Fish in East Fork Hood River, pictured here, will be better off after a project is completed by the East Fork Irrigation District that takes less stream flow from the river for irrigation. (Photo by Bonnie Moreland/Flickr)

Three Oregon rivers will benefit from more than $3 million in federal aid for tackling water and drought issues in the state. 

On June 11, the federal Bureau of Reclamation and Oregon’s U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden announced that three community groups will receive money to finish projects restoring river habitats and protecting fish in areas where they’ve been imperiled. 

The money comes from the $160 million federal WaterSMART grants program, established by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed last November. 

In a press release, Merkley said the grants will help “stretch scarce water resources further in these challenging times.”

The Rogue Valley Council of Governments, an association of 24 local governments and institutes of education in Jackson and Josephine counties, is getting more than $784,000 to remove barriers to wild salmon and steelhead migration at the Bear Creek Fish Passage, which goes through parts of downtown Medford. 

The East Fork Irrigation District in Odell, which diverts water from the East Fork Hood River to about 940 customers in the Upper Hood River Valley, will get $2 million. The money will pay for nearly 11,000 feet of pipe and nine pressure-reduction stations to decrease the district’s water diversion from the East Fork Hood River. The district currently diverts 80% of the stream flow of the East Fork Hood River during peak irrigation season, harming native fish habitat.

The Curry Watersheds Partnership, made up of three local watersheds and conservation district groups on Oregon’s South Coast, will get nearly $269,000. With the money, they’ll tackle severe erosion along the Sixes River estuary where there are many livestock operations. They’ll create larger riparian zones and instream habitats for fish in the estuary to improve water quality and protect several endangered salmon species.

In the release, Wyden said he and his colleagues felt a sense of urgency to help the groups finish these projects, which have been waiting for full funding for several years. 

“Drought and devastating wildfires fueled by the climate crisis have slammed Oregon,” he said, “and the need is great throughout our state.”

The groups have three years to complete their projects.

Oregon Capital Chronicle

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

Alex Baumhardt, Oregon Capital Chronicle

Alex Baumhardt has been a national radio producer focusing on education for American Public Media since 2017. She has reported from the Arctic to the Antarctic for national and international media, and from Minnesota and Oregon for The Washington Post. She previously worked in Iceland and Qatar and was a Fulbright scholar in Spain where she earned a master's degree in digital media. She's been a kayaking guide in Alaska, farmed on four continents and worked the night shift at several bakeries to support her reporting along the way.