Updates & Events

Visit this page often for regular updates about events, ongoing research and programs, and other topics of interest at our Clackamas hydroelectric project.

Investing in our Clackamas Basin Partners

Oct. 30, 2019

This summer, PGE selected six organizations to receive $1.84 million in funding for Clackamas Basin habitat projects. Recipients will begin their work in 2020, contributing efforts toward fish passage, habitat restoration, and improving water quality.

Suter Creek
Restoration of Suter Creek will improve instream habitat, riparian corridors, and water quality. Project activities include placing large woody material, removing invasive species, and planting native trees.

Recipients include partners PGE has worked with for many years, like the Clackamas River Basin Council, as well as organizations that are newer to the PGE family, like the Oregon Wildlife Foundation. “There’s a great deal of collaboration taking place in this basin,” says Lindsay Smith, the License Manager for Westside Hydro. “We’re happy to work with all of our Clackamas Basin partners, and know that the work of one organization will benefit all of the others as well.”

This year’s selection process was the third cycle for the Clackamas Habitat Fund, which also granted funding in 2012 and 2015. PGE will complete two more rounds of funding in 2023 and 2029, reaching a total investment of $8 million in our Clackamas Basin community.

Clackamas River Basin Council volunteers
After successfully planting over 30 miles of streamside habitat in partnership with PGE, the Clackamas River Basin Council is expanding their “Shade our Streams” program. CRBC works with landowners to strategically improve stream quality within their private property.

The selection process involved site visits, a thorough review of application materials, and consideration of potential impact. “It’s more than just a license requirement for us,” says Smith. “We take the time to ensure we’re doing our homework and funding meaningful projects.”

The recipients of this funding cycle are:

  • Clackamas River Basin Council
    • Eagle Creek Large Wood Enhancement
    • Kingfisher Side Channel Project
    • Shade our Streams
  • David Bugni
    • Suter Creek Fish Habitat Restoration
  • Clackamas Soil & Water Conservation District
    • Clackamas River Invasive Species Partnership
  • Oregon Wildlife Foundation
    • Clackamas River Fish Habitat Enhancement Project, Upstream of North Fork Reservoir

Counting Cutthroat in Timothy Lake

September 12, 2019

This August, PGE biologists once again donned their snorkel suits to brave the waters below Timothy Lake Dam in search of a special fish: the spectacular cutthroat trout. This study, which takes place every five years, helps us assess the status of cutthroat and other trout populations, including rainbow, brown and brook trout. Through these evaluations, we hope to learn more about the potential impact of our new flow regime below Timothy Lake Dam.

Cutthroat trout

Cutthroat are native to the cold-water streams of the Pacific Northwest, and can be distinguished from other trout by red slash marks under the jaw.

What is the purpose of the study?

In 2013, flows were enhanced downstream of Timothy Lake Dam to help improve conditions for fish in the Oak Grove Fork. To determine the effect of these new flows, we capture, mark and count cutthroat and other salmonid species, allowing us to calculate population estimates and collect data on the size and abundance of fish. We hope that the studies will eventually show whether or not the new flow regime has changed the population structure or assemblage of fish.

How is the study conducted?

Biologists angle for fish, which they mark with a small notch in one fin and then release. Then our scientists suit up and snorkel, observing and counting both marked and unmarked fish. This mark-recapture method allows for a population estimate to be calculated by comparing the ratio of marked to unmarked fish. We use the same methods every time we conduct the study so we can compare results from year-to-year.

night snorkeling

PGE biologists snorkel both day and night to count fish in the lake.

What have we learned so far?

Between 2009 and 2014, cutthroat trout populations appear to have increased in three of the four sites surveyed. However, the median length of all fish caught decreased over that same period. Until this year, 2014 was our only survey conducted since the flow regime changed, so further studies are still needed in order to observe any statistically significant trends. We will continue to repeat this evaluation every five years for the remainder of our hydropower license on the Clackamas River.

Biologists in wetsuits

Happy biologists in their snorkel suits.

Trap and Haul of Adult Lamprey

June 10, 2019

Pacific lamprey were once widely distributed along the Pacific rim, from central Baja Mexico to the Bering Sea and along the coast of Japan. But over time, lamprey distribution shrank and populations declined, mostly due to human impact. While these creatures are often feared or misunderstood, they’re both ecologically and culturally significant. Lamprey serve an important role in marine and freshwater food webs. Furthermore, they are cherished by Pacific Northwest Native American tribes who have harvested the fish for subsistence, ceremonial and medicinal purposes for centuries.

Adult lamprey tagging

Biologist Dan Cramer stitches up a lamprey after inserting a radio tag.

Lamprey in the Clackamas River Basin

Lamprey have had a bumpy history in the Clackamas as well. The construction of River Mill Dam in 1911 created a serious impediment to upstream passage for adults. Fish ladder infrastructure, highly successful at passing salmon and steelhead, caused problems for lamprey, who struggle to swim in swift currents around sharp corners. In 2006, the River Mill fish ladder was reconstructed to include lamprey passage features. Lamprey quickly responded to these improvements, recolonizing the stretch from River Mill Dam to Faraday Diversion Dam. However, evaluations indicated that passage through the North Fork fish ladder, constructed in 1958, was still low. To better understand migration obstacles, we released lamprey within the North Fork Ladder and studied their responses. Some fish swam downstream, exiting the ladder into the Faraday Diversion Dam tailrace. Others continued upstream, swimming into North Fork forebay. Many lamprey either disappeared after release or over-wintered in the ladder. Based on these results, it is hard to identify a single cause of poor lamprey passage, but one possibility is a lack of motivation. Adult lamprey do not return to their natal stream like adult salmon. Rather, they are drawn to areas where juvenile lamprey reside. Since very few lamprey successfully reach upstream of North Fork Dam, there is likely a lack of juvenile pheromones to attract adults upstream. In 2017, PGE biologists started a lamprey trap and haul program to provide passage above North Fork Dam and help resolve some of these issues. We also continue to tag fish and evaluate their movement through the Clackamas Project.

How does the study work?

Each year, starting in 2017 and continuing through 2025, PGE biologists trap hundreds of adult lamprey and release them above North Fork Reservoir. By moving fish to the upper basin, we hope to increase juvenile production and entice adults to swim upstream. In 2017 and 2018, several collected fish were given radio tags, allowing us to study their migration throughout the year. We learned that lamprey actively moved upstream following their release and dispersed throughout their historic range. Additionally, up to 200 individuals are implanted with PIT tags annually and are used to evaluate passage through the North Fork ladder. Motivation appears to be increasing, but overall passage rates are still low.

 Lamprey release

Dan Cramer and fellow biologist Maggie David release adult lamprey upstream.

What’s next?

This year, we began collecting lamprey at the River Mill ladder in mid-May. Throughout the summer, up to 400 individuals total will be trapped and hauled upstream of North Fork Reservoir and another 100 to 200 will be PIT-tagged and released within our project to help evaluate passage. We are also evaluating the efficacy of future studies that involve changing operations or repeating passage tests to help us better understand what we can do to aid Pacific lamprey in the Clackamas Basin.

Studying Smolts at Oak Grove Fork

March 6, 2019

For 88 years, spring Chinook were absent from the lower Oak Grove Fork – extremely low flows in the summer caused by historic dam diversions meant that fish couldn’t enter this Clackamas tributary.

In 2013, that all changed. Thanks to several major habitat and flow projects, spring Chinook are now returning to Oak Grove Fork, where PGE biologists monitor their populations.

How does the study work?

  • Every other year, biologists snorkel the lower Oak Grove Fork, swimming upstream to observe and record numbers of spring Chinook. This survey provides information on the various life stages of fish present in the stream.
  • A rotary screw trap is installed each year in the same location. The trap collects a sample of out-migrating juvenile fish; this data is compared to samples from previous years, allowing us to evaluate the effect of recent changes.
  • Improvements to the lower Oak Grove Fork include habitat alterations (large wood installation, gravel augmentation, and restoration of side channels) as well as enhanced flows from Lake Harriet Dam.

Smolt trapping

What have we learned?

  • Early indications suggest that fish populations have responded quickly and positively to the habitat changes in the lower Oak Grove Fork.
  • ODFW spawning data obtained in 2018 suggest that this area is responsible for 7.5 percent of all spring Chinook redds in the Clackamas basin.
  • Collection of fry, smolts and other juveniles at the screw trap indicates that successful spawning is taking place in the area.
  • Despite their extended absence from 1924 to 2012, spring Chinook now represent the second most abundant fish species produced in the lower Oak Grove Fork.

What’s next?

Spring outmigrant sampling will continue for three more seasons, followed by a five year break, then another five years of sampling.

Tracking Fish on their Journeys Upstream

Dec. 7, 2018

In 2013, PGE began a multi-year evaluation of upstream fish passage through the Clackamas Hydroproject and into the upper basin. This ongoing study allows our biologists to monitor the migration of winter steelhead, spring Chinook, coho, and Pacific lamprey, helping us understand how our facilities and dams may be affecting fish behavior.

An adult fish is implanted with a tracking device.
An adult fish is implanted with a tracking device.

How does the study work?

Each year, biologists collect a small percentage of adult fish at the North Fork Sorting Facility and carefully implant radio transmitters into the animals’ throats. The fish are released below the Project so that their movement can be monitored through our facilities and beyond.

Radio tags emit continuous signals which are detected when fish pass by a receiver. We have 29 receivers in fixed locations throughout the hydroproject and the upper basin, and we also track fish manually by foot, vehicle, and even helicopter. Using multiple tracking methods allows our biologists to access remote locations and gather a more complete picture of where, when, and how fish move throughout the river.

PGE biologist Maggie David uses a radio antenna to track fish by foot.
PGE biologist Maggie David uses a radio antenna to track fish by foot.

What have we learned?

The study has helped us understand how long it takes fish to navigate various stretches of the river and our fish ladders. Additionally, the study has shown that our improvements to fish passage infrastructure have shortened the amount of time fish spend traveling through our project, enabling them to reach historic spawning grounds in the upper river earlier.

Fish also have a higher chance of survival, likely caused by a reduction in stress during their migration through our sorting facility. In fact, we’ve seen an 80 percent reduction in pre-spawning mortality for Chinook!

PGE staff monitor fish movement upstream by helicopter.
PGE staff monitor fish movement upstream by helicopter.

Restoring 30 Miles of Streamside Habitat through the Shade our Streams Program

Nov. 2, 2018

Streamside habitat restoration

30 miles of streamside habitat in the Clackamas basin have been restored thanks to the Shade our Streams program, powered by a partnership between PGE and the Clackamas River Basin Council (CRBC).

Staff from PGE, CRBC, and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) recently toured several of these sites, witnessing their amazing transformation.

At each site, invasive species like Japanese knotweed and reed canarygrass were removed, beneficial native plants were installed, and in some areas, logs and boulders were placed instream to enhance aquatic habitat. Healthy riparian areas like these reduce erosion, enhance water quality, and support fish and wildlife.

During the tour, a pair of coho salmon even showed up to express their gratitude!

Staff from PGE, Clackamas River Basin Council and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality tour the project

Oak Grove Fork Gravel Augmentation

Aug. 14, 2018

It’s raining gravel at Oak Grove Fork!

Every year, PGE deposits 500 tons of gravel into Oak Grove Fork, allowing the rocks to slowly move downstream and improve the ecosystem below Lake Harriet dam. Gravel provides necessary habitat for macroinvertebrates as well as spawning grounds for the salmon that eat them.

Oak Grove Fork Gravel Augmentation photo

When dams on the Clackamas were constructed decades ago, they cut off the flow of gravel, logs, and other debris, resulting in a river that lacked necessary components of habitat for fish and insects. Today, the annual gravel augmentation restores this essential biological process that was interrupted for so long.

Oak Grove Fork Gravel Augmentation photo

Habitat Improvements on the Clackamas River Featured in Northwest Steelheader Magazine

Aug. 8, 2018

PGE’s Clackamas River downstream fish-passage efforts were recently featured in the summer issue of Northwest Steelheader magazine, put out by the Association of Northwest Steelheaders.

The article, written by Ian Fergusson, is the second in a series discussing fish passage in the Willamette Basin. PGE biologist Garth Wyatt provided quotes and information for the article.

Read the full article and see the summer issue of the Northwest Steelheader magazine.

Note: Part 1 of the series can be found on page 8 of the spring issue.