Our Story

Reconnecting the Deschutes River

Collaborating to restore salmon and steelhead to a healthy Deschutes River while generating power at the Pelton Round Butte Project

For more than a decade, Portland General Electric and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon have co-managed the Pelton Round Butte project in Central Oregon, providing enough emissions-free hydropower to power more than 150,000 homes.

The historic challenge and collaborative solution

The Pelton Round Butte hydroelectric project was completed in 1964 and includes three dams situated along a 20-mile stretch in the Deschutes River Canyon

Science-based decision making

The project continues to be managed collaboratively by PGE, the Tribes and an active group of regional partners who make up the Fish Committee.

We continuously collect data and keep up with the latest science in order to review our successes and setbacks. All of this helps ensure that we are on the path to restoring a healthy Deschutes basin – a goal and long-term vision we share with our partners.

To help us move forward in the reintroduction process, the Fish Committee developed a roadmap PGE of current and future strategies.

Our partners

The Tribes have partnered with PGE on the Pelton Round Butte project since 1980. Warm Springs Power and Water Enterprises PGE manages the Tribes’ participation in the project.

Two independent Tribal agencies regulate our activities (in addition to Oregon State agency requirements), reflecting the Tribes’ regulatory jurisdiction:

PGE and the Tribes manage the project collaboratively with an active committee of local, state, federal and non-governmental organizations. The Fish Committee includes representatives from the following organizations:

We also have strong relationships with a number of other groups in the Deschutes River Basin. We work together on projects that improve fish passage, habitat and conservation.

  • Bonneville Power Administration

  • Crook County Soil and Water Conservation District

  • Crooked River Watershed Council

  • Deschutes Land Trust

  • Deschutes River Conservancy

  • Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District

  • North Unit Irrigation District

  • Ochoco Irrigation District

  • Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board

  • The Trust for Public Land

  • Three Sisters Irrigation District

  • Upper Deschutes Watershed Council

“When we started this journey of reintroduction, we knew there were going to be complex challenges. Having all stakeholders at the table assisting and understanding the challenges we encounter avoids any misunderstanding on the route we are taking to address them. Without collaboration we would be challenged to advance in an adaptive manner.”
Jim Manion, Warm Springs Power & Water Enterprises – General Manager

A journey toward fish reintroduction

Fish migration in the Deschutes Basin

The Deschutes River Basin is known for its world-class fisheries, cherished by anglers, Tribal members and environmentalists alike.

Many of the salmon and steelhead species native to the Deschutes are anadromous – migrating downstream to the ocean and back to freshwater during their lifetime. This journey is integral for fish survival and the health of the entire Deschutes ecosystem, bringing marine nutrients back to the upper tributaries and continuing the cycle for future generations.

Dam construction in the 1960s caused two serious problems: fish were unable to complete their migration and water temperatures were artificially disrupted.

The Round Butte Hatchery was built to help make up for the loss of fish in the lower river, but wild fish were no longer able to make it upstream of the dams to spawn. This interruption was harmful to the river’s natural ecosystem as well as the Tribes’ heritage and culture.

Typically, licenses for hydro facilities last 30 to 50 years, and it was time for us to renew our license in 2005. To meet modern expectations for a healthy ecosystem, we researched, proposed and constructed an innovative solution: The Selective Water Withdrawal.

Early successes in a long-term effort

Thanks to the SWW, fish are now completing their migration for the first time in nearly 50 years, swimming more than 200 miles to complete their natural lifecycle upstream of the dams.

  • Adult Chinook, sockeye and steelhead now have access to 250 miles of their historic habitat which were blocked for nearly 50 years.

  • We have located spawning fish near Bowman Dam on the Crooked River, in Whychus Creek at Camp Polk and upstream of Camp Sherman on the Metolius.

  • In 2016, over 500 adult sockeye returned to the basin after migrating through the SWW as juveniles.

  • Each year we collect between 45,000 and 450,000 smolts (juvenile fish) at the SWW.

  • Since the SWW went into operation, more than 1.2 million juvenile fish have been passed downstream.

Daily fish counts and yearly run totals can are available on the Fish Counts & Fish Runs page.

Ongoing research

We’re proud of our achievements and optimistic about the future, always striving for a deeper understanding of the river and improved fish passage results.

Our scientists monitor multiple sites and collect data year-round to learn more about how both our work and external factors (like weather) are contributing to fish survival over time.

Read more about our ongoing work on our Updates & Events page.

As we continuously gather data, review the latest science and consult with the Fish Committee, we make thoughtful adjustments to our strategy.

Examples of adaptive management in action

  • Nighttime generation: Data suggested that juvenile fish travel at night, so in 2017, we began generating power in the evenings during peak migration season. This attracts more salmon and steelhead to the SWW, allowing them to migrate. Our collection efficiency in 2017 and 2019 were the highest on record – a direct result of nighttime generation.

  • Night releases: In 2017 we started releasing juvenile fish into the lower river at night to reduce the likelihood of predation by birds or other animals.

  • Smolt stocking: In 2019, we began shifting from fry stocking to a smolt-stocking program in response to data showing that smolts return at a higher rate and compete less with native redband trout.

  • Smolt acclimation: The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, in partnership with PGE and the Tribes, is expanding the practice of smolt acclimation in 2019. Ocean-going steelhead will be held in place for 10-30 days prior to release. Experimental acclimation in 2018 greatly improved our collection of juveniles at the SWW.

We are confident that we’re making progress toward fish recovery, and we continue to aim toward our principal long-term goal: sustainable, harvestable fish populations in the Upper and Lower Deschutes.

The research we rely on to make informed, science-based decisions can be accessed on our Fact Sheets, Studies & Resources page.

“We have an obligation to do everything in our power to bring these fish runs back. It’s important to the ecological function of this place. It’s important to the native peoples. And frankly, it’s going to be important to the future generations here in Central Oregon.”
Brad Chalfant, Deschutes Land Trust – Executive Director

Managing Water in a complex ecoysystem

PGE and the Tribes are dedicated to both improving water quality and enabling effective fish passage. Advancing these two objectives is quite challenging, and there is no “silver bullet” solution.

Our dedicated team of researchers and biologists monitor water quality closely and communicate the results with our regulators.

Before the Selective Water Withdrawal was constructed, juvenile fish development was delayed due to unnaturally cold water released from the dam. These fish were smaller in size when migrating to the ocean, lowering their odds of survival.

The SWW enables us to correct this issue, mixing surface and bottom water to create a blend that more closely matches what the river would be like without the dam’s presence.

The SWW has helped restore a more natural temperature pattern, with warmer water released in the spring and summer and cooler water released in the fall and winter.

To determine the appropriate water blend throughout the year, we compare discharge temperatures to a model of how the river would warm without the dams, and aim to match this calculated temperature.

Water Quality Study

In February 2015, we kicked off a multi-year study to learn more about water quality in the Lower Deschutes River, the reservoirs and the major tributaries – the Metolius, Upper Deschutes and Crooked Rivers. By utilizing extensive data and sophisticated models, this study allows us, for the first time, to gain a more complete understanding of the complex relationships that determine conditions throughout the Deschutes River system.

In this study, as in all our research, we followed scientific procedures for data collection and publication so that the information we release is thorough and accurate.

Before it is released, the water quality study will be peer-reviewed by other scientists. We anticipate that it will be available to the public in early summer 2019. Read more about Deschutes water quality.

“We’re working hard in the Deschutes basin to track water quality. We have 20 locations that we check regularly, including monthly sampling at sites upstream of the Pelton Round Butte Project, in the reservoirs, and extending throughout the Lower Deschutes River.”
Lori Campbell, Portland General Electric Water Quality Specialist

Investing in the Deschutes Basin

PGE and the Tribes established the Pelton Round Butte Fund to improve water quality and enhance habitat for fish throughout the entire Deschutes basin.

Through this fund, we support local watershed and conservation groups with efforts above and below the Project.

Visit our Pelton Round Butte Fund page to see an interactive map of funded projects.

We’ve supported 45 projects to date and we’re on track to award $21 million by 2020. $10 million is earmarked for projects that improve water quality and water quantity.

Projects have helped remove fish passage barriers, stabilize stream banks, restore channels and floodplains and conserve water.

Before and after Crook County Soil and Water Conservation District’s habitat recovery project at Hidden Falls, supported through by the Pelton Round Butte Fund. The project improved fish habitat by providing shade and restoring riparian vegetation.

“We’re thinking about the entire basin from the headwaters down, and what’s happening in all of those areas. Everything is connected.”
Bobby Brunoe, Confederated Tribes of Warm Spring, Natural Resources – General Manager

Protecting wildlife, restoring habitat

A robust population of bald eagles, golden eagles, ospreys and prairie falcons live near the Pelton Round Butte Project in addition to a wide variety of other bird species. We perform extensive avian surveys and monitor raptors to learn more about their behavior, populations and range within the Deschutes basin.

Each year, we’re proud to participate alongside our partners in events like Eagle Watch, encouraging members of the public to join us in celebrating the biodiversity of Central Oregon.

We also plant shoreline vegetation to improve riparian habitat for aquatic and terrestrial species.

The Metolius Mule Deer Winter Range is 160,000 acres of land situated between the Deschutes and Metolius arms of Lake Billy Chinook. This area provides critical winter habitat for mule deer, elk, bats and other wildlife. We coordinate with the Bureau of Land Management, the United States Forest Service, and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to manage and monitor the land. By aligning our work, we maximize efforts and create larger blocks of wildlife habitat.

Habitat restoration

Learn more about some of the other work we do within our project areas to improve habitat for fish and wildlife:

Background: Some of the most heavily used spawning gravels bars for wild native Chinook salmon, steelhead and redband trout are found downstream of the Reregulating Dam. When the dams were constructed in the 1950s and 1960s, gravel from upstream was blocked from being naturally deposited downstream. The first source of sediment input downstream of the Reregulating Dam occurs at Shitike Creek on the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Reservation, approximately 3.5 miles downstream.

Phase 1 We launched a Phase I Gravel Study to determine how gravel and sediment were being transported and to identify any changes in the quantity or quality of spawning gravel used by salmon and steelhead. We conducted extensive field monitoring from 2007 to 2014 to collect this data. Compared to other rivers, the Deschutes has an extremely stable year-round flow pattern. We found that most gravel transport occurs in local, limited areas and the overall rate of gravel loss is very low. The quality of spawning gravel was found to be excellent for survival of developing trout embryos. An expert panel reviewed the Gravel Study results from Phase 1 and made recommendations for a Phase 2 program.

Phase 2 The specific recommendations from the expert panel are to 1) enhance one or two island heads 2) increase available spawning habitat for redband trout and steelhead at the islands 3) enhance an existing riffle/side-channel to increase fall Chinook, steelhead and redband trout spawning habitats, and 4) implement a monitoring and assessment strategy. Phase 2 began pre-monitoring work in 2017, and we will be placing spawning gravel and large wood into the two sites in Fall 2019.

Background: The Lower Deschutes River flows for 100 miles in a deep desert canyon with white alder trees along the banks and cottonwood trees on islands. Large wood provides cover and shelter for both fish and other wildlife in the channels. When the dams were constructed more than 50 years ago, large wood from tributaries entered Lake Billy Chinook, as opposed to being naturally transported downstream to the Lower Deschutes River.

Our Work: Large wood found in Lake Billy Chinook is removed and transferred downstream annually. Each piece is tagged and tracked using GPS to monitor the movements of large wood after placement. We conduct surveys in the spring to monitor how fish and wildlife are using large wood.

Results: We’ve moved a total of 329 pieces to the Lower Deschutes, relocating large wood as far as 25 miles downstream from original placement. We hope to enhance ecological function as wood abundance increases along the Lower Deschutes.

Download the Large Wood Fact Sheet PGE for more details.

Background: One of the few remaining populations of wild native summer steelhead is found in the Trout Creek Basin. For more than a century, steelhead habitat has been impacted by land use activities. We purchased Trout Creek Ranch in 1999, where more than three miles of Trout Creek flow on the ranch.

Our Work: As part of the Trout Creek Habitat Enhancement Project, we initiated a channel restoration project on Trout Creek to support the production of summer steelhead.

More than 25,000 native trees, shrubs and grasses were also planted along the new channel, and floodplains were seeded with native grasses and forbs.

Results: Summer steelhead began spawning in the project area the year following construction. There have been several high flows, which spill out onto the floodplain and deposit sediment. Summer flows are still very low and the water is warm, so juvenile steelhead migrate downstream after hatching to rear in the Deschutes river for one to two years before migrating to sea.

See the Trout Creek Habitat Enhancement Project Fact Sheet PGE for more details.

The high desert region of Central Oregon is an unparalleled destination for recreation. PGE and the Tribes work hard to maintain and upgrade our existing facilities and create new opportunities for the public to experience the dramatic landscapes of the Deschutes basin.

Recreation on the reservoirs Lake Billy Chinook and Lake Simtustus, the reservoirs created by Round Butte and Pelton dams, are two of the most cherished recreation areas in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest, offering excellent opportunities for fishing, boating, paddling and wildlife viewing.


PGE provides camping opportunities at Pelton Park on Lake Simtustus, and Monty and Perry South campgrounds on the Metolius arm of Lake Billy Chinook.

The Cove Palisades State Park PGE is another great option for those wanting to sleep under the stars after a full day of family fun on Lake Billy Chinook.

Day-use Come see what the Deschutes basin is all about by visiting one of our day-use areas. Don’t forget your binoculars!

For more information, check out these resources:

“Reintroducing salmon and steelhead into their historic habitats is an amazing opportunity and responsibility. I feel very fortunate to take part in this important effort, and to live, work and play in the Deschutes basin every day.”
Megan Hill, Portland General Electric, Manager East Side Biological Services

Visit this page to access fish counts, fact sheets and recent studies, information on water quality, upcoming events and more.

Learn more about the Pelton Round Butte Fish Committee PBR Fish Committee’s strategies for reintroducing salmon and steelhead to the Deschutes.