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Water Quantity and Quality

Crooked River

 The Crooked River at U.S. Highway 97

The Crooked River at U.S. Hwy 97
(Oregon State Archives)

The Crooked River is a tributary of the Deschutes River that begins at the confluence of South Fork Crooked River and Beaver Creek near Prineville, OR. The Crooked River runs northwest through the Prineville Reservoir, created by the Bowman Dam, and empties into Lake Billy Chinook, where it joins the Deschutes River.

The Crooked River, like many rivers in the Deschutes Basin, is a major spawning ground for several species of anadromous fish like Chinook salmon, steelhead trout, and Pacific lamprey. Non-migratory fish such as redband trout and bull trout are also abundant. Visitors can also view beavers, waterfowl, river otters, golden eagles, prairie falcons, and many other bird species. resident and overwintering populations of mule deer reside within the river corridor, as well as pronghorn antelope.

For thousands of years before European settlement, Native American groups from the Columbia Plateau and Great Basin hunted game, fished, and gathered food in the Crooked River region. The Lower Crooked River is within the ceded lands of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Reservation. Tribal members are guaranteed traditional rights of hunting, fishing, and gathering on these ceded lands under the Treaty of 1855. Peter Skene Ogden, a trapper for the Hudson Bay Company, was the first explorer to leave written accounts of the Crooked River region in the 1820s. Settlers who were unable to find farmland in the Willamette Valley journeyed east in the 1860s along with stockmen who supplied beef to gold miners. The development of transportation lines that linked the desert country to Western Oregon fueled additional growth. Today, cattle and sheep ranching and agriculture are still major industries in the Crooked River area.

 Lake Billy Chinook at the confluence of the Crooked River

Lake Billy Chinook at the confluence of the
Crooked River (Oregon State Archives)

The Crooked River is designated as a National Wild and Scenic River for its aesthetic qualities. However, some of the rivers natural beauty is being threatened. In 1910, the migration of these species was impeded by the construction of the Cove Power Plant on the Lower Crooked River. In conjunction with other dams on the Deschutes River and its tributaries, spring Chinook salmon have been restricted to a quarter of their historic spawning range in the Deschutes Basin. However, there are several restoration projects that have been completed to improve habitat quality and access for anadromous fish.

One restoration project took place on the central Crooked River and focused on the diversion dam there. This antiquated dam was identified as a high priority project by the Crooked River Watershed Council and Protection Working Group, as it did not allow passage for fish. The dam also required irrigators to install and remove additional equipment called flashboards in order to obtain the necessary water flow to supply irrigation water. The diversion dam was demolished and a new concrete dam was constructed beginning in November, 2008, with an automatic weir and fish ladder incorporated into the design. The project was completed in April, 2009.


Hatchery Scientific Review Group bulletin.Information about the Deschutes River spring Chinook population and hatchery programs.

Bureau of Land Management. Crooked River brochure.

Crooked River Watershed Council. Overview of restoration projects on the Crooked River.

Authored by Caitlin Bell, Staff, Oregon Explorer