Deschutes Updates

Since building our first fish ladder in 1907, we’ve been innovating to keep fish populations strong on the Deschutes.

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.

Thanks for joining us at the 2022 Fisheries Workshop

Aug. 2, 2022

Thank you to everyone who joined us – in-person or on Zoom – for our annual Deschutes Fisheries Workshop. If you missed the event, check out a recording PGE of the workshop and list of timestamps PGE for each presentation. Additional information and relevant studies referenced at the workshop can be found in the 2022 Workshop Resources document PGE.

Revising our Water Quality Management and Monitoring Plan (WQMMP)

Sep. 3, 2021

As some of you might be aware, we’ve started the process of revising the project’s Water Quality Management and Monitoring Plan (WQMMP). Here’s a high-level review of what this document is, why it’s being revised, and what to expect from the process.

What is the WQMMP?

The WQMMP is a detailed document that describes the relevant water quality standards and monitoring and management plans at the project for various water quality objectives, such as dissolved oxygen (DO), temperature and pH. It also includes information on the timing and location of our monitoring, our plans for achieving water quality objectives and additional details.

What is a 401 Certification?

When the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issues a license for a hydroelectric project, the state or Native American Reservation where the project is located also issues a water quality certification, as required by section 401 of the Clean Water Act.

Pelton Round Butte sits in both state and tribal waters, so it required two 401 certifications when FERC last relicensed the project in 2005: one from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and one from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Water Control Board (WCB). DEQ and the WCB issued their certifications in 2002, and FERC incorporated those conditions into the project’s 2005 license.

Why is DEQ considering revisions to the WQMMP?

The Licensees – PGE and the Tribes – submitted proposed revisions of the WQMMP to DEQ in spring of 2020, with the goal of bringing the document up to date to reflect current state standards for temperature and dissolved oxygen (DO). Because the WQMMP is a condition of DEQ’s 401 certification, DEQ is processing the proposed WQMMP revisions as a modification to its 401 certification conditions.

In 2004, after the project’s 401 certifications were issued, DEQ revised the water quality standards for DO and temperature throughout the state, including those applicable to the Deschutes River. This change was made based on a better scientific understanding of the DO and temperature needs of salmonids. The revised state standards, however, were not reflected in the WQMMP.

In 2004, after the project’s 401 certifications were issued, DEQ revised the water quality standards for DO and temperature throughout the state, including those applicable to the Deschutes River. This change was made based on a better scientific understanding of the DO and temperature needs of salmonids. The revised state standards, however, were not reflected in the WQMMP.

In 2010, the project’s Selective Water Withdrawal (SWW), which is used to meet water quality and fish passage objectives, became operational. By 2011, it was apparent that the current (2004) state standards, rather than the outdated 2002 standards, provided a better balance among the sometimes-conflicting fish passage and water quality objectives. As a result, DEQ and the WCB agreed that the project’s adaptive management efforts should be based on the current (2004) standards. This agreement was reflected in a series of roughly annual Interim Agreements with DEQ and the WCB.

The Interim Agreements were used from 2011 to 2020. They were in place for an extended period for two main reasons: 1) to allow time for the Licensees to evaluate management and monitoring measures to achieve the best balance of water quality and fish passage objectives and 2) the Tribes have been considering revisions to their water quality standards.

In 2020, rather than going through another year of Interim Agreements, DEQ, the WCB, and the Licensees decided to move forward with revising the information in the WQMMP to be consistent with current standards and the information acquired since the SWW began operation.

What is the extent of the proposed revisions to the WQMMP?

There are no major operational changes planned as a result of this revision. The project has been operating for years to achieve the best balance of water quality and fish passage objectives under temporary documents called Interim Agreements. The proposed revisions are largely consistent with the Interim Agreements, simply incorporating current state standards into the WQMMP, our guiding document.

Our previous WQMMP was written prior to construction of the Selective Water Withdrawal facility – the centerpiece of our new license and one of our primary tools for managing water quality at the project – so there are additional minor updates needed throughout the document to reflect this change. There are also some additional considerations for SWW operations prior to June 15 to improve fish capture.

What does all this mean, in a nutshell?

The WQMMP, as it currently stands, has been out of sync with current state standards for almost 20 years and does not sufficiently reflect information gained through operation of the SWW. Through this revision, the Licensees are hoping to bring our guiding documents up to date.

What’s next?

DEQ is considering the proposed WQMMP revisions and intends to issue a draft for public comment (at least a 60-day period) before making a final decision to approve the revised document. The Tribes’ WCB and FERC will also need to approve any revisions before the revised WQMMP can take effect.

Perhaps most importantly, there will be a formal process for you to review the proposed revisions to the WQMMP and to make up your own mind about the significance of the changes. We will share more information about the timing of the public process when it’s available to us.

Feel free to reach out to deschutes.passage@pgn.com with any questions.

Water Quality Update

Aug 11, 2021

– Megan Hill, natural resources manager at Pelton Round Butte Just a quick note to let you know where things stand with water temperature management at Pelton Round Butte. Currently, our discharge temperatures at Madras are 57.2⁰F (14.0⁰ C). The calculated without project temperature is 58.5⁰F (14.7⁰ C).

Our mandate for temperature management is to keep our discharge temperatures below, but as close as possible, to the WTP. This is currently being achieved by releasing 45% bottom water. As in previous years, we are now at the time of year, mid-August, when we move to fully open the bottom gates (resulting in 60% bottom water).

After consulting with our regulators (CTWS, ODFW and DEQ), this change was made today, August 11, meaning that we will be discharging the coolest water possible through these upcoming hot days. This is the temperature management program working as designed. By following the WTP, the cool bottom water reserves were saved for mid-August to September when it will be most needed, according to the EPA cold water refuge plan.

For those of you tracking dissolved oxygen, you will note that we’ve started spilling at the Reregulating Dam. Spilling is our main tool to boost oxygen levels in the lower river and ensure they stay above 9 mg/L or 98% saturation. D.O. levels are measured hourly, and spill schedule is adjusted accordingly. However, based on previous years’ operations we anticipate we will likely continue to spill water through mid-October.

Check out highlights from the Fisheries Workshop

Aug. 4, 2021

– Megan Hill, natural resources manager at Pelton Round Butte

Thank you to everyone who joined us for the 27th Annual Fisheries Workshop. For those of you who weren’t able to join, you can view the full recording PGE online. And because we are kind and know that you probably don’t want to watch all 5.5 hours in one sitting, here is a guide to the video so you can fast-forward to presentations that pique your interest. Thanks to all the speakers who took time to prepare informative and engaging talks.

Reintroduction Roadmap – Megan Hill 8:55 – 19:00 I provided a short presentation on the Reintroduction Roadmap PBR Fish Committee, tying our various projects (discussed in more detail throughout the day) to our long-term goal of restoring self-sustaining and harvestable runs of Chinook, sockeye and steelhead.

Lamprey and the Tribes – Lyman Jim 19:49 – 31:40 In many ways, this was my favorite presentation of the workshop. Lyman talked about the importance of lamprey to him personally and to the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs. It was a welcomed break from the more science-focused presentations and helped remind us why we do this work and that there are other ways of learning about fishes.

Lamprey eDNA study – Jenna Keeton 35:12 – 49:27 Jenna presented on the first ever grant from the Pelton Round Butte Lamprey Research Fund. Tune in to learn about the application of this relatively new technology, eDNA, in the Deschutes Basin.

Pelton Fund Project Update – Mike Riehle 56:33 – 1:08:23 The USFS has a long history of habitat improvement projects in the Metolius. Learn about their latest efforts to improve stream habitat in cooperation with Trout Unlimited and Camp Caldera.

Biology of the Oregon Spotted Frog – Jennifer O’Reilly 1:16:43 – 1:32:58 Take a break from the policy side of the Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) to learn about the biology of the frog. In her talk, Jen started a discussion of the “mega drought,” which became a theme of the day as people talked about the changes they were seeing due to the high temperatures and low flows.

5-Year Hatchery Review – Dan Warren and Jeannie Heltzel 1:49:21 – 2:05:06 This one is for the procedure people out there. We have a license requirement to bring to you every five years a review of Round Butte Hatchery operations. Dan and Jeannie gave a concise summary of their efforts to review the program for consistency with 19 federal, regional, and state fish management plans, as well as the results of the 90-question Hatchery Program Viewer tool they used to complete their review. If you are interested in commenting on this draft report after watching this presentation, email deschutes.passage@pgn.com for a copy.

Water Quality Update – Lori Campbell 2:08:37 – 2:24:56 Lori reviewed the 2020 temperature, dissolved oxygen and pH monitoring results. We’ve been getting lots of questions about our temperature management this year, so she also spoke for a few minutes about our current temperatures. Finally, she ended with a quick walkthrough of the Fish Committee’s new water quality graphic, which shows some high-level water quality processes.

Smolt Acclimation – Terry Shrader 2:29:56 – 2:45:02 Terry discussed the evolution of our collaborative smolt acclimation program. He talked about our early results and ongoing challenges. Acclimation is one of the big changes we’re making that I think has the most opportunity to improve reintroduction results (especially when coupled with nighttime generation and a guide net).

Juvenile Migration – Gonzalo Mendez 2:48:27 – 3:05:25 Gonzalo covered highlights of our annual juvenile migration monitoring. He then segued to discuss some new monitoring we completed in 2020 where we used sonar to understand fish behavior in front of the collector. This study changed how we operated Round Butte in 2021 and provides insight into bull trout behavior.

SWW Downstream Passage and Stress Relief Pond – Rich Madden 3:10:22 – 3:24:03 Rich gave a report on our annual SWW passage numbers. He also talked about our new stress relief pond, which hopefully will give fish leaving the project a better chance of surviving to the ocean (and returning to us as adults).

Lower River Fishery Update – Jason Seals 3:28:57 – 3:49:06 Hear from Jason on the research ODFW is doing to monitor the fish populations in the Lower Deschutes. He talked about both encouraging and concerning trends in anadromous fish populations. He discussed the results of their redband trout population studies as well as ODFW’s efforts to track smallmouth bass use of the river.

Phase II Gravel Augmentation – Becky Burchell 3:51:00 – 4:05:39 In 2019, we placed gravel in the Lower Deschutes River to bolster fish habitat and support islands. Becky reported our initial evaluations to understand how fish are using the gravel.

Polychaete Sampling – Stacy Strickland 4:08:36 – 4:21:16 One question from the initial gravel study, completed in 2014, was if the new gravel deposits were increasing the habitat for the polychaetes (worms) that lead to C. shasta. Listen to Stacy’s talk to learn what she’s finding during the first year of her study.

Adult Returns to the Upper Deschutes Basin – Becky Burchell 4:25:37 – 4:43:28 Becky ended the day with a summary of the 2020 adult returns. They weren’t good. Thankfully, she also talked about what we’re seeing this year, and the 147 Chinook currently looking for spawning habitat upstream of the Project.

Stay tuned for updates

Aug. 2, 2021

– Megan Hill, natural resources manager at Pelton Round Butte

Hi all,

I’m excited to announce that we’re going to start using this page a little differently. Going forward, we’re going to use this space to provide updates from the biologists at Pelton Round Butte about what we are seeing in the field, and to address questions we’re hearing from you.

We already have several posts envisioned for the next month or so. Terry Shrader, fish biologist, is going to write about how the Project impacts Moody temperatures. Later this summer, Lori Campbell, water quality specialist, is going to talk about how the bottom water temperatures of Lake Billy Chinook change (or don’t) during drought conditions like we’re experiencing right now (and if we’re seeing any longer-term trends in bottom water temperatures).

I’m going to write about why we provide year-round fish passage, and how that relates to our temperature management program. Later in September, Becky Burchell, fisheries supervisor, will provide a synopsis of our 2021 spring Chinook run, and where those 147 fish spawned in the upper basin.

We hope you’ll be patient with us as we get this started; we know it won’t be perfect. Distilling information into short but accurate pieces is tough, but we will give it a try. For those of you who want to go deeper, we’ll try to provide links to the full reports/studies. I hope that over time this will be a reliable place for timely information about the project. Please continue to send us your questions and feedback to deschutes.passage@pgn.com as we try this out so we can make this as useful as possible.

Thanks, Megan

Summer heat and water temperature management at Pelton Round Butte

Q&A with fish biologist Megan Hill 

July 21, 2021

Hot summer weather and drought are causing warm water temperatures and low flows throughout the West, including in the Deschutes River. These conditions can be alarming for river users, and – understandably – PGE is hearing a lot of questions.

Megan Hill, fish biologist and manager of biological services at Pelton Round Butte, shares some information about how PGE and the Tribes are managing these conditions.

MH: To manage temperature, we blend water from the surface and bottom of Lake Billy Chinook to match as closely as possible the without-project temperature (WPT), or the temperature we would expect the river to be if the dams and reservoirs weren’t there. During the summer months, Lori, our water quality specialist, runs a regression to figure out our target temperature based on inflow temperatures from the tributaries. She then determines what blend of bottom and surface water would allow us to match that target temperature. Today, July 21, the calculated WPT is 59⁰ F. The temperature of water we’re releasing, as measured at the Madras USGS gage, is 57.6⁰ F. Throughout 2021, even when air temperatures reached 116⁰ F, the temperature of the Lower Deschutes River in Madras remained below 62⁰ F.

When it comes to flows, we are a run-of-river project. This means the amount of water we release from the project into the Lower Deschutes is always within 10% of the total flows coming into the reservoirs. We sum the flows of the Metolius, Crooked, and Upper Deschutes Rivers, as well as several smaller tributaries and springs that flow directly into the reservoirs, and match our outflow to that value. Currently, the flow at Madras is 3,760 CFS.

MH: Releasing water that matches the calculated WPT results in more natural seasonal temperature patterns in the lower river. These are temperatures the native Deschutes River fish depend on.

This approach ensures that spring temperatures are conducive to fall Chinook growth and helps us save cooler water for the fall when these fish return to spawn. Fall Chinook are hugely important to the ecosystem and runs in the Lower Deschutes since 1977 have historically ranged between 4,500 to over 20,000 fish per year (according to ODFW data).

Additionally, by matching our outflow to inflows, we ensure that we’re not rapidly fluctuating water levels in the Deschutes, which could cause negative impacts such as habitat loss, erosion, stranding juvenile fish or exposing redds (salmon/steelhead nests).

MH: In all but the most extreme circumstances, our license dictates that we continue to follow the procedures described above. However, there is a specific provision that would have us augment flows for fall Chinook between September 16 and November 15 if flows drop below 3,000 CFS. This has never been triggered, but we are closely watching flows this year and are prepared to respond if needed.

There is also an emergency fish provision that could trigger changes to our temperature blend or flows after approval. Our license requires that any changes to our operation must be made in consultation with our Fish Committee, which is comprised of 10 natural resource agencies and NGOs. These changes then must be approved by DEQ and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Water Control Board as well as FERC prior to implementation. While this process may sound cumbersome, I think it’s important because it helps ensure that impulsive changes aren’t made today that would end up having negative consequences later in the year.

MH: Unfortunately, we have a limited supply of cold water in Lake Billy Chinook. If we use it up now, we won’t have it when we need it later in the summer to keep the river cool.

The EPA recently completed a review of Cold Water Refugia, which includes discussion of Round Butte Dam operations. One of their recommendations was to operate the SWW to maximize cold water releases in August and September when the Deschutes Coldwater Refuge gets the most use by migrating salmon and steelhead. If we were to release more cold water now, we would risk not having enough at this critical time of year.

MH: On June 23, we switched from 15% to 25% bottom water to better match the WPT. On July 10, the SWW required a temporary shutdown due to high debris. As a result, the bottom gates were fully opened for three days, dropping our release temperature to approximately 54.5⁰ F. DEQ, the Tribes’ Water Control Board and ODFW were made aware of the issue, and we worked quickly to get the facility back online so our release temperatures could more closely match WPT once again, making sure that we are saving cold water for later in the summer.

MH: This summer (June 15 to present) our release temperatures have ranged from 53.8⁰ F to 61.2⁰ F, with peak temperatures occurring between July 3 and July 11. Since 2010, when SWW operations began, summer temperatures exceeded 60⁰ F in four different years: 2010, 2015, 2018 and this year. Before the SWW was built, summer temperatures exceeded 60⁰ F in at least three years: 1958, 1973 and 1974. (The USGS gage provides temperature data from 1952-1956, 1958, 1971-1988 and 2005-2009.)

There is no question that stream flows throughout the basin are low, despite a decent snowpack. This year is unlike any other since I started working here 15 years ago, and it’s very worrying for fish, farmers and fire. While flows in the Lower Deschutes remain below average, they are still within their historical range. Currently, our July average flow at Madras is 3,627 CFS. Flows were lower than this in 1994 and were similar (within 100 CFS) in 1992, 2020, 1991, 2001, 2003 and 2005.

MH: I share the concerns I’m hearing about the impacts of recent high temperatures and low flows throughout our basin (and the West). We’ve adapted our fisheries protocols to minimize added stress to fish during these extreme conditions. For example, we are doing our work earlier in the day when weather is cooler, and we’re reducing handling and tagging of adult Chinook and sockeye.

Thankfully, since the SWW became operational, temperatures at Madras have typically peaked between July 12 and July 19. This means that we’re likely through the worst of it, and we should start to see things cooling off. Regardless, we will continue to monitor the situation and will consult the Fish Committee and our regulators regarding flow and temperature management as things change.

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