HBWC partners are making great strides throughout the Harney Basin. This broad community-based coalition continues to work together to address a range of restoration and conservation issues impacting both Malheur Lake and the area’s wet meadow working lands.
In 2023 the Harney Basin Wetlands Collaborative found consensus around a refreshed vision and goals which helped secure $2.5 million in Oregon legislative funding, $600,000 in Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board Open Solicitation funding which was awarded to the Collaborative, the Harney Soil and Water Conservation District, and the Harney County Watershed Council. This funding makes it possible to implement interconnected projects that impact how water moves and is managed across the Harney Basin impacting wildlife habitat and the livelihoods of local ranchers and farmers.
The Collaborative updated the Strategic Action Plan. This updated action plan takes what has been learned about Malheur Lake and the wetlands systems of the Harney Basin and broadens the understanding of factors that affect restoration opportunities. This plan reflects restoration and adaptive learning over the last decade helping point the way for new strategies for wetland restoration in both the wetlands of Malheur Lake and wild flood irrigated meadows.
Summer of 2023 vegetation is thriving and invasive carp numbers are dwindling at Malheur Lake. After two dry years followed by a hearty snowpack and wet spring, fresh water inundated the lake in the perfect amount. In those arid periods, the sediments at the lake's bottom had the opportunity to consolidate and acquire oxygen, enabling a variety of wetland plants to sprout. The drought also led to a significant decline in invasive Common carp populations, plus, refuge staff, partners of the Harney Basin Wetlands Collaborative, and others joined forces to remove 43 tons of carp in the fall of 2022. These elements converged harmoniously, resulting in the emergence of uncommonly clear water conditions across a substantial portion of the Malheur Lake wetlands. For more about Malheur Lake watch this short video below to get a glimpse at what HBWC and its partners have learned about the condition of Malheur Lake.
Read this article about why Malheur Lake is so important to the Harney Basin and beyond. Find more on the Resources page including a published scientific paper about how nonnative common carp can potentially be controlled.
Learn what HBWC has discovered about wet meadow habitat in the Harney Basin and the important role Harney County landowners play with their use of wild flood irrigation to improve habitat for birds and wildlife, as well as bolster Harney County’s agriculture economy. "Farmers and producers are often criticized for taking water away from wildlife but if you look more closely at places like the Harney Basin in Harney County, OR the opposite is true," ~Patrick Donnelly, Spatial Ecologist. The flood irrigation practice used in this closed basin creates a wetland habitat that benefits both the local agriculture industry and wildlife, including migrating birds that count the Harney Basin as one of their critical rest and refueling stops along the Pacific Flyway, one of nature's interstate flyway routes. Watch the short film below by Kevin Raichl with Visual Thinking Northwest to learn more about wild flood irrigation in the Harney Basin. On the Resources page find an example of a landowner improving her flood irrigation infrastructure for the benefit of her business and habitat with the article Harney County Rancher Caring For The Land.
Discover how dam replacements benefit water flow and as a result habitat availability in Harney Basin. Again on the Resources page the following article shares insight into the 2019 replacement of Tyler and Sweek Dams along the Silvies River: Dam Replacement Projects Benefit Landowners and Wildlife. See for yourself the difference, follows are videos of the 70+ year old Sweek dam before replacement and the new and improved Sweek Dam.
Sustaining Collaborative Landscape Scale Management
In January of 2016, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB) awarded more than $6 million in funding that leveraged more than $2 million in matching funds for HBWC. This funding made it possible for several benefits for the Harney Basin to be achieved:
- Increased knowledge and understanding of the distribution and behavior of invasive carp and methods to control them to restore Malheur Lake.
- Developed a shared science systems approach model to understand unique interactions in this important closed basin lake ecosystem that offers the collaborative a way to prioritize projects to implement and where resources can best be utilized.
- Improved the understanding of water table and plant community dynamics in flood irrigated wet meadows with new tools for land managers to adapt to changing climatic conditions.
- Added new irrigation infrastructure to enhance and increase best management of flood irrigated wet meadows to promote both wildlife and ranching.
- Building community in Harney County by engaging landowners, community groups, and partners to increase interest in and support for local conservation and a new natural resource economy.
- Coordinated monitoring approach among multiple partners to measure progress and quantify outcomes.
The implementation results include restoration of:
- 4000 acres of flood irrigated wet meadow habitat enhanced through infrastructure improvements.
- 2 dilapidated in-stream irrigation infrastructures replaced with addition of 2 fish ladders installed for fish passage when the system is cleared of invasive carp.
- 1 automated flood irrigated wet meadow infrastructure installed to deliver irrigation across 300 acres of spring migratory bird habitat and hay production fields.
- 654 acres of floodplain habitat connected.
- Significantly improved understanding why Malheur Lake persists in a state of turbidity instead of the productive hemi-marsh it once was. With this information there are new approaches to successfully restore the lake.
Restoration projects begin with research and planning; for planning specifically, 5 technical designs for flood irrigation infrastructure upgrades completed. With research, several scientific investigations have happened and are ongoing:
- Completed Malheur Lake restoration feasibility analyses and collaborative summit to determine best options for next restoration projects.
- Implemented mesocosm studies (bounded and partially enclosed outdoor experiment to bridge the gap between the laboratory and the real world in Malheur Lake to evaluate different restoration approaches).
- Developed state and transition model and explanation tools to communicate increased knowledge about wet meadow ecosystem change, especially the implications for management of flood irrigated wet meadow plant succession under changing climate conditions and water management.
And, all of this needs to be monitored and evaluated, monitoring projects include:
- Completed aquatic health basin-wide study for several water quality metrics.
- Completed basin-wide fish distribution study to understand baseline fisheries, including eDNA sampling.
- Completed avian habitat relationships study to understand plant community and water regime response by avian species.