Read DRA’s New Report on Water Quality and Land Use in the Crooked River Basin

Crooked River photo 1

Photo by Rick Hafele

We are pleased to announce the release of a new DRA report: Mapping Water Quality and Land Use in the Crooked River Basin, Oregon from 2010-2014. Using Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, the report provides, for the first time, maps and analysis of currently available water quality data collected throughout the Crooked River basin. We believe this report will be the first in a series of meaningful steps to address nitrogen pollution in the Crooked and lower Deschutes rivers.

DRA’s primary focus remains securing evidence-based management changes at the Pelton Round Butte Hydroelectric Project, to protect and restore water quality in the lower Deschutes. We believe there are available operational changes that would immediately benefit the lower river, and we will continue advocating for these measures. But it is also essential, for the long-term health of the entire basin, that Crooked River water quality be addressed as well. Our new report provides an initial roadmap for that work.


In 2015 and 2016, DRA undertook a water quality sampling project in Lake Billy Chinook. This effort included sampling at the mouths of the three major tributaries to the Deschutes River—the Crooked, Middle Deschutes, and Metolius rivers. This sampling made clear that the Crooked River, in particular the consistent load of nitrogen-based nutrients it delivers to Lake Billy Chinook, is the primary cause of annual algae blooms in the reservoir. Further, because that Crooked River water is now discharged directly downstream, via surface water withdrawal at the Pelton Round Butte Hydroelectric Project, pollutants from the Crooked River are the primary driver of new nuisance algae blooms, as well as impacts to water quality and aquatic invertebrates, in the lower Deschutes River below the Project.

As a result, we believe it is essential for the restoration of both the Crooked and lower Deschutes rivers that sources of water quality pollution in the Crooked Basin be more fully identified and understood. To do this, DRA commissioned a GIS mapping project to examine data collected between 2010 and 2014 by the Crooked River Watershed Council and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. The resulting maps and analysis provide a critical first step for DRA and other stakeholders interested in tackling nitrogen pollution in the basin. The report is already guiding DRA’s 2019 monitoring efforts in the Crooked River.

Next Steps

Crooked River photo #2

High levels of nitrogen entering the Crooked River watershed result in excessive growth of aquatic plants and algae that cause further degradation of water quality. Photo by Rick Hafele

We believe that efforts to reduce nitrogenous pollution in the Crooked River are essential to the long-term future of the Deschutes Basin and the fish, wildlife, and people who live there. We are proud to be involved in these efforts, and this year we are expanding our scientific research into the Crooked River. Through these additional monitoring efforts, we will gain a better understanding of the river’s water quality issues, and begin identifying strategies for reducing the nitrogen load transported into Lake Billy Chinook.

While these efforts are underway, however, it is important to remember that these Crooked River pollutants do not have to be transported from Lake Billy Chinook into the lower Deschutes River. For the first 50+ years of Round Butte Dam’s existence, all water discharged to the lower river came from the bottom of Lake Billy Chinook. That water, generally of Metolius River origin, is much cleaner than the Crooked River water at the surface of the reservoir.

Discharge of Metolius River water helped create the high quality conditions that made the lower Deschutes a world-class habitat for insects, fish, and wildlife. And that cool, clean water is still down at the bottom of Lake Billy Chinook. As DRA expands our research and outreach in the Crooked Basin, we will continue to advocate forcefully for evidence-based management solutions at Pelton Round Butte and in the lower Deschutes River.

DRA’s new report provides the first GIS basin-wide analysis of water quality in the Crooked Basin. It will help guide our research in 2019 and beyond, and we are proud to release it today. Special thanks to Elinore Webb, the report’s lead author and GIS specialist, for all her work bringing this report to completion. And thanks to the Crooked River Watershed Council for allowing us access to their water quality data.

Read the full report here.

Deschutes River Alliance: Cooler, cleaner H2O for the lower Deschutes River. 

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