Oregon Dam Operations Causing Frog Take, Group Says

By Lars-Eric Hedberg

Jan. 12 — Water storage and irrigation operations by the Bureau of Reclamation and various irrigation districts in the Upper Deschutes River are causing a take of threatened Oregon spotted frogs in violation of the Endangered Species Act, an environmental group claimed.

In its Jan. 11 complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, WaterWatch of Oregon alleged that the bureau's dam operations are “altering natural flows in the Upper Deschutes Basin (including Crescent Creek) such that artificially high flows occur in the months between approximately May and September and artificially low flows occur from October to approximately April each year.”

These flows, according to the group, negatively affect the frogs' habitat and spawning areas, particularly harming eggs and juveniles and exposing both adults and juveniles to winter freezing.

The Bureau of Reclamation owns and operates the Crane Prairie and Wickiup Dams. Central Oregon Irrigation District also operates Crane Prairies Dam and supplies irrigation water to its members, and the North Unit Irrigation District operates Wickiup Dam for water supply.

The Tumalo Irrigation District owns and operates the Crescent Lake Dam, according to the complaint.

These dams and reservoirs are located southwest of Bend, Ore.

“The Upper Deschutes is a potential blue-ribbon trout stream but is probably better known for fish kills because it is managed more like an irrigation canal than a river,” said John DeVoe, executive director of WaterWatch of Oregon, in a statement. “We can and must do better by this irreplaceable natural asset.”

ESA Violations, Injunction Sought

WaterWatch alleges that the defendants' operation of the dams adversely modifies the threatened frogs' critical habitat in violation of Section 9 of the ESA, 16 U.S.C. § 1538(a)(1)(B), the takings prohibition.

The group also claims that the bureau failed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding its operation of the dams in violation of Section 7, 16 U.S.C. § 1536(a)(2).

It asks the court to declare that the defendants' operation of the dams is violating the act, to enjoin them from operating the dams in a manner that causes a take and to require them to release “consistent, stable, and adequate flows” for the frogs at all life stages.

Furthermore, WaterWatch asks the court to declare that the bureau has failed to consult with the service to ensure operation of the dams does not jeopardize the species or result in adverse modification of critical habitat. It also seeks an order enjoining the agency from operating the Crane Prairie and Wickiup dams until it completes the consultation.

WaterWatch's complaint follows an action filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, which also alleges the bureau's operation and maintenance of Crane Prairie Dam and Reservoir and Wickiup Dam and Reservoir violate the Endangered Species Act (Ctr. for Biological Diversity v. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, D. Or., No. 15-cv-02358, 12/18/15).

The law Office of Karl G. Anuta, PC, Portland, and attorneys from Earthjustice represent WaterWatch.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lars-Eric Hedberg in Washington at lhedberg@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com