John Day River Subbasin Environmental Assessment Calls for Leasing Water

Media Contact: John Redding , (208) 378-5212
Mark Croghan , (541) 575-3033

For Release: April 23, 2003

The Bureau of Reclamation has completed an Environmental Assessment that outlines a mitigation activity to improve habitat and fish passage for threatened fish along the Middle Fork of the John Day River and two tributaries by leasing private water rights.

The Environmental Assessment analyzed the Reclamation action of entering into a partnership with the Oregon Water Trust for the purpose of splitting the cost of leasing up to 11.29 cubic feet per second of natural flow water rights for instream use from a private landowner. Reclamation recently issued a Finding of No Significant Impact for this action.

The private property owner normally uses the water to irrigate agricultural land. However, these water rights were leased by the OWT for instream uses in 2001 and 2002. The proposed action in this EA calls for Reclamation and OWT to share the cost of leasing the water right. This lease will result in the landowner not diverting up to 2179.8 acre feet of water from the Middle Fork John Day subbasin, which will result in increased stream flows for fish.

Both summer steelhead and bull trout are listed as threatened in the John Day Basin under the Endangered Species Act. The John Day River represents the largest native, natural spawning stock of steelhead in the region.

The environmental consequences of providing more instream water during the irrigation season would be beneficial in a subbasin where steelhead and salmon have potential for a strong recovery, said Mark Croghan, Reclamation Subbasin Liaison. The higher volume of water in the streams can contribute to reducing water temperatures and improving stream habitat, promoting healthy spawning, rearing, and migration conditions.

Reclamation has coordinated with the following entities in developing the proposed action: Oregon Water Resources Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Water Trust, Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, formerly known as the National Marine Fisheries Service.

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