Updates & Events
With so much going on at the Pelton Round Butte Hydroelectric Project it can be hard to keep up. We want to make it easy for you, so visit this page often for regular updates about events, ongoing research and programs, and other topics of interest.
To subscribe to our monthly newsletter, send an email to Deschutes.Passage@pgn.com with the subject line “subscribe.” You can also direct questions to this email address as well.
What’s happening on the Deschutes River?
April 2, 2019
Like thousands of anglers, environmentalists and residents of Central Oregon, PGE and the Tribes care deeply about the Deschutes and pay close attention to conditions in the basin. Apparent changes on the river — some good, some troubling — have raised questions among river users in the region. A few years ago, we produced the Plain Facts to address some of the most common questions and rumors we hear. We recently updated this document to include the latest information and a few additional questions that have come up recently.
What is addressed in the Plain Facts?
Common misconceptions that “you may have heard” are followed by “the plain facts” — information we know to be true based on robust and high-quality scientific evidence. The document includes questions on management of the project, water quality and fish and wildlife. Water quality is only briefly addressed, as substantial information will become available in early summer 2019 when our multi-year water quality study is released.
Bull Trout Blowout Photo Contest
March 1, 2019
This spring, we’re celebrating one of our favorite native fish species: the majestic Bull Trout! Bull Trout are thriving in Lake Billy Chinook — one of the only places in the country where you can catch and keep this fantastic fish.
Catch a Bull Trout in Lake Billy Chinook during March or April and snap a photo for a chance to win our BULL TROUT BLOWOUT photo contest.
Here’s how to enter the competition:
- Join us on Facebook.
- Post your photo to the Facebook group, using the hashtag #myLBCcatch
- Like and comment on the other great photos you find.
Prizes include gift cards to Sportsman’s Warehouse, free camping at Pelton Park and PGE outdoor gear perfect for a day on the water.
Learn more about prizes and read the full contest rules.
P.S. When taking your photo, please handle fish with care, especially if practicing catch-and-release. Keep fish in the water, avoid poking the gills, and fully support the fish’s body weight by holding it horizontally.
Herons and Eagles and Grebes. Oh my!
Feb. 7, 2019
PGE’s terrestrial biologists took to the water in January to perform the annual Deschutes basin mid-winter bird count, combining local and national efforts into one extensive survey of avian populations within the Pelton Round Butte project area.
This year, as in most years, the cold weather on the reservoir required the use of “survival suits” – bright orange insulated jumpsuits that double as flotation devices. Looking a little silly but feeling safe and enthusiastic, the team boarded a boat and headed out across Lake Billy Chinook just as the sun began to rise above the shoreline’s dramatic cliffs.
PGE biologists observe, identify and count birds on Lake Billy Chinook
How does the study work?
As part of a national initiative to survey eagle populations at the start of every new year, terrestrial biologists identify and record all eagles observed within the project area. Both bald and golden eagles can be found in the Deschutes basin, and within just a few minutes of starting this year’s search, we noticed our first golden eagle of the day perched on a tree overlooking the Selective Water Withdrawal.
In addition to looking for eagles, biologists keep an eye out for a variety of waterfowl, shorebird and mammal species. All birds, except for passerines, songbirds and few other common species (like the crow and magpie), are recorded.
Western grebes on the water
This year, from the headwaters of Lake Billy Chinook down to the Warm Springs Bridge, we identified the following species: golden and bald eagles (adults and juveniles), red-tailed hawks, Canada geese, Western and pied-billed grebes, coots, great blue herons, cormorants, many duck species (bufflehead, ruddy, ring-necked, common and Barrow’s goldeneye, mallard, gadwall, American widgeon, scaup, common and hooded merganser, green-winged teal), and one river otter.
What have we learned from the study
Study results are weather-dependent and highly variable from year to year. In colder years, biologists tend to observe more birds, which flock to the reservoir when other sources of water have frozen over.
Despite its variability, the survey remains a useful index of bird populations in the basin. Bird populations appear to be healthy, and we have no indication that populations are declining.
Combined with our golden eagle tracking efforts, the annual bird survey suggests that there are at least 20 breeding pairs of golden eagles along the Deschutes and Crooked Rivers in Jefferson County.
Join us for Eagle Watch 2019 to learn more!
Read more about our work in the February 2019 Newsletter.
Jan. 10, 2019
Back in August, participants from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, PGE and ODFW captured thousands of kokanee in Lake Billy Chinook and released the fish back into the Metolius basin marked with brightly colored streamer tags.
Biologists returned to the water in November to observe and count these fish, completing the second stage in the kokanee mark re-sight study.
Kokanee in the Metolius Basin
How does the study work?
- Staff from the partnering organizations suit-up in waders, orange vests (for safety during hunting season) and polarized sunglasses (to cut the glare on the water and more easily spot the fish).
- Our scientists wade through designated sections of the Metolius river and its side channels, counting kokanee, using a wading staff to stay balanced and a tally counter to keep track of numbers.
- Any fish spotted with an identifying tag are recorded, as well as the total number observed.
- The kokanee are often seen swimming in pairs in the river’s main stem or congregating in large numbers in the side springs. The fish are fast, colorful, and distinctive in appearance.
- Survey numbers are used to generate an estimate for the abundance of spawning kokanee in the Metolius basin.
Kokanee populations from 2009 to 2018
What have we learned from the surveys?
- An estimated 377,206 Lake Billy Chinook kokanee spawned in the Metolius River basin in fall 2018.
- The 10-year average is 223,586 kokanee spawners. 2018’s count is 169 percent of the ten-year average.
- The collaborative study involved over 50 people from four organizations.
Read more about our work in the January 2019 Newsletter.
Save the Date – Eagle Watch 2019
Save the date for Eagle Watch 2019: Saturday, Feb. 23 through Sunday, Feb. 24th at Round Butte Overlook Park.
Get ready for crafts, education stations, a hot dog lunch, traditional tribal dancing, and a silent auction to support ongoing golden eagle research.
Download the Eagle Watch 2019 Flyer
Monitoring Bull Trout in the Basin
Dec. 3, 2018
Bull trout, a salmonid species in the char family, are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Like their salmon cousins, bull trout are sensitive to changes in water quality and temperature, and have suffered throughout much of their range from the degradation of habitat and the introduction of non-native species.
However, bull trout are so abundant in Lake Billy Chinook and the Metolius River that fish managers have allowed anglers to catch and keep these colorful fish (limited to one fish per day over 24 inches in Lake Billy Chinook). Bull trout are predators to kokanee and other small fish and require cold water with clean gravel for spawning.
How are bull trout monitored in the Deschutes basin?
The Selective Water Withdrawal (SWW) facility has enabled PGE and the Tribes to reconnect bull trout populations in the upper and lower Deschutes. Populations are monitored through angler surveys and an annual redd count, which has taken place every fall since 1986.
Biologists from the U.S. Forest Service, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, and PGE identify bull trout redds (nests made of gravel) by looking for mounds of clean rock in distinctive shapes and locations. These redds look similar to those of other species, but compared to kokanee nests, are constructed with bigger pieces of gravel and take up a larger area.
PGE Fish Technician Jaym’e Schricker notes the location of a bull trout redd on the Metolius.
What have we learned from the surveys?
Redd surveys over the last 32 years have shown that bull trout populations in the Metolius basin remain stable, thanks to proper management and consistent monitoring.
Mapping Redds on the Lower Deschutes
Oct. 25, 2018
It is a Thursday morning in October, and PGE staff are preparing for the day ahead. Fish biologist Micah Bennett and specialist Brad Wymore pull on waders, boots, and life jackets, grab technical equipment, and load up a boat, ready for a full day on the Lower Deschutes River.
They will repeat this routine every two weeks until July, mapping fall Chinook, steelhead and redband trout redds (fish nests made of gravel) while gathering extensive data on their size, location and condition.
All of this work to find and observe redds helps our scientists study spawning behavior and learn more about how fish are utilizing the river substrate.
How does the study work?
Micah and Brad float down the river, stopping to wade at previously identified sites. We study the same sites each survey in order to compare results and observe changes over time.
When a redd is discovered, the perimeter is mapped for area and location. A number of additional measurements are recorded, including: the depth of the redd in three locations, the velocity of the river, the presence or absence of fish and the size of the gravel. This data is analyzed to gain a fuller understanding of the river substrate and how it is used by different fish species.
How do you find a redd?
Redds can be identified by certain distinctive features. The gravel will appear cleaner than normal and will be heaped into a mound. In front of the mound there will be a pit or cleared out divot. Biologists also know to look in predictable locations where the river flow and gravel size are attractive to fish.
Visit the following resources to learn more:
PGE Staff Represent at the Association of Power Biologists Annual Conference
Oct. 4, 2018
Fisheries staff from Pelton Round Butte and PGE’s Westside Hydroproject attended the Association of Power Biologists annual conference in September. GIS specialist Brad Wymore tied for best presentation with his talk on golden eagle monitoring efforts.
Pictured (from left to right) Leah Hough, Lori Campbell, Terry Shrader, and Rich Madden.
Keeping an Eye on Kokanee
Sept. 5, 2018
Over the past few weeks, PGE staff and collaborating partners have been out on Lake Billy Chinook completing the first stage of our annual kokanee mark re-sight study.
What are kokanee?
Kokanee and sockeye salmon are two varieties of the same fish species. While sockeye are anadromous (migrating to the ocean and back to freshwater during their lifecycle), kokanee remain in freshwater lakes throughout their lifespan.
How does the study work?
For three weeks every August, staff from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, PGE and ODFW work together to capture and mark adult kokanee that are beginning their migration to spawning grounds on the Metolius river.
A seine net is used to create a “purse” that collects the fish in the water. The net is pulled ashore and the kokanee are then transferred to a boat. The fish are transported upstream where they are marked with Floy tags. These tags are brightly colored and highly visible, allowing researchers to easily identify marked fish in the second stage of the study.
Later in September and October, kokanee (both tagged and un-tagged) are observed and counted, allowing researchers to estimate the abundance of spawning kokanee in the Metolius basin.
What does the study show?
Dam construction in the 1960s cut off fish migration, essentially turning all Deschutes basin migrating sockeye into kokanee. As part of PGE’s reintroduction program, some of these fish are now transported downstream in order to reestablish a population of anadromous sockeye. This program has been successful, and we see adult sockeye returning each year.
The kokanee mark re-sight study helps us determine if the non-migrating kokanee are also still present and thriving in Lake Billy Chinook. In fall 2017, the study estimated that 435,000 kokanee spawned in the Metolius River — the largest population since the study began in 2009. The population has been consistently strong enough that ODFW recently raised the catch limit from 5 to 10 kokanee.
Watch the study in action
PGE Spotted at Oregon State Parks Day
Aug. 24, 2018
PGE attended Oregon State Parks Day in June, making fish prints with kids on the banks of Lake Billy Chinook.
Guest Column by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs expresses support for PGE
Aug. 20, 2018
Eugene “Austin” Greene, chairman of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Tribal Council, wrote an editorial for the Bend Bulletin regarding the outcome of a lawsuit brought against PGE by the Deschutes River Alliance.
Judge Michael Simon ruled in favor of PGE earlier this month, dismissing allegations of water quality violations at the Pelton Round Butte Project. Greene expresses the Tribe’s support for PGE’s efforts to reintroduce healthy salmon and steelhead runs to the Deschutes basin.
Large Wood on the Lower Deschutes
July 30, 2018
While exploring the lower Deschutes river, keep your eyes peeled for logs tagged with a bright yellow sign reading “Fisheries Research Project: Please Do Not Disturb.” These pieces of wood are part of PGE’s Large Wood Management Plan, an ongoing project to place, study, and monitor logs in the lower river.
Why does PGE place large wood in the lower river?
Large pieces of wood are an important component of wildlife habitat. Juvenile fish need logs for shelter from predators, while large fish rely on wood as a hunting ground. Logs can also trap and retain gravel that adult fish need for making their redds
Other animals, including birds, otters, and amphibians can also be spotted making use of downed trees. Just as dams can impede fish migration, they also cut off the downstream movement of woody debris.
By placing logs from upstream into the lower river, PGE is helping to reconnect this vital aspect of the ecosystem.
How does the study work?
Logs that meet certain criteria are collected from Lake Billy Chinook and placed downstream of the Pelton Round Butte project. These pieces of wood are left unanchored to allow for their natural movement in the river.
PGE biologists perform annual snorkel surveys to determine whether fish and wildlife are utilizing the large wood. We are currently in the monitoring phase of the study, performing surveys and tracking the location of our logs.
The next round of large wood placement will take place in summer 2019. Last year’s study showed an increased use of large wood by fish as a result of the placement.
What can you do?
If you see a tagged log in the lower river, please leave it where it is. Disturbing the large wood could negatively impact fish and wildlife. Do your part to allow the free and natural movement of wood downstream and along the banks.
For more information on large wood in the lower Deschutes, check out this helpful fact sheet.
Welcome Back Sockeye!
July 30, 2018
Sockeye salmon have recently begun showing up at the Pelton trap, with a total of 14 adults having arrived over the last few weeks. We are optimistic that we will see a strong run this year, especially of one-salt sockeye (fish that spent one year in the ocean).
In 2017, we captured, marked, and released nearly 450,000 sockeye smolts downstream – we expect this year class to have high returns in 2018 and even greater numbers in 2019. The sockeye run should peak near mid-August. Join us in wishing the salmon good luck on their return journey upstream.
PGE and ODFW staff celebrate the first adult sockeye salmon return of the season
2018 Fisheries Workshop in Bend, Ore. – June 13-14
This two-day workshop highlights the latest strategies, progress and next steps in our shared work to restore the watershed and achieve healthy, sustainable salmon and steelhead populations in the Upper and Lower Deschutes. Learn more.
See the agenda for the upcoming workshop, June 13-14.
Black spots on fish: What do they mean?
Aug. 31, 2017
So-called “black spot” is seen on fish throughout North America, including on the Deschutes River. Our fish biologists provide insight and context about black spot on the Deschutes and other Oregon rivers, how it happens, how it impacts fish, and what we hope to learn from current research.
July 31, 2017
It’s been a slow start throughout the Columbia River Basin, but spring Chinook have found their way back to the Deschutes River. To date, more than 2,500 adult spring Chinook salmon have returned to the Pelton Adult Fish Trap this year.
Of those returning, 20 are “upper basin” adults that were captured as smolts at the fish transfer facility above Round Butte Dam, released below the Pelton Round Butte Hydro project to continue their migration to the ocean, and have now returned to be passed above the dams.
Any salmon that originated in the upper basin is radio tagged and released into Lake Billy Chinook to continue their migration to their spawning grounds. Radio tagging the salmon allows biologists to track their movements and confirm their success in helping to build the next generation of wild fish on the Deschutes!
Oxygen for Incubating Fish
July 30, 2017
Ever wonder how much oxygen is in the interstitial spaces of spawning gravel – the tiny gaps between the small pieces of rock and sand in the beds where salmon and steelhead lay their eggs? You’re in luck if you do!
PGE’s water quality specialist, Lori Campbell, collects dissolved oxygen readings within redds just downstream of Project dams during the tail end of the spawning season (late June and mid October). This is done as part of the monitoring to verify the relationship between ambient (overlying river water) dissolved oxygen and dissolved oxygen in the gravels.
Intergravel dissolved oxygen is important to incubating salmon and steelhead eggs and an important component of spawning habitat quality. Since monitoring began in 2010, intergravel dissolved oxygen concentrations at Deschutes River study sites have been above the standard and indicate that dissolved oxygen is present, as it should be in a healthy river, in the spawning gravel where (and when) juvenile salmonids incubate.
2017 Fisheries Workshop in Madras, Ore. – June 27-28
See the agenda for the upcoming workshop, June 27-28.
Download information on the topics and speakers at the 2017 workshop.
Students Release Spring Chinook Fry
March 22, 2017
Students from the fish and wildlife class at Madras High School helped PGE, ODFW and CTWS (Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs) released 100,000 spring Chinook fry into the Metolius River on March 14.
Rebekah Burchell, one of PGE’s fish biologists at the Pelton Round Butte Hydroelectric Project, spoke to the students about the reintroduction program, what salmon need to thrive and the importance of the fry release effort. These spring Chinook fry will spend about a year in the Metolius before they begin their migration to the ocean. After 2-4 years in the ocean they will enter freshwater again and eventually return to the Metolius River as adults to reproduce.
Adult Chinook from previous year’s release should start returning in May, when we will release them upstream of Round Butte Dam and follow them to their spawning grounds. In previous years we’ve located adult Chinook in the Metolius River, Crooked River and Whychus Creek.
Events like this are an essential way for multiple partner agencies and organizations, students, and volunteers to come together to help re-establish a naturally spawning population of anadromous fish to the Deschutes River Basin.
Additional spring Chinook fry releases will occur this year in Whychus Creek as part of the reintroduction program managed by PGE, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, and the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife.
Fish Migration Kicking Into Gear
March 13, 2017
With spring approaching and the hustle and bustle around the office it’s clear field season is on the horizon. And that means that the fish are moving! At the Pelton Round Butte Hydroelectric Project’s juvenile fish passage facility, fish are collected and transferred downstream daily.
The fish passage system re-established the connection for anadromous steelhead, Chinook, and sockeye between the ocean and 250 stream miles of habitat in the upper Deschutes basin when it began operating in 2010. Although we collect and transport migratory fish all year, the peak season is from February through June. During this time any juvenile O. nerka (kokanee/sockeye) collected are transported to the lower river to continue their migration to the ocean. All migrating salmonids collected at the SWW are marked so we know they came from the upper basin when – hopefully – we see them again as returning adults in a couple of years.
Some fish also receive a PIT (Passive Integrated Transponder) tag. The PIT tag allows us to measure survival to the transfer facility from the tributaries and then travel time to Bonneville Dam. In 2016 we compared survival of radio-tagged smolts released during the day to those released after sunset. We saw much higher survival to the mouth of the Deschutes for fish released in the evening. As a result, this year we’ll be releasing all juvenile fish to the lower Deschutes in the evening to decrease mortality from predation.
Over the course of the year, our technicians and biologists collect between 37,000 and 262,000 smolts and transport them to the lower Deschutes River to continue their downstream migration. It’s a system we’re steadily working to refine and improve. This year, for instance, we’re modifying operations at the hydro project to increase the number of fish captured by generating power at night, which means that water will be pulled through the collection facility, creating a more attractive current for salmon and steelhead.
Night-time generation will occur from March through June (peak fish migration) because fish would rather migrate at night, increasing the efficiency of the system. Stay tuned to our newsletter to find out the progress of night-time generation. And if you would like to see the fish collection and transfer facility in person please contact me (Lisa Dubisar) for a tour.
Feb. 15 Fish Committee Meeting summary
Feb. 27, 2017
A Fish Committee meeting was held on Feb. 15. The meeting was attended by 5 natural resource agencies and 3 NGOs.
The Licensees received written comments from Native Fish Society, ODFW, BIA and USFS on Phase II Gravel Study Plan. PGE addressed each of these comments with the group and opened the topic up for discussion. Details of the consultation record, Fish Committee discussion and Phase II Gravel Study Plan will be available after the plan is filled with FERC.
ODFW presented a summary of their work on Bakeoven and Buck Hollow creeks to understand the interactions between hatchery/wild O. mykiss redband/steelhead). The group discussed the how the study’s findings may have useful implications for the Pelton Round Butte steelhead reintroduction program.
PGE then presented their plan for 2017 redd counts in Whychus Creek. USFS suggested moving to a stratified design rather than the currently employed rotating panel design. After questions to insure that the new program was sampling representative habitat, the Fish Committee did not object to moving forward with the new sampling design.
ODFW presented results of the trout creel conducted in 2016 upstream of Maupin. While no prior creel data exists for this stretch of river, the creel results showed high capture rates, comparable to other blue ribbon trout streams. The creel will be repeated in 2017.
In addition to questions about the trout creel, ODFW answered questions for the Fish Committee regarding black spot disease history and observations in the Deschutes, and recent steelhead return rate data. These results and the ODFW trout growth and diet study will be presented at the public PGE Fisheries Workshop held on June 27 and 28.
Fish committee report
Feb. 6, 2017
Last month we posted a summary of the latest meeting of the Pelton Round Butte Fish Committee – the group of natural resource agencies and NGOs that typically meets monthly to advise the hydro project co-owners on management decisions affecting fisheries and water quality.
At the Jan. 17 meeting of the committee we reviewed the 2017 Draft Fish Passage Work Plan, which had been distributed to the committee last month for comment. The plan outlines the activities and scientific studies the co-owners will conduct this year.
PGE then provided a more in-depth presentation on the Nighttime Generation Plan, which is part of the work plan for this year and is aimed at increasing flow to attract juvenile fish to our downstream collection facility during the hours when the fish are most likely to travel.
Typically Round Butte generates the most during the day when there is the highest demand for power; however, we are learning that this pattern is not optimal for collecting juvenile fish, which tend to move at night. Results from statistical modeling and a pilot study in 2016 suggest that by generating at higher levels during the evening hours, we can significantly improve juvenile fish collection.
As a result in 2017 PGE and CTWS will modify operations at the project specifically to benefit fish collection, during the migratory season (March 15 to June 15). During this time frame, we will generate at higher levels during the hours when fish are most active (9 p.m. to 4 a.m.).
Fish collection numbers and behavior will be monitored using PIT and radio tags. The Fish Committee has been asked to provide comments on this study and the Fish Passage Work Plan by Jan. 25.
Jack Palmer (ODFW) and Becky Burchell (PGE) then provided an update on the 2016 sockeye returns. Jack described the hatchery processes and Becky provided an update on where sockeye were located throughout the Metolius basin during spawning surveys.
The Committee then had an in-depth discussion about Chinook and steelhead fry stocking locations. ODFW was looking for input on stocking strategies due to a shortage of Chinook fry and the potential for high spring time flows due to the higher than normal snowpack. ODFW received input from the Committee and will be providing their plan at the next Fish Committee meeting.
Megan Hill (PGE) then provided an update on the 2016 Lake Billy Chinook angler survey. The survey has been conducted most years since 1990 to monitor the bull trout and kokanee fisheries in the reservoir.
The 2016 fishing season looked very similar to 2015. Over 2,000 bull trout were caught; 149 were of legal size (>26 inches). Kokanee catch rate was up a bit this year, with over 15,000 kokanee caught.
The next Fish Committee meeting is scheduled for Feb. 15. More information about the Fish Committee is available online, along with info about other partners we collaborate with in our work to benefit fish and water quality on the Deschutes.
“That’s some fish!”
Jan. 17, 2017
An adult fall Chinook salmon, up close, is an impressive sight! Like the one pictured here, at the Pelton Trap.
They’re native to the Deschutes River basin and spawn in the mainstem Deschutes River. Historically, their range extended up to the confluence of the Deschutes, Crooked and Metolius rivers. The majority of the spawning occurs in the three miles below the Pelton Re-regulating Dam.
Spring Chinook and fall Chinook are the same species but differ by the time of year when they enter fresh water. Spring Chinook enter freshwater…well…in the spring, when they begin their migration home from the ocean. Whereas fall Chinook enter during the fall. Fall Chinook are bigger because they spend more time in the ocean eating and growing. What’s even more impressive is their return in numbers to the Columbia River system, including the Deschutes River.
The past five years have seen record-breaking fall Chinook runs on the Deschutes River. According to ODFW data collected at the Sherars Fall’s fish trap on the Deschutes River near Maupin, on average 25,975 fall Chinook returned from 2011 to 2015 compared to an average of 12,192 from 2006 to 2010. This is no surprise since on the Columbia River at Bonneville Dam there have been record returns for fall Chinook (a five-year average of 916,804 from 2011 to 2015 compared to 365,148 from 2006 to 2010).
Fall Chinook are not one of the species targeted for reintroduction above the dams on the Deschutes, because that wasn’t their historic range (spring Chinook are part of the reintroduction effort, along with steelhead and sockeye).
However, temperature management in the lower Deschutes is a goal of the project in part because of the benefits to fall Chinook. Warmer temperatures in the spring allow them to grow faster as juveniles and migrate to the ocean before the lower Columbia River is too warm. Cooler temperatures in the late summer/fall lead to more optimal spawning.
Chinook salmon have played an integral role in tribal religion, culture,and physical sustenance for the people of the Warm Springs since time immemorial. Salmon are one of the traditional “First Foods” that are honored at tribal ceremonies. In part due to the cultural significance of these fish, The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs (CTWS) has a rigorous fall Chinook monitoring program in the Deschutes basin. Find out more on our Deschutes Basin Studies page.
Committee of experts meets monthly to help guide salmon and steelhead, water quality efforts
We sometimes hear questions about how the Pelton Round Butte co-licensees make decisions about our fish passage, upper basin salmon and steelhead reintroduction and water quality programs. A key part of the answer is the Pelton Round Butte Fish Committee, which is made up of 10 natural resource agencies and five non-governmental organizations with fish and water quality expertise.
The Committee typically meets monthly to review study plans, data and reports related to the Pelton Round Butte fish passage and water quality programs and advise the co-licensees on management decisions. The most recent meeting was on Dec. 8, and was attended by representatives from six natural resource agencies and two non-governmental organizations.
At the meeting, the Fish Committee welcomed the new ODFW fish pathologist, Stacy Strickland. Although her position is funded as a requirement of our license, by PGE and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, she works for and answers to ODFW, evaluating fish health issues related to the reintroduction and hatchery programs.
Next, Brad Houslet, from the CTWS Natural Resources Branch, presented preliminary results of recent sockeye genetics testing. In summer 2016, 535 adult sockeye returned to the Pelton trap – far outstripping returns from prior years. Genetic samples were taken on all returning fish. To date CTWS has analyzed 384 of the fish, and has confirmed that over 94 percent of the samples examined to-date originated from the upper Deschutes basin – meaning the fish had reared in the upper basin, migrated downstream via our new fish passage system, and completed the round trip to the ocean and back. With the support of ODFW and the CTWS, PGE released the majority of returning sockeye above Round Butte Dam to spawn naturally in the upstream tributaries.
After Brad’s report, PGE provided an update on the lower Deschutes smolt survival study results. The study evaluated the survival of radio-tagged Chinook, steelhead and sockeye smolts that were captured and tagged at the selective water withdrawal tower, released in the lower Deschutes, and tracked to the mouth of the river. We evaluated daytime versus nighttime smolt releases, concluding that nighttime smolt releases are an effective way to improve survival to the mouth for Chinook and steelhead. As a result, the licensees will release smolts at night during the 2017 spring migration.
The Committee then received an update on the Phase II: Gravel Augmentation Plan from PGE and Stillwater Sciences. The study plan was provided to the Committee on Dec. 7; comments are expected back from the Committee by Jan. 18.
The next Fish Committee meeting will be held on Jan. 17. See the Our Partners page to get more information about the Fish Committee, and learn about other partners we collaborate with in our work to benefit fish and water quality on the Deschutes.
Tracking golden eagles
Nov. 22, 2016
PGE wildlife biologists, Robert Marheine and Thad Fitzhenry, are excited by the results of a five-year study of golden eagles that they recently completed in collaboration with the Bureau of Land Management. The study objectives were to learn information about home ranges and general behavior of golden eagles during the breeding and non-breeding season.
Biologists captured eight golden eagles at bait stations using either a bow net or net launcher. The researchers then attached radio tracking devices to the eagles using a very light backpack harness designed to eventually fall off the bird. Using satellite tracking they could then “follow” the birds to learn about their travel patterns and behavior.
Some of the golden eagles were “homebodies” and stayed within an 8 mile radius of their nest. To the research team’s surprise, other birds wandered as much as 80 miles and flew up to the crest of the Cascade Mountains.
Another surprising observation occurred when a male eagle died after biologists had been tracking it and its mate for a year and a half. Two months later the female found a new male. This new pair of birds were found in their territory together, but they also traveled separately and sometimes at great distances apart. Eventually the new male took control over the nest and territory. The female left her old territory, found a new mate, produced eggs, and stayed close to her new nest site. The eagles were often found sitting at the rim of the canyons, most likely searching for food.
What’s the greater message from the study? Thad observes that “the eagles have a definitive home range but they will roam depending on factors such as food availability, death of a mate, age, distance to other territories, and other factors not known.”
He also notes that the eagles definitely showed a preference for shrub-type habitats, with territories around the Pelton Round Butte Project that are tightly packed and could be under threat from continued habitat conversion as land in Central Oregon is developed for other uses.
Whole lot of sampling going on
Nov. 8, 2016
As the second season of an intensive, three-year water quality study on the Deschutes River wraps up, Lori Campbell, water quality specialist with Portland General Electric, will have to wait one more year for independent consultants to deliver results and modeling from the study, expected late 2017 or early 2018.
The study spanned 29 locations in the project reservoirs and the lower Deschutes River. Water quality technicians collected a lot of data and samples, including measurements of temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, conductivity, alkalinity, chlorophyll a, chloride, algae growth, nutrients and zooplankton.
Why such an intensive study? Portland General Electric and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon are responsible for water temperature management where the river exits their jointly-owned Pelton Round Butte Hydroelectric Project. Our temperature management goal is to closely match water temperatures that would be expected at that point on the river, based on conditions on a given day, if the hydro project were not there.
When one factor changes in the river, such as temperature, other factors in the river ecosystem will likely be affected. PGE and the Tribes commissioned this intensive study to better understand and document any changes that may have occurred since the temperature management program began in 2010.
Whychus Creek Native Planting Day!
Oct. 31, 2016
“Together We Make It Happen.” This was the message from Brad Chalfant, Deschutes Land Trust’s executive director, regarding the restoration of Whychus Canyon Preserve.
On Oct. 11, staff from the Deschutes Land Trust hosted an event at the Preserve to plant native vegetation in the newly-reconstructed riparian zone and channel of Whychus Creek. Staff from both PGE’s Pelton Round Butte Office and the CTWSRO (Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon) participated. Together with Deschutes Land Trust staff, they planted native trees, sedges, grasses and shrubs in the riparian zone.
“We’re letting the creek decide where it wants to flow,” was the message from Sarah Mowry, the outreach director with Deschutes Land Trust, explaining the goal of the restoration efforts.
Whychus Canyon Preserve includes 930 acres protecting four miles of Whychus Creek. Back in the 1960s the creek was straightened and bermed for flood control and other reasons, but with the unintended result of diminished fish and wildlife habitat. With the help of multiple partners including the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, Deschutes National Forest, CTWSRO and PGE’s Pelton Round Butte Fund (for land acquisition), this restoration project restored 1 mile of Whychus Creek, with more planned for 2017.
Restoration includes putting the creek back into a meandering channel with side channels that provide critical habitat where fish can spawn, rear, and hide. Chinook salmon and adult steelhead have already returned to Whychus Creek since reintroduction efforts began.
Oct. 18, 2016
If you see a crew from PGE in the creek using a backpack that looks like something out of a Ghostbusters movie, you would be witnessing a crew electrofishing. This method is what biologists use to capture fish using an electrical current. When the electrofisher is activated, the electricity causes the fish to swim in a controlled way that makes them easy to net.
As you can imagine electrofishing requires a special permit, expertise, and safety measures. The purpose of electrofishing is to catch as many fish as possible to obtain a population estimate; all fish are returned to the stream unharmed after the survey. These surveys have been going on prior to the salmon and steelhead reintroduction efforts in 2007 and every year after. Electrofishing surveys are conducted where fish have been released which is in the mainstem Deschutes River and its tributaries.
Deschutes River sockeye return to the spawning grounds
After hearing reports from landowners of adult sockeye salmon spawning in the upper Metolius tributaries, PGE biologists headed out recently to observe them firsthand. On a quick afternoon field trip we found three tagged adult sockeye on spawning grounds upstream of the Metolius River. These are sockeye that are near completion of their life cycle, beginning with rearing in Deschutes Basin tributaries then migrating to the ocean to grow and returning to fresh water one to two years later to spawn.
Over 500 sockeye have returned to the Pelton trap, to date, in 2016. Of those caught at the Pelton trap, 445 were passed over the dams, and the rest were used as brood stock at the Pelton Round Butte Hatchery. We gave sockeye that were caught at the Pelton trap a neon green tag (some were also given a radio tag) and released them in Lake Billy Chinook. Using radio telemetry, we’ve found that it takes about one month for an adult sockeye salmon to migrate to the spawning grounds.
Adult sockeye salmon have been observed on various tributaries throughout the upper Deschutes River Basin – a promising indicator in the ongoing, collaborative effort between the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation Oregon, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and Portland General Electric to restore wild salmon runs to their historic habitat in the upper Deschutes Basin.
Facilitating and monitoring large wood migration for improved fish habitat
Have you ever noticed large pieces of wood in the lower Deschutes River with yellow tags? These tags mark wood that PGE has taken from above Lake Billy Chinook and placed downstream of the Reregulating Dam. We have done this for the past ten years, placing over 300 pieces of large woody debris into the lower river. Each piece is marked with a small round metal tags and a large yellow plastic “Do Not Disturb” tag.
Why place wood in the lower river? When trees along the stream bank die, they fall into the river, where they help stabilize stream banks and provide habitat for salmon and other aquatic life. When the Pelton Round Butte Project dams were constructed by PGE in the late 1950s and early 1960s, large wood from tributaries ended up in Lake Billy Chinook rather than being naturally transported downstream to the lower Deschutes River.
Our large woody debris management program is designed to reconnect large wood transport to the lower river. The logs we place in the lower river are not anchored, so we record the location of each piece when initially placed and then annually track its movements downstream by floating down the river with a boat along the banks and log jams looking for logs with visible tags.
We recently spent two weeks looking for large woody debris from the Reregulation dam down to Harpham Flats. When we find a marked log we record its tags, add new yellow plastic tags if the old ones are faded, and take a GPS point. Some logs we have tracked for several years as they slowly move down the river. Some logs move once, wash up on shore, and don’t move again. Others we never see as they likely become incorporated into downstream habitat or break up into multiple pieces.
An example of one of our tags. This log was found between Trout Creek and White Horse Rapids.
Fallen logs provide habitat for salmon and other aquatic organisms.
These sockeye know how to run!
This year’s sockeye run is still breaking records, with 73 returning adults captured on Monday, August 8 alone and released to the upper Deschutes River tributaries to spawn.
At this point more than 300 sockeye have returned to the Pelton Round Butte Project so far this year – more than three times the number that have returned in any single year since PGE and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs began the reintroduction program in 2010 to bring these fish back to the upper Deschutes basin after a four decade hiatus.
The run is expected to continue for several more weeks, so stay tuned for more updates or keep an eye on our daily fish counts.
Sockeye – record returns this week
Adult sockeye are returning to the Pelton Trap in record numbers this year! So far we have captured 176 adults. Sockeye began returning to the trap in 2011, with the previous record in 2012 with 86 returns. But that high was smashed in the week of July 25, alone, with 144 returning adults. This is exciting news for the Deschutes River.
Once collected at the trap, each sockeye is measured, its fin clipped for genetic sample, scales pulled for aging, and each is sexed using a portable ultrasound machine for accurate sex ratios. This data collection is a joint agency effort between PGE, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs.
Using the portable ultrasound machine to determine sex
Collecting scales for aging each fish
2016 Fisheries Workshop
July 13, 2016
Thanks to everyone who joined us for the workshop this year! Our 22nd Fisheries Workshop was held in Madras on June 22 to 23. Our primary goal was to increase participants understanding of the Pelton Round Butte Project and other projects ongoing in the Deschutes river basin.
A variety of topics were covered during the workshop and the presenters did an outstanding job of sharing their expertise with everyone. If you would like to contact any presenter with questions please see the abstracts and biographies.
Mark your calendars for the 2017 workshop – June 27 to 29. We’re expanding next year’s event to include a fish facilities tour on the 27th. Fisheries presentations will be on the 28th and habitat presentations on the 29th. Check back with us next year for more information.
PGE and the CTWS wish you the best over the summer and through the remainder of the year. We hope to see you next June for the 2017 Fisheries Workshop.
Pelton Round Butte Project Team
Snorkel surveys give PGE a close-up look at the fish
June 30, 2016
This week we’ve been out snorkeling in the Metolius River and Lake Creek to look for juvenile Chinook. As part of salmon reintroduction above Round Butte Dam, Chinook fry have been released into the Metolius and its tributaries annually since 2008.
There are two snorkel sites on the main stem Metolius and three sites on a tributary called Lake Creek. Two snorkelers make two to three upstream passes through the site. We count the number of juvenile Chinook observed, with each snorkeler covering an equal portion of the stream during each pass. Snorkelers alternate sides of the stream after each pass to control for bias. We record Chinook size class and habitat unit for each fish observed.
We then attempt to capture at least 20 fish by dip net while snorkeling in order to measure how much they have grown between our four seasonal sampling periods, which are fry release (winter), May through June (spring), July through August (summer), and September through October (fall). Once measured and weighed, the fish are returned to the collection site.
A juvenile Chinook captured by dip net
PGE biologist snorkeling in Lake Creek for juvenile Chinook
DEQ comments on the Deschutes Macroinvertebrate and Periphyton Study
June 23, 2016
In April this year, PGE and CTWS released the Lower Deschutes River Macroinvertebrate and Periphyton Study, which was prepared by R2 Resource Consultants. Since then, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has asked for further analysis of the data behind the report.
PGE and R2 consulted with DEQ and other stakeholders in designing the study and provided extensive access for questions and input as the analysis and report were prepared. However, in a review of the results, agency staff identified questions and concerns regarding the data collected and conclusions drawn that the agency wants PGE to address before they will accept the study as final.
PGE and R2 had also identified areas for further analysis, so we’re working on a plan to address these questions and concerns. We’ll submit our plan to DEQ by June 30, and post additional updates as they’re available.
We’re welcoming spring Chinook back to the upper Deschutes basin…And keeping track of where they go!
June 21, 2016
So far this year, we’ve collected 30 adult spring Chinook salmon at the Pelton Adult Trap, below the Re-Regulating Dam. These fish started out as fry in the rivers and tributaries above Lake Billy Chinook, passed downstream through our Selective Water Withdrawal collection facility, and have now made their trip to the ocean and back.
We implanted these Chinook with an esophageal radio-tag and transported and released them above Round Butte Dam to continue their upstream migration. Now we’re tracking their movements to determine which river (Crooked, Deschutes or Metolius) and which tributary they ascend, and if possible where they spawn. We even jump into the water to put a visual on a radio-tagged fish from time to time. We expect Chinook salmon to continue arriving through July.
Tagged fish are considered wild fish. So if you catch one, please release it back into the water.
Green floy tag in the spring Chinook is used as a second identification tool
PGE biologist checking on tagged fish in Whychus Creek
Implanting an esophageal radio tag in a steelhead