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.

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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