Declining water levels at Wickiup Reservoir have shattered records and prompted concerns from irrigation districts and farmers, and the receding water has exposed another problem: decades of old motors, aluminum cans, unwanted couches and other trash that has accumulated at the bottom of the reservoir.
The large amount of newly visible debris has prompted a group of volunteers, representatives from fly-fishing shops and trash haulers to take advantage of the historically low water levels by picking up trash from the reservoir bottom on Saturday.
“With (the reservoir bottom) all exposed, we have a good opportunity to find things we haven’t been able to find before,” said Kyle Schenk, one of the organizers of the cleanup.
From 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Schenk and volunteers will bring trash bags and other equipment to the dam at the edge of the reservoir, which was created in 1949 by damming the Deschutes River about 60 miles southwest of Bend. The event, known as “Wickiup Pickiup” is designed to make a dent in the large pile of trash that has accumulated from years of increasing use and a lack of formal cleanup efforts over the years.
“It seems like wherever humans go, there’s a trash problem,” said Kim Brannock, another organizer.
After completely filling in March, Central Oregon’s largest reservoir has steadily lost water over the past six months. As of Oct. 3, the reservoir, which holds 200,000 acre-feet of water, was just 1 percent full.
Kyle Gorman, south-central region manager for the Oregon Water Resources Department, said the reservoir is lower than it’s been since the early 1950s. Gorman added the water is too shallow to be measured by the electronic sensor in the reservoir, and water depths are now recorded manually.
Gorman said the historic low level is due to a series of mostly dry winters over the past five years, compounded by a uniquely dry summer in 2018. With virtually no measurable rainfall across Central Oregon during the summer, irrigation districts had to divert water aggressively for farmers.
Still, Brannock said her goal in organizing the cleanup is not to cast blame, but to educate residents and practice stewardship of the land.
“I thought it was a great opportunity to connect people to the watershed,” Brannock said.
In addition to be contributing vital water for North Unit Irrigation District and farmers in the Deschutes Basin, Wickiup is popular for sporting activities during the summer, including fly fishing. Schenk said the area attracts anglers looking for trout, mountain whitefish and kokanee salmon.
Tye Krueger, owner and manager of Confluence Fly Shop in Bend, said he began noticing the exceptionally low levels at Wickiup in August. As the receding water revealed more and more trash, Krueger said the fly-fishing industry felt compelled to step up. He said he bought about 50 drum liner trash bags to help with the cleanup. Schenk added that other fly-fishing outfitters are contributing food, beer and other supplies.
“We have every shop involved,” Schenk said.
He added that the trash is primarily concentrated near the dam, as well as in the narrow arms of the reservoir. Items range from old boat motors, to decade-old Pepsi cans preserved in the mud.
The cleanup effort is getting assistance from several local trash haulers. Brannock said the organizers are partnering with garbage haulers in La Pine to set up dumpsters in the area during the cleanup effort.
Deschutes County Solid Waste is planning to allow the volunteers to deposit the trash at Knott Landfill free of charge, a service the agency often provides for large-scale cleanup efforts, according to Debbie Parret, accountant with the county department.
Brannock and Krueger emphasized that the problems with trash aren’t exclusive to Wickiup Reservoir, and are happening more often across Central Oregon’s public lands. Krueger asked for dumpsters to be available during the summer at the reservoir to make it easier for visitors to dispose of trash, and for campers and other visitors to be more diligent about cleaning up.
“They’ve done a really poor job,” Krueger said.
— Reporter: 541-617-7818, firstname.lastname@example.org