Show Up or Be Shut Out

 

There always seems to be some venue to land in, where fish and wildlife are grossly under-represented. I’m just now leaving a water resources public outreach meeting, in which some of us “paid” hacks attended and one, yes ONE, other sportangler was present to have the agency hear his concerns. And this is Oregon!

It appears that Oregon is going to start to take our water resources a bit more seriously these days. It’s almost like… like… it’s the most valuable resource on the planet! I’m not really into shaming public agencies and even though Oregon is a bit late in putting together the tools necessary in addressing drought and the future water needs of our state, at least they’re doing it. After all, I hear it rains a little bit in Oregon (and if you’re from California, it rains ALL THE TIME here in Oregon).

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One of my favorite fish advocates: Lenora Lawrence

But really, despite a few serious yawns over the course of this late afternoon meeting, I always walk away from these forums much better informed than before. Much of the talk revolved around last year’s drought that killed over ½ of the returning sockeye to the Columbia Basin last year but several items of interest were discussed.

Of greatest importance:
(1) Set Goals for New Instream Water Rights

Previous strategies have been adopted, just not implemented.

(2) Quantify Future Instream Flow Needs

The 2012 Strategy asked the state to define instream and out-of-stream demands. In response, the Oregon Water Resources Department produced a 2015 Demand Forecast Report projecting water demands for agriculture, commercial, municipal, and agricultural needs until the year 2050, but did not include any information on water needs for fish, wildlife, water quality, and recreation. This makes no sense. Without this data, the state cannot plan for and protect instream needs into the future for our valuable fish and wildlife resources.

(3) If We Want to Manage It, We Need to Measure It

The 2012 Strategy called on the state to fully implement Oregon’s sixteen-year-old Water Resources Measurement Strategy. Unfortunately, progress has been slow on this plan, and the state recently reduced its annual goals. Measurement of water diversions is essential to water management. The new strategy should require full implementation of the Water Resources Measurement Strategy by 2020.

(4) Drought Resiliency for Rivers

The Governor’s office has directed that the new strategy include drought resiliency provisions. Oregon’s existing drought laws do nothing to protect rivers and fish. The new strategy should require development of drought provisions which protect flows for fish and wildlife, and set minimum flows on ecologically significant streams.

(5) Improve Water Use Efficiency

The 2012 Strategy asked the state to improve water use efficiency and water conservation, including prioritizing efficient water use on farms. Using water beneficially without waste is a basic tenet of Western water law, and a condition of use on most permits, yet the state still does little to regulate wasteful water use. The new strategy should direct the state to aggressively enforce against waste, and develop basin-specific efficiency standards for agriculture. Agricultural use of water far outweighs human use and while the agricultural industry is vital to Oregon, so is our sportfishing industry, worth over $1.5 billion dollars annually to the state of Oregon. But most importantly, we want healthy, abundant runs of salmon and steelhead for future generations of anglers. We’re in the position we’re in right now because fishing interests were not at the table for previous water allocation discussions, now is our time to shine!

You’ve heard me talk about it before, if you’re not at the table to have the discussion, plan on getting rolled. It’s been our history, it’s been our legacy and if we really want fish for the future, we have to start paying close attention to these issues or we’ll continue to succumb to the industry that has the strongest voice.

Those of us that are passionate about these issues, the ones that always try and show up for these discussion (declaring my conflict of interest here: myself and my esteemed colleagues certainly wouldn’t be able to show up to all of these venues if it wasn’t our jobs, we have a duty to our memberships and to our organizations to be their voice) continue to express our desire to build an army of foot soldiers to call on policy makers much like Ding Darling’s initiative back in the 30’s. It’s a fascinating story, I hope you read it.

Of course we all have busy lives and yes, of course there’s always something that urgently needs your attention. Did you know that up to bat is (to name just a few):

  • A EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) on harvest of salmon? Also known as U.S v. OR. These discussions determine how many fish sportanglers that fish the Columbia will be allowed to harvest,
  • The US/Canada treaty that also determines how many fish Oregonians get to harvest. A very large percentage of and Oregon coastal Chinook get caught in SW Alaska and British Columbia fisheries. Some biologists say we’d have more fish than we’d know what to do with if these commercial troll fisheries were curtailed,
  • A drastic reduction in McKenzie River spring Chinook. The US Army Corps of Engineers has negotiated a downturn in commitment for McKenzie River spring Chinook; supposedly a mitigation measure for blocking who knows how many miles of spawning and rearing habitat through the hydropower system in the upper Willamette Basin.

Did I mention just a few examples? Now, of course you can’t be everywhere all the time but we can try. If you can’t be with us at these crucial meetings and negotiations, there are other options. We’ll represent you by adding you to our list of members; The Association of Northwest Steelheaders and advocate on your behalf. We have nearly 2,000 members now but a 6,000 member roster is much more impressive so JOIN US (for a mere $35.00/year). Or simply send me your email address to [email protected] and we’ll let you know where you can send letters of support or show up to one of these critical meetings to make your voice heard and be part of the solution, instead of part of the problem.

Salmon season on the north coast opens on July 1st. I’ll be scoping it out and hoping that you’ll join me in making sure we have this iconic species (and the many, many more that we get to fish for) are here for our children and grandchildren after them.