injunction; the name of Crescent Lake reservoir; and the amount of acres served by COID’s water.

The Bulletin regrets the error.