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Crooked River (OR)

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Central Oregon's Wild and Scenic Crooked River flows through stunning basalt canyons in Central Oregon's high desert. The region attracts outdoor lovers from around the state and the region, and provides one of the most challenging and outstanding whitewater runs in the West. The Crooked, which is a major tributary to the Deschutes River, provides stunning scenery, and abundant angling and wildlife viewing opportunities. The river is fed by cold springs, creating unique ecosystems of lush gardens of plants that are rare to the arid climate of the area, and micro-habitat for native coldwater fish, such as inland Columbia Basin redband trout.

Wild and Scenic Designation

Two segments of the Crooked River are designated as Wild and Scenic in 1988. The eight mile segment from Bowman Dam to Highway 27 mile marker 12 is known as the Chimney Rock Segment. The second designated segment is the nine mile reach from the Crooked River National Grasslands boundary to river mile 8. Both were designated into the Wild and Scenic Rivers System in 1988 and protected for outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, hydrologic, wildlife and botanical values, and significant fishery and cultural values.

Public Access

While the Chimney Rock segment is easily accessible off Highway 27, the downstream segment has no public access. The river flows through a steep canyon, and the few places where the river is easily accessible are all on private property. Historically, the public accessed the river via the old Hollywood Road. Before the housing bubble burst, the property was slated for development, threatening access at this critical take-out for whitewater boaters. Fortunately, in 2011 the Trust for Public Land acquired 110 acres along the Crooked Wild and Scenic River corridor, with the intention of transferring ownership to the public once the Bureau of Land Management secured funding.

The Bureau of Land Managment has sought funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) for a number of years in order to bring the property into public ownership. The LWCF is funded each year by revenues generated by offshore oil and gas leases, and has supported recreation access projects such as the BZ Corners put-in on the White Salmon, key parcels on the Green River in Washington, the New and Gauley in West Virginia, the Middle Fork Salmon in Idaho, and the Illinois River in Oregon. The LWCF supports much more, funding projects that conserve our natural resources, benefit local, state and national parks, water quality and protect communities from natural hazards. Unfortunately, the LWCF rarely receives its full allotment of $900 million each year, as funds are funneled to other areas. A fully funded LWCF will increase the likelihood that the Crooked River project is funded soon. American Whitewater is working to support a fully funded LWCF and bring the Crooked River property into public ownership. Your voice is important in this process and can help to move it forward. Contact AW for more information.

Hydropower Development at Bowman Dam

For many years, hydropower developers have considered installing hydropower facilities on Bowman Dam at Prineville Reservoir. American Whitewater supports installation of hydropower on existing federal facilities that otherwise provide beneficial services for flood control or water storage. In this case, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has deterimened they do not have the authority to license hydropower at Bowman Dam because the Wild and Scenic river boundary extends to the face of Bowman Dam, and Section 7 of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act prevents FERC from licensing a facility on a designated Wild and Scenic river. In order for the project to move forward, Congress would need to modify the boundary of the Wild and Scenic river to a point ¼ mile downstream of the dam.

In 2012, legislation was introduced to amend the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to adjust the boundary for the Wild and Scenic Crooked River to a point ¼ mile downstream of the dam. While American Whitewater supports this provision, the legislation also included language authorizing the storage and release of water from Prineville Reservoir “for the benefit of downstream fish and wildlife.” American Whitewater fully supports these provisions, but is concerned that the legislation did not explicitly recognize the added benefit to whitewater recreation of releases (i.e. spring spill) from the dam. American Whitewater is monitoring the legislation and continues to highlight the benefits of these spring high water events, which serve as ecological process flows and provide a regionally significant opportunity for whitewater recreation.

Fish Passage and Public Access at Opal Springs Dam

With recent addition of fish passage at the dams on the Deschutes River, fish advocates are supporting modifications to the Opal Springs Dam. The dam is operated by the Deschutes Valley Water District and is located 7 miles upstream from Lake Billy Chinook. This small hydropower facility is currently a barrier to fish passage on the Crooked River and is a hazardous structure to navigation that requires a portage. As plans for installation of fish passage move forward, American Whitewater will be working to ensure that an option for safely portaging the facilities continues to exist. The federal license that allows the District to operate the hydropower project states in part that, “the Licensee shall allow the public free access, to a reasonable extent, to project waters and adjacent project lands owned by the Licensee for the purpose of full public utilization of such lands and waters for navigation and for outdoor recreational purposes.”

The contacts below include staff and volunteers working on this project. Make sure you are logged in if you wish to join the group.

Title Name City
Thomas O'Keefe Seattle WA Details...
Megan Hooker Details...


  • AW Support Letter P2P

    Letter of support to Secretary of Interior and Agriculture in support of funding the Pathways to the Pacific proposal for Land and Water Conservation Funds.

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