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Second Lawsuit Filed on Deschutes River Management

In Oregon, the spotted frog's range includes only a half-dozen counties and the species has long been considered a candidate for protection. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
In Oregon, the spotted frog's range includes only a half-dozen counties and the species has long been considered a candidate for protection. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
January 13, 2016

BEND, Ore. - A second federal lawsuit has been filed to protect the Oregon spotted frog - but more broadly, to change the way water is being managed in Central Oregon's Deschutes River Basin.

Since 2008, according to the group WaterWatch of Oregon, federal agencies and local irrigators have promised to restore fish and wildlife habitat by restoring more normal flows to part of the Deschutes River near Bend.

Jim McCarthy, WaterWatch communications director, said spotted frogs are just one species affected by this part of the Deschutes running pretty much opposite what a river normally does.

"The river is run very high, unnaturally high, in the summer so that water can be delivered for irrigation for farmers downstream," he said. "And then in the winter, when they want to store the groundwater that otherwise would be keeping the river flowing, they shut off the water almost entirely."

McCarthy said the result is dying fish and frogs that are stranded without sufficient water during some times of the year.

Representing the irrigation districts, the Deschutes Basin Board of Control pointed to millions of dollars in habitat-improvement plans under way, and said the lawsuits complicate the parties' ability to work together.

WaterWatch of Oregon is asking a judge to make two federal agencies - the Bureau of Reclamation, which is in charge of dams, and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service - complete a consultation process that is required under federal law. While talks have dragged on for years, McCarthy said, there have been fish kills, fewer spotted frogs and more concerns about the outdoor-recreation economy of central Oregon.

"It is a beautiful stretch of river near Bend; it's easily accessed from just outside of town. It's absolutely stunning," he said. "And now we see these wild fluctuations that kill fish and wildlife, including frogs, and really harm the river."

According to the irrigation districts, it also would be harmful to not keep water flowing to local farms and ranches.

The Center for Biological Diversity also cited the future of the spotted frog in a lawsuit. The little frog has been on Oregon's endangered species list since August 2014.

The lawsuit is online at earthjustice.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR