2020 Deschutes Fisheries Workshop Recap

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 meeting

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2020 Deschutes Fisheries Workshop

This year’s workshop is being held online on July 23rd. Before COVID these workshops were 1.5 days and filled with great information. I have been going for years and always learn from them. This year will be much shorter but still the place to get the latest info on anadromous fish reintroduction efforts. See the agenda and sign up here.

My Email to ODFW Opposing the Fish Passage Waiver

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 »

Fish Passage Waiver at Bowman Dam? Not so fast.

Bowman Dam

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 »

Opal Springs Fish Ladder Update

The fish ladder at Opal Springs has proven remarkably successful.  Since it became operational late November through the end of April, thousands of fish from a variety of species have been filmed and identified as moving through it.  Suckers and whitefish have moved up from Lake Billy Chinook for spawning.  Rainbow, brown, and bull trout have traveled upriver most likely foraging for food.  While the primary motivation for installing the fish ladder was to facilitate the reintroduction of salmon and steelhead, the ladder has also provided much needed connectivity between the Crooked, Metolius, and Middle Deschutes rivers.  An improved ecosystem will be the result.  Below is the breakdown by species.Read More »

Largescale Suckers

Sucker

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 »

Upper Basin Steelhead Return Update

Believe it or not, if you look at the individual fish count numbers on the PGE website for past years, summer steelhead season in the upper most stretches of the Deschutes extends to the end of April.  Some of these fish really take their time to get to their final destination.  So, while the return season is not over, we are getting close.  As of March 6th, 53 steelhead have been passed above the dams into Lake Billy Chinook.  47 of those were recently counted via radio tags, 22 in the Crooked River, and 3 in the Crooked arm of Lake Billy Chinook, presumably getting ready to head up the river.  This once again shows the importance of the fish ladder at Opal Springs.

Opal Springs Update

Thus far, 19 steelhead have swam from Lake Billy Chinook up the Opal Springs fish ladder into Lake Billy Chinook.  Historically, the greatest number of steelhead arrive at the Pelton Fish trap in January and February, so I certainly hope the numbers get even better.  Along with the steelhead, 90 rainbow, 53 whitefish, 10 brown trout, and one bull trout have been detected in the ladder, mostly moving upstream.  Connecting the Crooked River to the Deschutes and Metolius rivers is excellent news for these fish species as well.  So far, so good!

Opal Springs Passage is Working!

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.

Opal Springs Fish Ladder Operational!

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The fish ladder is under the walkway, the spillway for downstream migration is to the right.

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 »

Opal Springs Fish Passage Video

The fish ladder at the Opal Springs Hydroelectric Project at the mouth of the Crooked River is nearing completion.  Scheduled to go online this fall, volitional passage could be a huge shot in the arm for reintroduction efforts as the overwhelming majority of adult steelhead and chinook passed into Lake Billy Chinook try to go up the Crooked.  The Crooked River Watershed Council has released this video about the passage project which is worth viewing.Read More »

Fisheries Workshop Highlights

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 »

PGE Water Quality Study

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 »

Reintroduction: Time for a Change in Strategy

After 10 years of effort it is clear that the current approach to reintroducing anadromous fish into the upper Deschutes Basin above the Pelton Round Butte project is not producing acceptable results.  Fisheries managers acknowledge this but often state that it will take more time.  They reply that it has been over 50 years since these fish were cut off from their traditional spawning grounds and reintroduction is a complex problem.  This is true, but I believe the current dire state of steelhead returns to the Deschutes River should provide impetus to take bolder action.  This is a long post, but worth reading if you care about the future of steelhead in the Deschutes River.Read More »

Whychus Creek status

Camp Polk Meadow

(I stole the photo of Camp Polk Meadow Preserve and Whychus Creek from the Deschutes Land Trust website.  Photo credit: Russ McMillan.)

When the reintroduction effort began a major focus was the restoration of Whychus Creek, a tributary of the middle Deschutes.  The thought was that steelhead in particular would target Whychus as they are not native to the Metolius and the Crooked River is blocked by Opal Springs Dam.  Restoring Whychus Creek would also provide dramatically improved habitat for wild, native species, in particular redband trout.  This restoration effort was spearheaded by the Deschutes Partnership who purchased sections of the creek for restoration, worked on restoring flows, and performed habitat improvement, along with state and federal agencies.  It was and continues to be a long-term, expensive effort.  Some progress has been made but there’s still a long way to go.Read More »

2018 Fisheries Workshop – Opal Springs

5 Rip Rap 2Last week was the annual Pelton Round Butte Fisheries Workshop.  Once again, it was an information filled conference with presentations covering a wide range of fisheries issues encompassing the entire Deschutes Basin.  I am going to spend a few weeks digging into some of the presentations, I have many follow up questions for some of the presenters, but there were a few topics that are quick and easy to report on, like Opal Springs fish passage.Read More »

DLT’s Ochoco Preserve

This afternoon I was able to tour the Deschutes Land Trust’s new Ochoco Preserve.  The preserve is currently farmland just outside Prineville that will be converted to wetlands over the next decade or so.  It is where McKay and Ochoco Creeks meet the Crooked River.  The potential for new, high quality habitat for native redband trout is very exciting.  These creeks were also important spawning areas for anadromous Chinook salmon and steelhead and may be again once the fish ladder at Opal Springs Dam is complete.  I encourage you to visit the DLT’s site, learn more, and become a member if you are able.

Steelhead Reintroduction Update

The Deschutes River 2017/2018 summer steelhead season still has a few weeks left but returns have been bleak.  As of the end of January 2018 only 13 upper basin origin steelhead have been captured in the Pelton trap a little upstream from the Warm Springs Bridge, and none in December.  This will likely be the lowest return year since upper basin returns began in 2011.Read More »

Opal Springs Fish Ladder Final Funding

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 »