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Donner und Blitzen Watershed (USGS #17120003)

The Donner und Blitzen watershed encompasses 506,000 acres in central Harney County. While it may evoke images of flying reindeer, the watershed's name is actually German for "thunder and lightning". The area was named by soldiers of German descent in 1864 after they crossed the Donner und Blitzen River in a thunderstorm.

Precipitation varies greatly within the watershed, ranging from less than nine inches per year in the northwest section to more than 35 inches per year in the southeast. The range of precipitation contributes to a diversity of ecosystem types, including high desert wetlands, high lava plains, and high desert basing. The Donner und Blitzen watershed supports a diverse amount of land uses, including rangeland (71%), farmland (12%), and grasslands (7%).

The Donner und Blitzen watershed is managed and protected by many private, state, and nonprofit organizations. These include the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, Environment Oregon, the Harney County Watershed Council, Solv Watershed Programs, Oregon State University Watershed Extension Program, Oregon Conservation Network, Oregon Watershed Land Trust, the Harney Soil and Water Conservation District, and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Resource concerns within the watershed include the invasion of noxious weeds, stream warming due to loss of riparian vegetation, erosion, low waters levels, and declining fish and wildlife habitat.

One issue of concern within the watershed is high stream temperature caused by a lack of riparian vegetation. Like in other watersheds with similar problems, the DEQ has established limits known as Total Maximum Daily Loads for each pollutant type, including heat, entering a stream. Efforts are being made to restore riparian vegetation, which will shade streams and reduce water temperature. The DEQ plans to use an adaptive management strategy to manage the watershed, meaning that it will track plan implementation with the intent of revising plans that are not successful.


The Environmental Protection Agency's Surf Your Watershed website for the Donner und Blitzen watershed

USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service hydrologic profile for the Donner und Blitzen watershed

Oregon Department of Environmental Quality's Strategy for Monitoring Oregon's Waters


McArthur, Lewis A., McArthur, Lewis L. (2003). Oregon Geographic Names, Seventh Edition. Portland, Oregon: Oregon Historical Society Press. p. 297.

Authored by Caitlin Bell, Science Writer, Oregon Explorer