Lava Island, Deschutes River: Fish Salvage & More, October 2014

The story starts one year ago, when social media led to widespread publicity over a fish kill in the side channel of Lava Island on the Deschutes River just upstream from Bend.  The opinions and conjecture over the significance of this event were surprisingly divergent. Although conjecture was that this could happen in any low water year, the only well documented stranding occurred in 1996. Clearly more information was needed.


The Deschutes Chapter met with multiple involved agencies and NGOs during the winter to review the event and discuss possible interventions this fall; it was evident last winter that we would face another low water year. By late August a plan had developed. Trout Unlimited in partnership with the Upper Deschutes River Coalition worked with the Oregon Water Resource Department, the North Unit Irrigation District, and the Central Oregon Irrigation District to develop an experimental modified ramp down of Wickiup releases at the end of irrigation season. This change in water management, enabled by the irrigation districts, was a first in the 65 year history of Wickiup Dam.


The goals were to first allow planned and careful evaluation of the flow into and through the Lava Island side channel as Deschutes flows dropped.  This was viewed as an investigational strategy that might facilitate fish salvage this year, but that would also provide valuable information for future planning. Secondly Forest Service personnel had identified the modified ramp down as a useful tool for habitat evaluation in the upper Deschutes; the FS has an active role in managing the upper D through the Wild and Scenic River Management Act of 1996. The irrigation districts accommodated the Forest Service flow schedule requests, releasing an extra 2100 acre-feet of water to shape the ramp down.


graph courtesy of OWRD


The actual salvage of fish followed under ODFW's supervision on October 24th, 26th and 27th.  The Bend Casting Club, a TU program, marshaled a cadre of volunteers

and almost 7000 fish were salvaged in spite of the slow reduction in channel flows. The number of fish was surprising, given the stranding of 2013.  That the channel could be repopulated in one spring-summer cycle is a testament to the value of this habitat for the Deschutes fishery.

This year's investigational efforts are to be applauded for the cooperative plan development and execution involving diverse members of our community. Other organizations and individuals including the Central Oregon Flyfishers, Sun River Anglers and Deschutes River Conservancy helped in many ways. 


While there is consensus that periodic fish salvage is not a long-term solution for this reach of river, valuable information has been gathered, information that should help guide restoration and management of the Upper Deschutes. Projects will be complex and will take years. Constructive collaboration between organizations, agencies, and community members will be required for success. The Lava Island project is a step towards building the commuity needed to accomplish these goals.





Michael Tripp, Conservation Chair  

Deschutes Chapter of Trout Unlimited