On December 31, 2020, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announced the completion of the Deschutes River Basin Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). Habitat Conservation Plans are voluntary agreements between the Service and landowners, private companies, or other non-federal entities that ensure harmful effects to threatened and endangered species are avoided, minimized, or offset. This HCP is a collaborative strategy to share water resources in the Deschutes Basin, covering irrigation and related water management operations while enhancing fish and wildlife habitat.
The Deschutes River Basin HCP delivers predictability to water managers by providing certainty on a water storage, release, diversion, and return paradigm for the next 30 years in the Deschutes Basin. It accomplishes this goal through a combination of adjusted water management practices, increased funding for conservation projects and in-stream leasing programs, more gradual ramping up and down of the irrigation season releases, support for on-farm water conservation, maintenance of fish screens, and related items — all to better align the water management operations with the life-history needs of covered species.
“When the HCP was first proposed we were warned it would be difficult and time consuming. In hindsight it was all of that and more. Speaking for myself this was a big commitment and the outcome was never certain. We were fortunate to have very good people to assist and advise through the entire process. We also learned an important lesson early on that our best chance for success was to listen to and work with all parties in the basin. With the help of our partners, US Fish and Wildlife, The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, environmental groups, and all the irrigation districts I believe the HCP is the best way forward for the Deschutes Basin.” Martin Richards North Unit Irrigation District Board Chairman