Updates & Events – 2019

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.

Investing in healthy habitat

Dec. 10, 2019

Our experience in the Deschutes Basin has shown us time and again that a successful reintroduction program requires an investment not just in fish, but also in their habitat. Without shady streams, native vegetation, gravel for spawning, large wood to hide under, and sufficient water flow, we could never expect salmon and steelhead to thrive, even if fish passage systems were perfected.

That’s why, over the last fifteen years, we’ve invested millions of dollars in restoration projects planned and executed by our partners in Central Oregon. Through the Pelton Fund, we’ve contributed $26.5 million to projects that advance fish passage, wildlife habitat, water quality and water quantity throughout the Deschutes Basin. We are excited to announce the latest round of projects selected for this funding.

See the full list of projects selected in the 2020 funding cycle.

Link Creek Large Wood Project
The Link Creek Large Wood Project is a restoration effort from Trout Unlimited. Trees and logs will be installed in this historic sockeye habitat, using strategies from a previously successful Upper Metolius project (pictured here).

Eight organizations launching 13 unique projects were notified of their selection in late November. This cycle – the fifth round for the Pelton Fund – represents a $4.5 million contribution to the Deschutes. Projects are geographically dispersed throughout the basin, from Whychus Creek in the South to Log Springs Meadow north of Warm Springs; stretching east from Upper Trout Creek in the Ochoco National Forest all the way to Link Creek, West of Black Butte Ranch.

Metolius Winter Range
The Metolius Winter Range Restoration project is a collaborative effort to improve habitat for mammals and birds that rely on this protected grassland area.

A technical review team (TRT) carefully evaluated the merits of each proposal received, judging each project on its feasibility and potential impact. This team, composed of representatives from the project licensees and federal, tribal, and state agencies, attended presentations and conducted site visits as part of their review process. The TRT presented recommendations to a formal Governing Board, which made the final decisions in November.

We are confident that the projects selected will benefit Deschutes Basin fish, wildlife, water and habitat for generations to come.

Priday Ranch
The Priday Ranch Steelhead Conservation Project is an effort by the Deschutes Land Trust to protect 5,820 acres of grassland and sagebrush habitat in the Trout Creek subbasin, where steelhead and redband trout spawn and rear. Benefits of the project include increased habitat connectivity, improved water quality and surface flow.

Mapping a path to reintroduction

Oct. 15, 2019

The reintroduction of salmon and steelhead above Round Butte Dam is a complex project, involving dozens of organizations and agencies, ongoing research and adaptive strategies. For the last few months, the Fish Committee has been grappling with a tricky question: how do you illustrate or communicate a project like this? After extensive brainstorming and discussion, the Fish Committee came up with a solution: the Reintroduction Road Map.

Pelton Round Butte Fish Committee Reintroduction Road Map
Download full-size road map

How do I read the Road Map?

The road map diagram identifies the goal of the reintroduction effort, the three objectives that need to be met to accomplish the goal, and key strategies to achieve those objectives. Each strategy is symbolized with a color and shape. The color indicates the time-frame of the activity and shapes are used to show the lead organization behind each strategy. Visit the Fish Committee website and click on any strategy to display more information.

Who created the Road Map?

The road map was developed collaboratively over a year-long process by a subgroup of the Pelton Round Butte Fish Committee. This group includes the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Native Fish Society, Trout Unlimited, National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries), Portland General Electric and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Branch of Natural Resources.

How is the Road Map used by the Fish Committee?

This road map is an adaptive management tool for planning and integrating basin-wide efforts into annual work plans that the Fish Committee oversees. The road map acts as a guide that allows the Fish Committee to focus on strategies within their control that may impact the reintroduction effort while also taking into consideration the data, decisions and plans taking place throughout the watershed. It serves as a living document, with the expectation that we’ll do an in-depth review for updates and improvements every three to five years.

The complete, clickable road map can be found on the Fish Committee website.

Follow the fish: tracking adults through Lake Billy Chinook

Aug. 12, 2019

When we released this year’s run of 47 upper basin spring Chinook above Round Butte Dam, we were eager to follow their next step in the journey home. Most of these fish were given radio tags so we can track their progress to spawning grounds upstream and look for patterns in timing and distribution of spawning.

Up to 100 steelhead and sockeye are also given a radio tag each year. Tagged fish of all three species are released through our Adult Release Facility just upstream of Round Butte Dam.

Fish technician referencing data
PGE fish technician Elayne Barclay matches receiver codes to tagged fish as part of the tracking study.

How do we track fish?

A week after the first fish of each species is released, our scientists hit the water, trails, and even sky around the lake to track them. Once a week, PGE staff traverse each of the lake’s arms in a boat equipped with an antenna and receiver. Once a tag is in range, the receiver displays the individual fish's identification number. This number is cross-referenced with our records to provide information on the fish's sex and species.

In addition to finding fish by boat, our scientists regularly hike into remote areas where boat access is limited to download data from land-based radio stations. In the most rugged areas — typically further upstream in the tributaries — we use our helicopter to track tags from the air.

Fixed radio station
A fixed radio station monitors fish that swim by. The data is downloaded manually each week.

What questions can we answer using this study?

  • Migration timing: when do the fish return to their natal streams?
  • Spawning distribution: where are they going to spawn?
  • Spawning abundance: are they finding each other and how many are together?
  • Competition: are fish competing for the same resources?

To answer these questions, we track the fish as precisely as we can within the tributaries and the lake. For example, we found that five spring Chinook entered Whychus Creek in late spring, and one traveled upstream almost to Sisters. It has since come back downstream to find a mate. We look forward to seeing where these fish choose to end their long migration.

Return of the King: Promising returns of Upper basin spring Chinook

July 1, 2019

This year, we've already captured 47 spring Chinook originating from the Upper Deschutes Basin at our Pelton Trap -- a strong run considering low forecasts for the Columbia Basin.

  • This return is over nine times higher than last year's total (only five upper basin fish).
  • These Chinook came through our fish passage facilities as juveniles in 2017, so they likely benefited from some of our new strategies, like nighttime generation and night releases. We believe the strong run is a direct result of these practices.
  • These fish were given radio tags and released upstream so that we can continue to monitor their journey through the tributaries.

Adult spring Chinook at Pelton trap

Water Quality Study

June 20, 2019

In February 2015, PGE and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs kicked off an extensive multi-year water quality study to gain a better understanding of water quality conditions in the Deschutes River.

We are pleased to announce the release of this report, and invite you to join us for an open house event to learn more about the study results and our greater environmental work in the Deschutes Basin.

Attend a water quality study open house

Save the Date: 25th Annual Fisheries Workshop

May 24, 2019

Portland General Electric and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs invite you to join us for the 25th annual Pelton Round Butte Fisheries Workshop. Download the agenda.

Please note that we have rescheduled our event this year to July so we can share the complete results of our multi-year Water Quality Study. Joe Eilers, the study’s author, will present during the workshop followed by an open house event after the first day of presentations to allow for additional questions. The open house will provide resources for understanding the Water Quality Study as well as other relevant information on the Pelton Round Butte Project.

The Fisheries Workshop is a yearly event highlighting fisheries and water quality work happening in the Deschutes Basin. Presentation topics include reintroduction, migration, habitat restoration, and water quality study results. Further details to follow once finalized.

When: Wednesday, July 17, 2019 to Thursday, July 18, 2019

Where: Riverhouse Convention Center – 2850 NW Rippling River Ct., Bend, OR 97703

RSVP: Open now through July 5th to our partners and stakeholders, including members of the public. Click on the blue “register for the workshop” button on the top left. We encourage early registration as space is limited.

Lodging: The Riverhouse Hotel has a room rate of $179 for the night of July 17 and is holding a block of 10 rooms until June 17. Please mention that you are attending the Fisheries Workshop when contacting the hotel. Note: the venue is centrally located with additional lodging options nearby.

We look forward to hosting this event and hope to see you there!

Save the Date: 25th Annual Fisheries Workshop

Rotary club: screw trap studies in tributaries

May 23, 2019

Each spring, PGE biologists install fish collectors called rotary screw traps in several locations throughout the Deschutes’ upper tributaries. Screw traps allow us to sample out-migrating fish, providing information on fish movements and populations.

Fish biologist Gonzalo Mendez explains how screw traps are used on Whychus Creek – a tributary to the Deschutes – to gather data about juvenile fish migration.



How do rotary screw traps work?

Traps have a large metal cone on the front that spins when lowered into the water. As the river’s current moves through the cone, it captures juvenile fish. Fish are collected in a “live box” — a water-filled holding area.

Screw traps are typically operated daily for several months each spring. Each day, the traps are checked and fish are examined. PGE fisheries technicians count the captured smolts and record information on species, size and origin (hatchery vs. naturally reared).

Rotary screw trap

Fish biologist Gonzalo Mendez holds up a fish captured by the trap.

How are they used?

Naturally-reared smolts are individually marked with PIT-tags — small devices similar to pet identification chips — and released back into the water. These fish are later detected by a tag reader at the Selective Water Withdrawal (SWW), providing information on how long it takes fish to move from the tributaries to our project areas.

Screw trap studies have helped our biologists generate population estimates for naturally-reared fish, allowing comparisons from year-to-year. They also generate data on migration timing and duration for reintroduced Chinook and steelhead.

Rotary screw trap

Screw traps are typically operated daily for several months each spring.

What have we learned?

Screw trap studies helped reveal that hatchery-reared smolts were exiting the tributaries too quickly. We suspect that these fish were not developing a proper imprint of their natal stream and were less likely to find the right tributary on their return migration. These observations led managers to implement smolt acclimation, in which hatchery fish are held in the river for several days prior to release. Learn more about this process in our May newsletter.

PIT tag data also exposed that smolts were delayed in Lake Billy Chinook, taking longer than expected to find the SWW. This information helped lead to the development of nighttime generation, a management change covered in our March newsletter. Learn more about screw traps in our video featuring fish biologist Gonzalo Mendez.

Acclimating Smolts in Whychus Creek

May 7, 2019

Along a scenic stretch of Whychus Creek, tucked away near Camp Polk, two large wire cages sit submerged in the cold stream. They’re fairly unremarkable from the outside – wooden frames rising a few feet above the abnormally broad and fast-flowing stream. But if you could peek under the frigid surface, between gaps in the wire, you would see thousands of juvenile steelhead, swimming happily inside their temporary homes. These fish are in the process of smolt acclimation – a system being implemented throughout the Deschutes basin over the next few years in order to help improve returns.

Whychus Creek live car

How does smolt acclimation work?

Young fish are held in wire cages called “live cars” submerged in the stream. The smolts remain in place for ten to fourteen days, adjusting to their surroundings and becoming familiar with the stream’s unique chemical traits. When fish are finally released downstream, they are more likely to migrate quickly and safely, having already acclimated to the water’s natural conditions. Additionally, these fish are better at finding their way back when returning from the ocean as adults. When more fish successfully locate their natal stream, using their sense of smell, we get a more even distribution of fish throughout the Deschutes basin.

Whychus Creek live car

What changes are being made?

Over the next few years, ODFW is expanding its use of smolt acclimation, phasing out fry stocking in favor of acclimating and releasing older fish. Compared to fry, smolts are less likely to stay in the tributaries and compete with native redband trout populations. Unfortunately, snows caused a delay in the original plan, so only steelhead smolts were acclimated this year. Next year, Chinook will go through the acclimation process as well. Additionally, live cars will be replaced with larger tanks, increasing our capacity to acclimate thousands of fish at a time.

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.

The Plain Facts - What's happening on the Deschutes River
Download The Plain Facts PDF.

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.

Girl with bull trout

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:

  1. Join us on Facebook.
  2. Post your photo to the Facebook group, using the hashtag #myLBCcatch
  3. 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
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
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.

Counting Kokanee

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
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
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.