New Life For Whychus Creek

With restored water flows, Whychus is one of many creeks in the Pacific Northwest to benefit from NFWF's Columbia Basin Water Transactions Program.

For the first time in more than a hundred years, all 41 miles of Oregon’s Whychus Creek are flowing year-round. It's a remarkable transformation achieved through water transactions negotiated by the Deschutes River Conservancy, a partner in NFWF’s Columbia Basin Water Transactions Program (CBWTP).

By the turn of the 20th century, up to 90 percent of the creek’s water was being diverted for irrigation, and some of the largest runs of steelhead in central Oregon suffered. But the recent series of agreements has restored the stream and brought new hope for its fish.

CBWTP transactions along Whychus Creek yielded over 20 cubic feet per second of instream water rights, and those rights are now permanently protected. That's good news for salmon and steelhead, which need sufficient water levels to spawn. And local farmers and ranchers benefit as much as the fish do. New irrigation systems installed as part of most agreements deliver their water more efficiently, which helps to boost crop production and minimize fluctuating power costs.

“I don’t know of any place where this magnitude of water restoration has occurred,” said Kyle Gorman, region manager for the Oregon Water Resources Department.

CBWTP works throughout the Columbia Basin to support conservation organizations, state water agencies, and other program partners to assist farmers, ranchers and irrigation districts in restoring flows to priority rivers and creeks. It achieves that goal through permanent acquisitions, leases, purchased water saved through irrigation efficiency gains, and other innovative approaches.

Last year, more than 30 new CBWTP transactions benefitted some 600 miles of waterways, restoring much-needed habitat for fish while maintaining agricultural production.

NFWF has administered CBWTP since 2002 in partnership with the Bonneville Power Administration and Northwest Power and Conservation Council. In 2012, Altria joined the list of partners, and will provide additional support to improve streamflows in the Yakima and Walla Walla basins.