Updates & Events – 2020

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.

Teaming up and camping out

Dec. 15, 2020

In early November, a group of researchers pitched their tents and braved the chilly weather for several days along the Lower Deschutes in the name of science. The project team, which includes staff from the Middle Deschutes Watershed Council, Cramer Fish Sciences, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, and Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), is conducting a multi-part study concerning lamprey presence in the Lower Deschutes. This study – the first project selected to receive support from PGE's Lamprey Fund – will hopefully help us gain a clearer picture of where lamprey reside in the Deschutes and its tributaries.

The project team warms up by a fire at their campsite before starting a long (and chilly) day of sampling.
The project team warms up by a fire at their campsite before starting a long (and chilly) day of sampling.

Camping out provided the team with easy access to their study locations. From Friday through Sunday, the team rose early to raft the river, stopping to collect water samples every 1,000 meters. This sampling proved tricky, requiring the team to backpaddle in place in the face of strong river currents. “Luckily, we had two professional river guides on our team, one of which works for the SWCD” said Jenna Keeton, Watershed Coordinator for the Middle Deschutes Watershed Council. Three days on the river were followed by a day of sampling in Trout Creek, a Deschutes tributary just north of the small town of Gateway. Several PGE employees tagged along for this work, which involved stopping at five locations along the creek to collect water samples. These samples will be tested for environmental DNA (eDNA), which provides information on the kinds of creatures living in the creek upstream of where the samples were collected. Using eDNA allows the researchers to identify the presence of lamprey without needing to see or handle the fish. eDNA can be found in skin cells, mucus, saliva, feces, and other byproducts animals may shed into their aquatic environment.

One of the researchers sets up equipment to take eDNA samples.
One of the researchers sets up equipment to take eDNA samples.

Ultimately, the information gleaned from this study will help agencies decide where to invest in lamprey habitat restoration. “We’re really just doing this project to figure out if lamprey are present. If they’re present, great, if they’re not, maybe we can do something to boost their potential populations in Trout Creek,” said Keeton. “The driving force behind this work is to honor lamprey as a first food for the Warm Springs, Wasco, and Paiute Tribes.” These sampling sites will be tested again in the spring or summer, to see if lamprey presence changes seasonally in these locations. NOTE: The project crew received tests for COVID-19 (and negative results) prior to beginning their work together.

Learning about lamprey

Oct. 14, 2020

On New Year’s Day, we began accepting project proposals for the Pelton Round Butte Lamprey Fund, a new fund dedicated to identifying, researching and enhancing lamprey populations and habitat in the Lower Deschutes River.

All project proposals are reviewed by the Lamprey Fund Advisory Committee, a group of representatives from numerous partner agencies and organizations. In July, the committee approved its first proposal – a research project from the Middle Deschutes Watershed Council, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and Cramer Fish Sciences.

The team’s research has three main goals:

  1. Develop a model to detect the presence of lamprey without using traditional visual survey methods

  2. Determine the occurrence and distribution of lamprey in lower Trout Creek

  3. Map how lamprey return to Shitike Creek after a fish barrier is removed in July 2021

Together, these sub-projects will help expand our knowledge of lamprey populations below the Pelton Round Butte Hydroelectric Project. Compared to other anadromous fish navigating the Deschutes River, there is still much to learn about lamprey populations and their behavior.

Juvenile lamprey at our hydropower project on the Clackamas River

The three collaborating organizations kicked off their first sub-project – developing a model for lamprey detection – at the end of September. Results from this first experiment will allow the project team to continue with distribution studies in lower Trout Creek starting in November. The area might undergo restoration activities by state and federal natural resource agencies over the next decade, so determining lamprey distribution can inform future floodplain and in-stream enhancement efforts.

Additional research will also help us understand how lamprey respond to the removal of a concrete fish barrier in Shitike Creek. Previously, barrier-removal projects might not have addressed the unique needs of lamprey, but with this research available, project managers can consider best practices for helping these fascinating fish.

Learn more about the Pelton Round Butte Lamprey Fund.

Water Quality Check-in

Aug. 20, 2020

One year ago, we released an extensive multiyear study on water quality conditions in the tributaries, reservoirs and Lower Deschutes River. You may be wondering, what have PGE, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and the Pelton Round Butte Fish Committee been doing with regard to water quality since then?

Fish Committee Water Quality Subgroup

Shortly after the study's release, the Fish Committee formed a working group to discuss the study, explore options and propose next steps. The subgroup includes representatives from PGE, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Branch of Natural Resources, U.S. Forest Service, Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Native Fish Society and Trout Unlimited.

The subgroup has met multiple times and has identified some actions that will likely benefit water quality in the Deschutes Basin, including the reduction of phosphorous and nitrogen in the Crooked River. The subgroup also recommends further study in the reservoirs as well as investigation into the potential benefits of a “flushing flow.”

Prior to completing their draft recommendations for in-depth discussion with the Fish Committee, however, an error was discovered in the water quality study data.

The Deschutes River

Water Quality Study Revision

While preparing an article about water quality on the Lower Deschutes River for submission to a peer-reviewed scientific journal, our lead water quality consultant shared his draft with the lab that analyzed periphyton samples for the 2019 water quality study.

In reviewing the draft, the lab discovered it had incorrectly calculated the prevalence of four periphyton taxa (out of over 400 total taxa). This laboratory error affects the 2019 report’s discussion and interpretations of nutrient and algae dynamics in the Lower Deschutes River.

In light of this, our consultant is revising the report. The extent of revision required is not yet fully known, but we do know that parts of the study involving periphyton data and analysis, including conclusions made about nutrient/algae dynamics, will need to be revisited.

Technician using water quality testing equipment

It’s unfortunate that the error was not spotted earlier, but we’re grateful it has since been discovered. Correcting the error and reanalyzing the data is an important step to help inform our ongoing scientific review of Deschutes water quality.

The Water Quality subgroup will continue to evaluate and investigate water quality management options in the meantime, but we know it’s important to have complete, accurate data at our fingertips before reaching conclusions and moving forward with a final plan.

For more information about the data error and our ongoing water quality monitoring, visit our Water Quality webpage.

Thanks for attending our workshop webinar!

Aug. 5, 2020

Thank you to the nearly 100 people who attended our first ever virtual fisheries workshop on July 23. 

Workshop highlights included:

  • An overview of habitat restoration efforts funded by the Pelton Fund and the introduction of two new funds: one in support of Crooked River work and the other focused on lamprey habitat and research.

  • Juvenile fish passage efforts, including smolt acclimation, screw trap studies and passage through the SWW.

  • Updates on our gravel study, large wood placement and bedload monitoring efforts.

  • A recap of adult fish migration in the upstream tributaries.

  • A discussion of water quality monitoring and management at the project.

  • The impressive early results at the Opal Springs' fish ladder.

One common thread throughout these presentations was the need to adapt to challenging circumstances, namely unusually high flows in the winter of 2019 and pandemic response in 2020. We're proud of our staff and partners for adjusting to these difficulties and continuing to prioritize Deschutes Basin fish and wildlife.

Watch a complete recording PGE of the 2020 workshop.

Join us for our first ever virtual Fisheries Workshop

June 25, 2020

We’re disappointed that we won’t be able to see our stakeholders in person this year but look forward to hosting our annual fisheries workshop online for the first time ever.

Join us for a few hours in July to hear the latest updates from Deschutes Basin fisheries experts.

Download the workshop agenda. PGE

When: July 23, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. Where: Online, GoTo Webinar virtual platform Sign up: RSVP to let us know you’ll be there. PGE

Busy Days on the Deschutes

June 18, 2020

Visitors passing by the Lower Deschutes River during the last few months may have been surprised to see our staff out on the water. What are biologists doing on a boat in the middle of a pandemic? PGE provides an essential service to our customers, and in order to generate electricity, we are obligated to perform certain environmental protection measures, including much of our fisheries work.

What work is taking place on the lower river this spring and summer?

We are currently working on the second phase of our Lower River Gravel Study. This seven-year project involves multiple smaller studies on the Deschutes, including the following efforts taking place this spring.

  • Worm Sampling:

    Manayunkia speciosa is a worm species that acts as an intermediate host for Ceratanova shasta (C. shasta), a parasite that affects salmonids on the Pacific coast. These worms release spores that can infect fish on contact. Like many viruses that affect people, C. shasta has variable impacts on the individuals it touches, and there’s still a great deal we don’t know about the parasite. That’s why every other year, PGE and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife participate in a one-day effort to sample these worms. This ongoing study helps us learn more about the prevalence and spread of C. shasta

     in the Lower Deschutes.

  • Snorkel Surveys:

    Biologists are snorkeling several locations featuring underwater dunes and an area where we placed gravel last year. These snorkel surveys help us learn more about how fish and wildlife utilize gravel in the Lower Deschutes.

  • Redd Surveys:

    Every other week from mid-October through June, our biologists look for redds (salmon and trout nests) on the Lower Deschutes River. We identify and map fall Chinook, redband trout and steelhead redds at specific locations, including sites where we’ve placed gravel.

Biologist Micah Bennet snorkels the Lower Deschutes River to observe fish and gravel movement.
Fisheries staff wade along the river to identify and mark redds.

Why are these projects important?

All of these efforts are part of the Phase II Lower River Gravel Study. This multi-year project has involved monitoring, the placement of gravel, boulders, and trees, and extensive data collection on the Lower Deschutes. 

Ultimately, the study will help us evaluate whether we need to implement a long-term gravel augmentation program. Our gravel study has been a massive undertaking and will provide fisheries managers with valuable information about gravel dynamics and uses in the Lower River, helping us make science-based decisions for the benefit of the river.

What precautions are we taking on the river to prevent the spread of COVID-19?

We have been using individual pontoon boats whenever possible to keep employees six feet apart. When maintaining this distance isn’t possible, we wear face coverings, eye protection and gloves. While conducting fieldwork, our staff maintain physical distance and continue to follow our standard safety procedures.

Pelton Round Butte during COVID-19

May 11, 2020

We’ve been hearing a number of questions lately about our fisheries work during the COVID-19 crisis. Here are some answers to the most common questions:

Why are PGE fisheries staff still working in the field?

Generating and distributing electricity is an essential service – PGE needs to keep the lights on for our customers. Many of our employees, in Portland and at our generation facilities, are considered essential workers during the pandemic. To operate our hydropower plants, we are required by law to perform certain environmental protection measures. Our fisheries work is included in these requirements.

What kinds of work are still taking place? Why are these actions considered essential?

We’re still passing fish around our dams every day. This includes operating our Pelton trap for collecting adult fish and the Selective Water Withdrawal for collecting juveniles. Not only is facilitating fish passage a license requirement, it’s also important for the ecological function of the Deschutes River Basin. Fish and wildlife need to move freely, even during a global pandemic.

Additionally, we’re continuing to work on other required fish and wildlife studies. These include studying fish habitat, conducting snorkel studies, tracking adult fish by radio antenna, sampling water quality, and identifying and mapping redds (salmon/trout nests). All of these studies are required by our license. They also allow us to collect data on fish movement, survival, spawning, and behavior. This data helps us and our partners in the Deschutes Basin assess and improve our fisheries strategies.

What precautions are being taken to slow the spread of the virus?

PGE takes the safety of our employees seriously. We’re working in smaller groups and in staggered shifts. Additionally, we’re maintaining 6 feet of distance whenever possible. This means some of our work looks different or takes longer than it normally would, but we’re adapting to these challenges because we know they’re important. When we can’t maintain 6 feet of distance, we wear masks.

Smolt Acclimation: a gentle entry to the Deschutes Basin

April 14, 2020

Salmon and steelhead use their sense of smell to find their way home from the ocean. But what happens if they can't remember what home smells like? In recent years, fisheries managers in the Deschutes Basin have started using a strategy called smolt acclimation to give fish a leg up. In this process, juvenile Chinook and steelhead are held in-stream for one to two weeks in net pens, tanks or wire cages called live cars.

PGE fish biologist Terry Shrader loads Chinook into a net pen in the Metolius Pond.

Forcing fish to spend more time within the tributary prior to migration helps them become accustomed to water conditions and develop the olfactory cues needed to find that same stream when returning as adults. Studies show that acclimated smolts are more likely to undergo the complete process of smoltification – the biological/physiological changes that prepare fish to migrate to the ocean – and are more successful at finding their home stream when it comes time to spawn.

In 2019, only a small number of steelhead had a chance to acclimate due to snowy disruptions during the early part of the season. This year, we may be acclimating as many as 100,000 Chinook and 100,000 steelhead in several Deschutes tributaries using a variety of methods.

PGE, ODFW, and volunteers from the Deschutes Land Trust loaded steelhead into live cars in Ochoco Creek. Photo credit: Patrick Buresh

Thanks to the help of staff and volunteers from ODFW, PGE, CTWS and other community partners, Chinook were placed in their acclimation pens in early March and steelhead made their Deschutes Basin debut in early April. Most batches of Chinook have already been released after spending 10-18 days in the water, while steelhead will be allowed to continue their migration in April or May.

Social distancing measures have changed our operations somewhat. PGE and ODFW are no longer taking assistance from volunteers – a decision we know may disappoint some of the eager helpers who signed up to participate. We have also reduced the number of staff working at a time and are ensuring that employees keep a safe distance from one another.

Live cars in Ochoco Creek

In spite of the changing circumstances, we’re hopeful that this year’s process will provide helpful data and result in stronger adult returns. Many of the acclimated smolts are being given PIT-tags so that we can evaluate differences between various species, acclimation sites and acclimation strategies. Moving forward, this information will allow us to fine-tune the whole process and help us reach our long-term goal: sustainable, harvestable fish runs in the Deschutes Basin.

Shining a spotlight on Pacific lamprey

Feb. 18, 2020

Most Oregonians are familiar with salmon and understand the importance of restoring their habitats, protecting their waters, and advancing reintroduction efforts like ours on the Deschutes. After all, Pacific Northwest salmon species are charismatic – brightly colored, fun to catch, tasty to eat, and culturally and economically significant to the region.

But there’s another fish species with similar traits whose recovery tends to receive less attention. These animals also migrate from freshwater to the ocean and back again, bringing marine nutrients with them upstream. Their numbers have also declined over the decades, due in part to habitat loss and passage barriers. And they’re also an important ceremonial food source for Native American tribes. That’s right: we’re talking about Pacific lamprey.

Lampreys can be easily identified by their distinctive sucker mouths and eel-like bodies. (Despite similarities in appearance, lampreys are not related to eels, but rather jawless fishes.)

Like salmon, lamprey populations were once present throughout the Deschutes Basin but were extirpated from the upper tributaries when the Pelton Round Butte project was constructed. We don’t have much information about lamprey distribution in the Deschutes today, but do know that some of these fish still reside in the tributaries of the Lower Deschutes River.

To help restore lamprey habitat and facilitate their recovery, PGE and the Tribes recently launched a new $3 million fund, supporting both restoration and research. Applications will be reviewed bi-annually by an advisory committee made up of representatives from our collaborative partners on the fish committee.

Pacific lamprey are an important but sensitive species in the Pacific northwest. Like salmon and steelhead, lampreys are anadromous — migrating to and from the ocean during their lifetime. We look forward to learning more about this fascinating and delicate species.

Prior to launching the new fund, we completed a 5-step evaluation process to determine the best course of action for aiding lampreys in the Deschutes. Implementing fish passage for adults and juveniles would require massive changes to existing infrastructure, and so lamprey passage at Pelton Round Butte was determined to be an impractical first step.

The decision was made to invest resources in mitigation instead, improving habitat (through the Mitigation and Enhancement Fund) and learning more about their distribution and behavior (through the Research Fund). Our first round of applications will be reviewed this June.

In addition to their cultural significance and role in transporting marine nutrients, lampreys are an alternative prey for aquatic and avian predators that might otherwise feast on salmonid smolts. The juveniles also help recycle nutrients by burrowing in sediment.

We hope our new fund will help these fish flourish in the Lower Deschutes and increase awareness amongst wildlife advocates, like all of you!

Learn more and apply for funding on our lamprey fund webpage.