I have looked forward to attending the annual Deschutes Fisheries Workshop for many years. It has been the place to hear the latest, best available science on what is happening in the Deschutes River, some of its tributaries, and anadromous fish reintroduction efforts. I found the online event yesterday to be disappointing, however. Part of that is due to the lack interaction with others in the hallway, during a meal, or at the bar. The organizers are not to blame for that, they have no control over the pandemic, but they could have provided a lot more content. Here’s my summary and criticism of the 26th annual meetingRead More »
I’m on the email list that discusses water releases from Bowman Dam into the Crooked River. You can get more details by reading prior posts on the topic (see the Crooked River section), but the executive summary is that the water is supposed to be released for irrigators as well as the “maximum benefit” of fish. How that actually occurs is the subject of constant discussion. The latest email contained the graphic above that really illustrates the operation well.Read More »
All public comments pertaining to the requested fish passage waiver are part of the public record. I requested a copy of them, which you can see here. There is some grey area as a few were not perfectly clear, but by my count there were 171 letters in opposition to the waiver and 12 in favor. (In other words, the overwhelming majority asked that fish passage be provided.) I thought the letters made for interesting reading and recognized many of the writers. The final decision is scheduled to be made in September.
For what it’s worth, here’s the email I sent to ODFW yesterday:
I oppose providing a fish passage waiver for the proposed hydroelectric plant at the base of Bowman Dam. While the cost of installing a ladder may be prohibitive, the proposed mitigation measures do not come close to providing a greater benefit to fish than opening up 500 miles of habitat and reconnecting fish in the upper Crooked River with fish in the lower Crooked River as well as other upper Deschutes Basin waterways. Further, a 50-year FERC license would preclude passage for the same amount of time.Read More »
Bowman Dam was completed by the US Bureau of Reclamation (BoR) in 1961, damming the Crooked River and creating Prineville reservoir. It was built to protect development downstream from flooding, including the City of Prineville, and to provide water for Ochoco Irrigation District (OID) who operates the dam. While these are worthy goals, Bowman Dam has also caused significant environmental damage. OID, Prineville, and Crook County would now like to add a small hydroelectric facility to the base of Bowman Dam and are asking for a waiver to the State of Oregon requirement that fish passage be provided at dams undergoing significant changes. This is a complex issue, below are my thoughts. The waiver application, supporting documents, and analysis by the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife can be found here. Public comment on the waiver application is being accepted until June 22nd.Read More »
The latest report from Opal Springs says that over 1,000 largescale suckers moved through the fish passage the last 2 weeks of March. I don’t know anything about these fish so did some web searches and asked Brett Hodgson, ODFW Deschutes District Fish Biologist, about them. It turns out that some people like to fish for them, and they taste good. Brett emailed me that “suckers historically were an important source of protein for Native Americans in periods when salmon were not available”. I may have to target them with a sinking line and an egg pattern someday.Read More »
I have read many of the substantial comments on the Draft Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan and associated Draft Environmental Impact Statement. The comments from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs illustrate just how tangled an issue this is. Like many others, the Tribes are extremely critical of the draft HCP and EIS, but in a unique way. While most critical comments ask for more water more quickly in the upper Deschutes in the winter, the Tribes want LESS water than proposed. Keep reading to understand why.Read More »
While the winter has started out somewhat dry in Central Oregon, things look good for the Crooked River this winter. Prineville Reservoir was not drawn down to very low levels over the summer and is currently 57% full. The majority of that is “fish water”, meaning it is not earmarked for irrigation use, and can be released for fish and wildlife. 93 cfs is currently being let out into the Crooked, which provides reasonable habitat for fish, and this amount should be maintained throughout the winter. Some fish water may even be left over. Of course, higher flows will likely occur if the reservoir completely fills over the winter. So, right now it looks like next spring and summer could be good for fishing on the Crooked.
The new Opal Springs fish ladder became operational on Nov. 15 and an automated fish detection system was installed 4 days later. In the first 13 days (11/19 to 12/1) 23 trout, 28 whitefish, and 3 steelhead have been counted. That’s an excellent start.
The Bend Bulletin ran a story today on the Opal Springs fish ladder. It’s worth a quick read. I’m glad to see the new ownership of the local paper paying more attention to environmental news.
Here is a short video of the first steelhead in the new Opal Springs fish ladder. First volitional passage in almost 60 years. So very cool.
For over 20 years a wide range of companies, organizations, agencies, and individuals have been working on the reintroduction of steelhead and salmon into the upper Deschutes Basin above Lake Billy Chinook. This includes the middle Deschutes, the Crooked River, the Metolius Rivers, and their tributaries.
To the surprise of fish biologists who had anticipated that Whychus Creek and the Metolius Rivers would be the primary destinations, the great majority of the returning steelhead and Chinook salmon have attempted to head up the Crooked River to spawn. The overwhelming preference for the Crooked has been the case every year there have been anadromous fish returns. Unfortunately, until last week a dam at the bottom of the Crooked River had largely blocked upstream passage for these returning anadromous fish. Read More »
Last June, Portland General Electric released a comprehensive, multiyear water quality study of Lake Billy Chinook, the rivers that supply it, and the lower Deschutes River into which water is released. Among other things, the report showed that the Crooked River contains significant amounts of pollution. This pollution combined with sunlight generates suspended algae on the surface of Lake Billy Chinook which is subsequently released into Lake Simtutus and then the lower Deschutes River. Algae blooms are increasing in occurrence, leading the Oregon Health Authority to warn last June that “harmful algae blooms” could “routinely develop in the lake”.
One of the shortcomings in the Habitat Conservation Plan is lack of adequate consideration for water quality. Clearly, high temperatures and pollution can have adverse impacts on fish and the aquatic environment, including mortality (“take”). Irrigation return flows are “covered activities” but the HCP does not adequately examine impacts on water quality from agricultural runoff or provide for minimum standards in covered waterways.Read More »
Three federal agencies (Bureau of Reclamation, National Marine Fisheries Service, and US Fish & Wildlife) manage water releases out of Prineville Reservoir into the Crooked River. As of last week, they believe flows for fish and wildlife can be maintained through the winter. Prineville Reservoir has a capacity of 148,640 acre feet of water, approximately half of which is guaranteed for irrigation. Water in excess of that at the beginning of irrigation season is “fish water” to be released for the “maximum biological benefit” for fish and wildlife. Irrigation season ends in a month and Prineville Reservoir is still 66% full, leaving plenty of fish water to release during the winter. Keep reading for more details.Read More »
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.Read More »
The 25th annual Pelton Round Butte Fisheries Workshop was the past two days. I have been going for years and, as usual, it was an overwhelming amount of information. I plan to follow up with some of the presenters to get a better understanding of their data and hope to have more detailed posts soon. In the meantime, here’s a quick list of the highlights from my perspective.Read More »
Portland General Electric’s long awaited lower Deschutes River water quality study was recently released. At over 600 pages it took me some time to get through, here are my initial impressions. This study is critically important to the ongoing effort to reintroduce anadromous fish into the upper Deschutes Basin and the operation of the Selective Water Withdrawal tower. Also note that the Deschutes River Alliance’s lawsuit against PGE/CTWS (dismissed but under appeal) is based on allegations of water quality violations. The author of the water quality study will present and answer questions at the upcoming Fisheries Workshop. Read More »
Well, that’s an acronym filled title. Here are Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife’s comments on Ochoco Irrigation District’s Pre-Application Document to build a hydro electric facility on Bowman Dam. It’s 37 pages and filled with questions about how the facility and it’s transmissions lines will impact fish and wildlife on the Crooked River. Some are pretty basic, like how will flows be ramped up and down so as to not negatively impact fish? Even a cursory reading shows that it is far too early in the process to give a blanket endorsement to this project, even if you agree (like I do) that the idea seems to have merit.Read More »
As I wrote about last November, Ochoco Irrigation District is in the preliminary stages of applying for a FERC license to add a hydroelectric plant to Bowman Dam. Here is OID’s “Pre-Application Document“. The first of multiple comment periods ends on Monday. There is a significant amount of design work left to be done, studies that need to be undertaken, and many unanswered questions about how this project will impact the Crooked River below Prineville Reservoir. A fair amount of negotiation will need to take place between OID and various agencies before final approval is granted. Nevertheless, the latest Central Oregon Flyfisher newsletter states that the board voted to send a letter of support for the project which will include language that throws away the most important bargaining chip for the conservation community.Read More »
Yesterday, Jeff Perin of The Fly Fishers Place in Sisters had a Facebook post about flows out of Prineville Reservoir into the Crooked River being too high. They are certainly too high for any fishing. The flows into the reservoir are 1,625 cfs but the flows out are 2,662 cfs. So, what gives? I have not talked to anyone at the Bureau of Reclamation (BoR) about this, and am loathe to defend them given their record of almost never adequately considering fish and wildlife in their release decisions, but I don’t think that the current release level into the Crooked is too high for the current conditions – although it certainly reached what could be disastrous levels for trout just a few days ago.Read More »
Today the US Bureau of Reclamation is increasing flows out of Prineville Reservoir into the Crooked River from 93 to 250 cfs and to 500 cfs tomorrow. Flows will likely be raised higher in the coming days and stay that way for some time. There is a large snowpack in the Ochoco Mountains and it is raining. Flows into the reservoir are now at 2,500 cfs and the BOR is switching to flood control mode.
This spring marks the last stocking of fry as part of the upper Deschutes Basin salmon and steelhead reintroduction effort. Yesterday I was part of the crew helping with the final chinook salmon fry stocking and backpacked fry into the lower Crooked River canyon as well as where Alder Springs meets Whychus Creek not far from the middle Deschutes. As I wrote about here, the reintroduction effort has been a disappointment for many reasons one of which is the unsuccessful fry stocking effort and a new approach is needed.Read More »
Here is a recent report from the Bureau of Reclamation on the water outlook for Prineville Reservoir. As you can see on page 3, a few days ago the reservoir was 35% full and flows into the Crooked River were only 49 cfs (47 cfs today), which is below the target set by ODFW for fish needs and the 80 cfs target in the Crooked River legislation. In summary, the BOR presentation implies that the outlook is not promising for the reservoir to fill which means flows into the Crooked River next winter after irrigation season ends will also likely be low. Keep reading for some commentary on the presentation prepared by BOR.Read More »
For years, the Crooked River has been plagued by periodic fish kills. There have been two culprits: sustained low flows, especially when combined with freezing temperatures in the winter, and excess total dissolved gases. TDG is not as well known as low flows but it can be equally deadly. A solution in the form of a new hydroelectric facility may be in the future.Read More »
A reporter at the Bend Bulletin saw my post on the potential for a fish kill on the Crooked River this winter and wrote this article. If you’ve ever been quoted for an article you know how it can be a frustrating experience. So it almost goes without saying that I would have written the story differently but I think the reporter did a good job overall of capturing the big picture of what is currently happening on the Crooked River and the challenges it faces this winter.
As Central Oregon anglers know, fish populations in the Crooked River can wildly fluctuate. When there is adequate flow for a few years the fishing can be excellent. On the other hand, a variety of factors including low flows combined with freezing temperatures can create massive fish kills. The last of these events happened in the winter of 2015-2016 when trout populations dropped from 1,383/km to 185/km, the lowest ever recorded. Based on current water management plans, such a kill could happen again this winter.Read More »
Not long ago I was one of the volunteers who helped ODFW with their annual trout survey on the Crooked River. As reported in The Bulletin, it appears that trout numbers have rebounded from their recent record lows and are now up to 3,500 a mile. This is welcome news, but it is only part of the story.Read More »
Most Central Oregon anglers are familiar with the Wild & Scenic section of the Crooked River below Bowman Dam. Of course, the Crooked flows into Prineville Reservoir as well but based on my experience few outside of Crook County have spent much time there. The North Fork of the Crooked does not provide the same abundance of fishing as the Wild & Scenic section, but it flows through a beautiful area of the Ochoco Mountains. Prior to the construction of all the dams below (Bowman, Opal Springs, and the PRB complex), this section of the river was prime spawning habitat for anadromous fish. Big Summit Prairie is also nearby, worthy of a visit on its own. The last time I visited the North Fork my wife and I saw one of the biggest bears I have seen in Oregon, it was a brownish red color and seemed undisturbed by us as we watched it for some time. The North Fork provides habitat for an important strain of wild, native redband trout. ODFW is planning a electrofishing survey of the North Fork and could use some volunteers, this would be a great opportunity to help and see some beautiful country that is not very far away.Read More »
Every year ODFW counts fish in the Crooked River below Bowman Dam. This year they are sampling June 18-22 and are looking for help. Volunteers walk down the bank of the river while ODFW biologists float and shock the river. Fish near the boat are temporally stunned by the electric current and float to the surface where they are captured, counted, and measured. I first helped with this years ago and it made me a far better angler on the Crooked and elsewhere. Even after decades of fishing experience and “reading the water”, I was amazed to see where fish were holding and in what numbers. If you are interested in helping, contact Tim Porter, Assistant District Fish Biologist in Prineville, at Timothy.K.Porter@state.or.us or (541) 447-5111 ext. 24. Let him know which day(s) you can help and he will get back to you with more detailed info. You need to be able to carry buckets of stunned fish back upstream to release them near where they were captured. The day usually lasts from 8:30 am until 2 pm.
The proposed Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan includes a section on the Crooked River (see pages 34 to 37). While I have heard some in the angling and conservation communities speak favorably about the proposal for the Crooked, I am not in agreement.
In summary, my concerns are:
- There is no scientific justification for the 50 cfs average minimum target during the winter and it is unclear what is meant by “average”.
- There is no provision for reducing the incidence of gas bubble disease.
- There is no mention of water quality.
- It does not address the low flow, high temperature problem that exists below the Wild & Scenic section during irrigation season.
After years of effort the final funding for a volitional fish ladder at Opal Springs Dam was obtained earlier this month. There are some regulatory hurdles remaining but construction should begin in the spring and be complete within two years. Opal Springs is a small hydroelectric facility owned by Deschutes Valley Water District about a quarter mile up the Crooked River from where it enters Lake Billy Chinook. Downstream fish passage has been available, mostly through the turbines, but not upstream passage.Read More »