Protecting the Future of This Fish

One fish. One drop of water. Both are an important part of a larger story. Both represent a moment in time for the Deschutes River Basin. But the story doesn’t end with what we learn from studying that fish and that drop of water. It flows, over time. It evolves. It includes the needs of local tribes and the community.

The Deschutes is important to all of us, and at PGE, we understand that our efforts have to follow the entire story of the river: the environment, the science and the people who rely on it. Which is why we’re adapting what we do, always working toward the goal of helping to maintain a healthy river with healthy fish for generations to come.

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Partnering to protect the Deschutes

Tribal heritage, survival and the Deschutes

The Deschutes River has been a part of the heritage and livelihood of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon for thousands of years, and the Tribes continue to rely on the Deschutes as a mainstay of their economy, their cultural and social needs, and their very way of life.

Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon

As we look for solutions that help ensure a healthy river and healthy fish, we need to balance the various interests of the many and account for the long-term health and success of the river to help the fish – and the needs of Tribal members – and all stakeholders.

The Tribes share the Deschutes with all Oregonians, generously providing open access for fishing, recreation and more. PGE is honored to work with the Tribes as they plan in 100-year cycles, helping to ensure this vital natural resource is protected and restored, for current and future generations. By following the Tribes’ lead and sharing their vision, we can be sure that our solutions are not only based in science, but also anchored in the wisdom and knowledge of tribal elders. So we can honor the hope of the tribal youth and work to meet the needs of future generations of the tribe — and all Oregonians.

Long-term, science-led solutions

To follow the science of the Deschutes, our biologists and researchers monitor multiple sites on the river, year-round, measuring changes. This helps us understand the health of the river and how several variables, including rainfall amounts, winter snows, and hot summers affect the water quality over time.

We are analyzing this data to better understand how the river is changing, so that in collaboration with fish and wildlife agencies, water quality regulators, and non-governmental stakeholders we can continue to plan for long-term river health. Long-term results require long-term solutions and steady, consistent commitment, evaluating progress over time and making thoughtful course corrections when the science supports them.

We’re celebrating some early success, including the fact that for the first time in 50 years, adult salmon and steelhead are making it upstream, swimming more than 200 miles to spawn. But we know we still have a long way to go.

The only way to ensure we meet the long-term goals for the health of the Deschutes is to continue to follow the science, adapt as the river changes, and continue strong partnerships with our resource managers, the Tribes and the community.

The ripple effects of river health

For decades, PGE and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs have worked together to co-own and co-manage the Pelton Round Butte Hydro project on the Deschutes River. In addition to providing a clean energy source for more than 150,000 homes, the project also comes with an important stewardship responsibility: to help restore and protect the Deschutes River, doing our part to maintain it as a healthy river with healthy fish for generations to come.

The dams were built in the 1950s and ‘60s with the best of intentions for maintaining the river’s natural health – including salmon and steelhead runs. But the technology of the day fell short, and there was a negative ripple effect on fish and the Deschutes. Water temperatures below the dams were too cold in the spring and early summer and too warm in the late summer and fall because the waters from the tributaries were not being mixed as they had been before the dams were built. And the fish passage system failed, so salmon and steelhead could not return to the middle and upper Deschutes Basin.

Without fish above the dams, the Tribes lost a central part of their culture and heritage, along with a primary source of food, undermining their ability to sustain their very way of life.

To address these concerns and help bring back the fish, we worked with Tribes, the community, regulators, and environmental organizations to come up with long-term solutions. One of those solutions is the 273-foot tall Selective Water Withdrawal Tower, which was completed in 2010. This tower creates currents that guide young salmon and steelhead into collection facilities so they can be transported downstream around the dams. 

In addition, it mixes water from the surface and bottom of Lake Billy Chinook so water released below the dams more closely matches what the water temperatures would be like if the dams weren’t there. The tower has already shown early success, with adult fish returning to the Deschutes for the first time in 50 years.

Proud partner of fish protection on the Deschutes

PGE is committed to the health of the river for fish, Tribes and all Oregonians. To help deliver on that responsibility, we created the Pelton Round Butte Fund. Together, with the Tribes, we’ve supported more than 45 habitat conservation projects on the Deschutes River, pursued and often jointly funded with many other local partner organizations. These projects include removing fish passage barriers, stabilizing stream banks, restoring channels and floodplains, and conserving water.

We join our many partners in following the lead of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs to ensure their heritage and the fish continue to thrive. These partners include:

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