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Harney

Eastern Oregon's Harney County is in the Great Basin. Harney County receives 9 to 12 inches of precipitation on average per year. A number of tributaries play a role in Harney County's hydrology including the Malheur River, tributaries of the Silvies River and smaller streams.

What people are talking about

Hot springs
Harney County is home to the Crystal Crane all-natural Hot Springs that can reach temperatures up to 102 degrees (White, S. (2018, March 14)). This recreational activity is wheelchair accessible, providing various services, including Wi-Fi, cabins, campfires, and dog-friendly spaces while surrounded by two wildlife refugees (White, S. (2018, March 14)). Wildlife inhabits the hot springs, including badgers, ducks, and ground squirrels, with occasional bald eagle spottings (White, S. (2018, March 14)). 


A special fish
The Harney County watershed, located in southeastern Oregon, supports a diverse range of plant and animal species. For example, the redband trout is a subspecies of the rainbow trout that is found only in the Pacific Northwest, including the Harney County watershed. This species is an important indicator of water quality and is prized by anglers for its sport fishing value (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife) Sagebrush is a dominant plant species in the Harney County watershed, providing critical habitat for a variety of wildlife, including the Greater Sage-Grouse. This species has been declining due to habitat loss and degradation, making it a conservation priority in the region (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2015). Wetlands in the watershed provide a habitat for thousands of species of migratory birds in April, Harney Basin being “one of the three most important areas left in the western United States for spring migratory birds...” (Rainier Audubon Society, 2022).

Redband Trout are species of fish conserved by the ODFW in Harney County. Timber and agricultural activity impact the Trout species, and the conservation plan focuses on protecting, managing, and preserving (White, S. (2018, July 11)). Oregon Cattlemen’s Association and the President of Harney County Farm Bureau objected to the plan as it would hurt business and to revise the program with data recently collected (White, S. (2018, November 28)). An ODFW fisheries biologist, Dave Banks, observed surface-water supply throughout the year to affect Trout populations, not agriculture (White, S. (2018, November 28)). Instead, Banks suspected that Juniper trees were impacting the water supply for Trout populations to thrive (White, S. (2018, November 28)). Juniper trees absorb much water and have deep root systems that allow for better absorption (White, S. (2018, November 28)).

Juniper trees are water guzzlers
Vegetation health is an essential part of conserving water quality. The Flat Vegetation Management Project is an effort to improve vegetation resilience to pests, wildfires, and disease while improving the watershed conditions in areas of the Malheur National Forest (White, S. (2017, July 12)). Hazard removal of potentially dangerous trees near roadsides and campgrounds in Emigrant Creek Ranger was initiated by the state Forestry department, Forest Service, loggers, and Harney County (White, S. (2017, July 26)). This provides jobs to the economy and natural resources for the county while keeping the community safe. Sometimes, trees do more harm than good to the surrounding ecosystem, as with juniper trees. With deep roots that can absorb water from depths of 30ft, Dr. Ryan Niemeyer researched how this species could impact streamflow. Results in Eastern Oregon found juniper removal to increase streamflow by over a million gallons of water (Niemeyer, R. (2018, March 28)). Dr. Niemeyer has a hydrology website that includes an interactive map for water availability based on juniper land cover (Niemeyer, R. (2018, March 28)).

Irrigation accounts for 97% water use in Harney Valley
In Harney County, Oregon, there are numerous uses for water. Harney Valley’s natural climate calls for a good amount of irrigation in order to keep the area livable. There are multiple farms in Harney Valley, all requiring water in order to keep their crops and livestock alive. Irrigation used by farms is a major source of water usage. The water usage of towns and homes in Harney Valley is “just 3% of the volume” of the total used by irrigators. (OPB, 2019). As towns and farms expand, water demand increases, putting an even greater strain on the water supply. This reliance on water in drier areas can lead to vulnerability. Natural climate occurrences such as droughts can have a negative impact on communities living in areas that already contend with low natural water levels in the first place. A decline in natural resources such as groundwater (OPB, 2019) could lead to a water crisis.

Harmful algal blooms
Water quality, specifically the presence of harmful algal blooms (HABs) in the nearby water bodies, is one of the issues in Harney County, Oregon. HABs are "natural phenomena that occur when certain types of algae grow rapidly in water, creating visible scum layers or blooms that can sometimes be harmful to humans, pets, and wildlife," according to the Oregon Health Authority (OHA, 2021). HABs have recently been observed in a number of water bodies in Harney County, including Malheur Lake, Harney Lake, and the Blitzen River (Oregon Health Authority, 2021). Toxins produced by these blooms have the potential to sicken or even kill people and animals who come into contact with contaminated water (Oregon Health Authority, 2021). Harmful algal blooms in water bodies in Harney County are a significant problem that endangers both human and environmental health. Through monitoring and mitigation measures, local organizations and government organizations are attempting to address the problem.

Groundwater depletion
Water rights in the county gave certain residents a right to use groundwater, preventing intensive efforts to conserve groundwater as it began to deplete without canceling water rights in the area. Local ranches that depend on irrigation felt particular pressure. As the amount of groundwater available became more scarce, the people had to adapt and create a new water management plan to reduce water usage to a sustainable level.

Carp eat migratory bird food
Malheur Lake used to support a variety and abundance of bird species, up to 180,00 annually, until carp were introduced into the ecosystem and became invasive (OWEB awards up to $6 million grant to improve county’s aquatic health, wetlands. (2016, February 3) & Come Catch Carp At The Refuge. (2018, August 8)). Humans introduced carp to the lake around the 1920s, likely as a food source (Come Catch Carp At The Refuge. (2018, August 8)). Carp are bottom feeders, which over time reduced the vegetation migratory birds relied on as nesting habitat (Come Catch Carp At The Refuge. (2018, August 8)). The presence of birds dropped to less than 10% of its historical 180,000 (OWEB awards up to $6 million grant to improve county’s aquatic health, wetlands. (2016, February 3)). As a result, restoration efforts and removal of these carp have occurred, including grants, fishing events, and local efforts, including net blocks (OWEB awards up to $6 million grant to improve the county’s aquatic health and wetlands. (2016, February 3) & Come Catch Carp At The Refuge. (2018, August 8) Brown, L. (2020, July 22)). An annual, week-long tradition named the “Carp Fishing Derby” hosted by the Friends of the Malheur Refuge encourages locals to catch the largest carp in the refugee Come Catch Carp At The Refuge. (2018, August 8). This event began in 2010 and has successfully removed hundreds of pounds of carp annually (Come Catch Carp At The Refuge. (2018, August 8) & (Brown, L. (2020, July 22). It is expected that once carp biomass reaches a limit of about 100 lbs per hectare, the river will begin restoring itself (Brown, L. (2020, July 22)). Alongside the removal of carp, OWEB’s $6 million grant allows conservationists to improve wetland areas to supply habitat for migratory birds and improve infrastructure for farmers who graze their livestock as a means of preserving sensitive habitat (The quiet work of Harney County collaboratives. (2019, April 10)).

Groundwater allocation
Aquifers contain groundwater, which supplies the locals in Harney County with their drinking water and recharges water bodies, including rivers and streams. The Harney Basin groundwater went under investigation by the USGS and OWRD to identify the discharge/ recharge rate and to compare the historical rates in 1910- 1930s (White, S. (2016, November 2) & Williams, L. (2016, December 28)). The Harney Basin is unique because it is contained and fed by surface water sources, including the Silver Creek, Silvies River, and Donner Und Blitzen watersheds (Brown, L. (2020, February 12)). With this information, groundwater usage in the County will be managed to prevent senior and junior water rights from being limited or shut off by the OWRD (White, S. (2016, November 2)). Domestic well owners would be impacted by the results of this study, mainly if pollution is observed (The consequence of a Groundwater Management Area is more study.” White, S. (2017, October 25)). As part of the study, a calibration model displaying proposed discharge/ recharge rates using historical and current data will be completed in 2020 and made available to the public (Williams, L. (2016, December 28)). The HCWC planned a Community-Based Water Planning session on Jan 18, 2017, to get the public more involved as volunteers. The OGWA, after an audit on OWRD, supports the OWRD financially to ensure groundwater resources are appropriately managed for the long term (Managing Oregon’s Water Resources: Where Do We Go from Here?. (2017, February 8)). The study shows that more water leaves the basin than is recharged, precisely 120-130 thousand acre-feet of water, resulting in a more significant deficit due to groundwater usage (Parks, R. (2019, December 25)). The OWRD plans to reduce groundwater usage by informing the community and landowners and planning volunteer efforts to plan how the water should be used (OWRD continues to monitor water use in the Harney Basin. (2020, October 7)).

Arsenic in groundwater wells
One hundred twenty voluntary well owners had their healthy water tested for contaminants, including arsenic, lead, and nitrate, during the fall and winter months (White, S. (2017, October 25)). The Harney County Public Health Department observed arsenic to be in the water. However, the results were inconclusive (White, S. (2017, November 15)). Without the County’s involvement in testing the groundwater, the state would need to get involved and identify critical areas low in water or unsafe for human use (Williams, L. (2016, December 28)). Following this action, the public would have restricted access to the waterfront of the Harney Basin. Groundwater samples were taken through wells from Oct 31- Nov 5, 2016, after which samples were taken twice a year, before and after the irrigation season (White, S. (2016, November 2)).
The availability of safe and dependable drinking water for the area's rural communities is another issue with water in Harney County, Oregon. Several people in Harney County, according to the Oregon Water Resources Agency (OWRD, 2021), rely on small community water systems or private wells that need to be up to state drinking water standards. In Harney County's rural areas, where many households and towns rely on groundwater sources that could be contaminated with naturally occurring substances like arsenic and nitrates, this problem of water security and the availability of safe drinking water is particularly widespread (Oregon Water Resources Department, 2021).

Flood impacts on road infrastructure
Floods are an issue in Harney County and impact the infrastructure and people in the county. Historically, in 1892, the Silvies River was observed to experience 9,000ft/ second of flow, which was reported without scientific data backing the claim (Parks, R. (2018, May 2)). There is an inconsistency between the observed flow of the Silvies River during this time. However, it is claimed to have been a 100-year flood event (Parks, R. (2018, May 2)). Flooding is still an issue the county deals with. Burns City experienced deterioration in its streets to the point that the city council had to pay residents a transportation utility fee of $5 per month to maintain and repair these streets (Parks, R. (2017, August 30)). This fee allowed the city to maintain 8.38 miles of roads (out of 32.75 collective miles) and 30% of the city’s streets (Parks, R. (2017, October 4)). A 36-inch culvert with a head gate was implemented to reduce the flooding on Pierce Street (Parks, R. (2017, August 30)). FEMA helps residents attain flood insurance and possibly lessen the rates (Parks, R. (2017, August 30)).

Standing water breed West Nile virus mosquitos
Mosquitos rely on water bodies to reproduce, making them an unavoidable insect for those who reside close to such water bodies. Harney County was observed to have mosquitos carrying the West Nile virus, a commonly spread virus by mosquitos due to hosting infected birds (West Nile a risk for people and animals in the county. (2017, August 30)). In humans, the virus can show no symptoms, a fever, meningitis, or neurologic infection, which makes the virus most fatal at a 10% fatality rate (Protect yourself against West Nile virus. (2019, August 28)). Individuals 50 years or older with diabetes, high blood pressure, or immune-compromising conditions are most likely to be infected (Protect yourself against West Nile virus. (2019, August 28)). Prevention against getting this virus includes air conditioning, reducing standing water in your home, wearing long-sleeved clothing, and using insect repellents in the outdoors (Protect yourself against West Nile virus. (2019, August 28) & West Nile a risk for people and animals in the county. (2017, August 30)). Installation of birdhouses helped reduce mosquito populations effectively (Parks, R. (2018, March 7)). Bat boxes were also implemented, with no effect on lowering mosquitos (Parks, R. (2018, March 7)). An attempt was made to spray standing water. However, it was costly at $4,000 per treatment and caused nearby residents to experience allergies or respiratory issues (Parks, R. (2018, March 7)).

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