The July 24th Source Weekly contained a guest column by Greg McMillan, president of the Deschutes River Alliance, that needs a response. It is absolutely true that attempts to reintroduce salmon and steelhead into the upper Deschutes basin above Lake Billy Chinook have been extremely disappointing. It is important to understand, however, that adult returns for salmon and steelhead have been plunging in the entire Columbia River basin and much of the Pacific Northwest. The truth is that many anadromous fish runs are on the path to extinction due to habitat loss, dams, over harvest, hatcheries, and the heating of the Pacific which has led to the collapse of the food web in many areas. This has nothing to do with local reintroduction efforts.
The claim was made in the opinion piece that water quality in the lower Deschutes has been degraded by reintroduction efforts. The DRA filed a lawsuit against Portland General Electric claiming water quality violations. This suit was dismissed for lacking “material fact”. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has been conducting fish surveys of the lower Deschutes since the 1970s. Surveys since reintroduction efforts began show that trout in the lower Deschutes are at least as healthy, abundant, and are now larger than they were before operation of the Selective Water Withdrawal tower in Lake Billy Chinook. This is due to a more natural temperature profile in the river providing a longer growing season for fish and the food they eat.
The claim was made that a superior solution would be to truck returning anadromous fish directly to the Metolius, Crooked, and middle Deschutes rivers rather than releasing them into Lake Billy Chinook, thereby eliminating the need for the SWW tower and surface water releases into the lower Deschutes. Specifics of how this might work for juvenile fish were not provided.
In order to effectively capture most out migrating fish before they reach LBC new dams would have to be built at the mouths of the Metolius, middle Deschutes, and Crooked rivers. This is clearly not going to happen. Using devices like screw traps is unfeasible. Juvenile salmon and steelhead head to the ocean in the spring, during times of high flows. PGE estimates that even on the Metolius, a relatively stable river, their screw trap only catches 10% of the out migrating fish. Screw traps are sampling devices, not capture devices.
If the DRA’s concern is water quality then they should be working with other environmental groups to clean up the Crooked River which has been identified as the primary source of pollutants causing algae blooms in Lake Billy Chinook. Studies have shown that most of those pollutants come from fertilizer laden agricultural runoff from Ochoco and Central Oregon Irrigation Districts. Efforts are underway to improve Crooked River water quality, I hope the DRA can join the effort. We should clean up the Crooked, not bottle it up in LBC, a popular recreation destination.