The DRA Position on Fish Reintroduction in the Deschutes Basin

Fish captured at Selective Water Withdrawal Tower being prepared for truck transportation around the three dams at the Pelton-Round Butte Hydroelectric Complex. Photo by Greg McMillan.

Fish captured at Selective Water Withdrawal Tower being prepared for truck transportation around the three dams at the Pelton-Round Butte Hydroelectric Complex. Photo by Greg McMillan.

A Portland General Electric (PGE) spokesperson recently stated that the Deschutes River Alliance is opposed to the reintroduction of salmon and steelhead above the Pelton-Round Butte Dam Complex. Here is the quote: “They [the DRA] want to go back to status quo prior to the selective water withdrawal system, and essentially to abandon the reintroduction effort for salmon and steelhead above the dams.”  The statement was made in the August 24, 2016 edition of The Source newspaper.

We are not sure what the PGE spokesperson was basing that information on. We have never stated that we want to “abandon the reintroduction effort.” His statement was erroneous and misleading. The DRA has regularly asserted our support for fish reintroduction – on our blog, at public events, and in various publicly disseminated documents.

The Deschutes River Alliance does support fish reintroduction as long as it doesn’t take place in violation of the Clean Water Act, or degrade the ecology of the lower Deschutes River and tributaries above the Pelton-Round Butte Dam Complex.

However, if the fish reintroduction goals are not attainable without serious negative consequences to other valuable resources, then the value of fish reintroduction needs to be reassessed. Unfortunately, what the PGE representative might have been trying to say is that PGE can only conduct fish reintroduction with the methods being currently employed. We believe that demonstrates a lack of willingness to adapt to conditions as they are. The concept of “adaptive management” is written into the dam license documents. To date all adaptive management efforts have been directed at reducing the water quality requirements for dam operation. Nothing has been changed; the goals have only been set lower. It is time to adopt alternatives that protect water quality while holding promise for even higher rates of fish reintroduction success.

Fish capture facility at the Selective Water Withdrawal Tower. Photo by Greg McMillan.

Fish capture facility at the Selective Water Withdrawal Tower. Photo by Greg McMillan.

At the present time, fish reintroduction efforts based on surface water withdrawal at the Pelton-Round Butte Complex are consistently violating the Clean Water Act. That is the basis of our lawsuit against PGE, an action we do not take lightly or without extensive research, analysis and careful consideration.

Further, selective water withdrawal and the resulting water quality violations have led to major changes in the ecology of the lower Deschutes River. These include changes in benthic algae, changes in aquatic insect hatches and populations, and changes in insectivore (insect eater) populations such as songbirds and bats. Warmer spring water temperatures due to surface water withdrawal are very likely responsible for a smallmouth bass invasion in the lower river. This year the Deschutes River at the mouth reached 60 degrees about 45 days before the Columbia River did, likely luring bass from the Columbia into the Deschutes.

The ecological impacts of tower operations are not limited to the downstream ecosystem. A recent report (Genetic Determination of Stock of Origin for Oncorhynchus mykiss Collected in the Upper Deschutes River Basin, Adams, DeHaan, et al, March, 2015) states that native redband trout have been all but extirpated from Whychus Creek. The cause cited is the genetic introgression of hatchery steelhead (planted for reintroduction purposes), which, once planted in Whychus Creek, failed to out-migrate and spawned with native redband trout. This has perhaps changed the redband trout genetics in Whychus Creek forever.

We strongly support the habitat rehabilitation work being done on Whychus Creek, McKay Creek, the upper watershed of the Warm Springs River, and the work being done in the upper reaches of Trout Creek. These are necessary efforts. These habitat improvement projects should take place irrespective of fish reintroduction for all the benefits this work provides. But the hatchery fish used for reintroduction purposes should not displace native resident fish.

Redband trout, lower Deschutes River. Photo by Brian O'Keefe.

Redband trout, lower Deschutes River. Photo by Brian O’Keefe.

Fish reintroduction efforts began in 2008 when juvenile fish were first planted in the tributaries to Lake Billy Chinook. To date, the results of the reintroduction effort have been less than successful. Numerical goals defining successful fish reintroduction contained in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license for the project have never been met, and we can see no likelihood that they will be.

PGE has claimed that they need more time. To do what? What is going to change in the next year or two that will result in enough juvenile fish migrating to the fish collection facility at Round Butte Dam (there to be trucked around the dams), or enough adults returning to the Reregulation Dam (to be trucked up to the reservoir), to meet the stated and defined goals of the reintroduction program?

Last year 32 sockeye salmon returned to the Pelton-Round Butte Hydroelectric Complex. Later analysis showed that only 3 of those fish originated from the dam complex. PGE claims that this year 400 sockeye have returned to the project. But how many of those fish are from out of basin or not otherwise part of the reintroduction program? Steelhead and Chinook salmon returns have been less than bountiful. Juvenile arrival numbers at the fish collection facility at Round Butte Dam would predict no improvement in adult fish returns for at least the next few years.

An objective audit of the fish reintroduction program needs to take place. We believe a major revamping of the reintroduction program is necessary if the program is to succeed and the serious unintended consequences of reintroduction are to be stopped.

The DRA has always supported fish reintroduction. But the fundamental requirements of the Clean Water Act must be upheld, and the Deschutes River’s ecology and resident species must not be sacrificed.

The reason that fish need to be reintroduced is because several major runs of anadromous fish were lost when the dams were constructed, blocking access to some of the most important spawning habitat in the Deschutes Basin. Let’s not compound that loss with a new generation of loss.


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Yellowstone River Closed Due to Fish-Killing Parasite

On Friday, August 19, Montana’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks announced the closure of 183 miles of the Yellowstone River to all recreational use. The reason for the closure was the discovery of over 2,000 dead mountain whitefish and reports of dead rainbow trout and cutthroat trout.

Photo: Google Photos

Photo: Google Photos

The cause of the fish die-off appears to have been proliferative kidney disease (PKD), which is caused by a parasite known as Tetracapsuloides bryosalmonae. In the past, this organism has caused outbreaks of disease and fish death amongst salmonids in various hatcheries and freshwater in the Pacific Northwest. It seems to be most hazardous to fish when water temperatures reach and stay above 54 degrees F. The Yellowstone River has been low and warm this year.   There are no antibiotics to treat the infection.

The Yellowstone River was closed to prevent transmission of the infectious agent to other waters.

Photo: Google Photos

Photo: Google Photos

We want to bring this to everyone’s attention as a reminder that if you travel to different bodies of water to fish, please be sure to clean wading boots, waders, fish nets and boats prior to moving to the next body of water. There has been a fair amount of controversy and disagreement as to what adequate cleaning consists of. We are providing a link to the most recent, and arguably most logical, guidance on the cleaning of fishing equipment. The instructions are relatively easy to follow and don’t include any measures that shorten the life of your gear (bleach, heat, etc.).

The instructions can be found at this link:

http://www.stopans.org/Cleaning/Tips_Careful_Cleaning.pdf

Please help us keep the lower Deschutes River and all bodies of water free of invasive species!


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DRA Files Federal Lawsuit to Enforce Clean Water Act

Selective Water Withdrawal Tower surface struture. Round Butte Dam is to the right of the tower.

Selective Water Withdrawal Tower surface structure. Round Butte Dam is to the right of the tower.

On Friday, August 12, 2016, the DRA filed a Clean Water Act citizen suit against Portland General Electric (PGE), to enforce water quality requirements for dam operations at the Pelton-Round Butte Hydroelectric Project. The requirements are found in a water quality certification issued by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality as part of the federal licensing process for the Project.

These requirements, for criteria such as temperature, dissolved oxygen, and pH, were designed to ensure the Pelton-Round Butte Project complies with applicable Oregon water quality standards. Ultimately, the requirements and the underlying standards are aimed at preventing degradation of water quality, and at preventing harm to the various beneficial uses of the lower Deschutes River. Unfortunately, since the Project’s selective water withdrawal tower began operations in late 2009, PGE has operated the Project in violation of these requirements. Through June 2016, the DRA has identified over 1,600 daily violations of the Project’s water quality certification.

Fish being held at SWW Fish Collection Facility to await truck transportation around Pelton-Round Butte Dams.

Fish being held at SWW Fish Collection Facility to await truck transportation around Pelton-Round Butte Dams.

The fundamental mandates of the Clean Water Act must be upheld.   Many of us remember the days prior to the CWA. Rivers were so polluted in the United States that some caught fire. Fifty years ago, for example, the Willamette River was little better than a sewage ditch, and now vast reaches of it are restored. The lower Deschutes River must similarly be afforded every fundamental federal and state legal protection necessary to preserve and restore its beneficial uses and ecological integrity.

To date, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has not enforced the Project’s key water quality limitations, so the DRA is taking action directly under the Clean Water Act’s citizen suit provisions. The lawsuit has been filed in Federal District Court, District of Oregon, Portland Division, and we’ve placed a copy of the filing on our website.

Round Butte Dam to the right, SWW Tower in center. View is looking west at Metolius Arm of Lake Billy Chinook.

Round Butte Dam to the right, SWW Tower in center. View is looking west at Metolius Arm of Lake Billy Chinook.

Litigation is clearly an option of last resort. We remain open to discussion with PGE, of course, but this lawsuit, at this time, is a necessary step toward restoring the river we all love.


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Third Anniversary!

DRA_logo_sheet

Yes, the DRA is now three years old! And what a wild ride it’s been!

In August 2013, we filed as a non-profit corporation with the State of Oregon. We started on a shoestring budget, which consisted mostly of contributions from members of the Board of Directors. In January 2014 we sent out our first fundraising appeal. It was far more successful that we had imagined it would be.

To those donors, who recognized the need our mission addressed, we wish to thank you. Your trusted us when we had no track record. To the members of the Founding Circle, we would like to offer special thanks.

From that beginning, we have maintained a spirit of frugal but effective activism. For most of our existence, including the present, we’ve had only one paid employee. We have no offices. We’ve kept our overhead low. We contract out services as needed.

Greg McMillan and Larry Marxer taking water quality measurements in February, 2016. Photo by Andrew Dutterer.

Greg McMillan and Larry Marxer taking water quality measurements in February, 2016. Photo by Andrew Dutterer.

What we do have is excellent water quality monitoring equipment. We have board members with scientific expertise and experience. We have an outstanding legal team. And we have a passionate desire to protect the lower Deschutes River.

Larry Marxer and intern Cory McCaffrey calibrating our data sonde. Photo by Greg McMillan.

Larry Marxer and intern Cory McCaffrey calibrating our data sonde. Photo by Greg McMillan.

Here are some of our accomplishments to date:

  • Beginning in 2001, as the Lower Deschutes River Coalition (prior to becoming the DRA), we conducted meetings with Portland General Electric. These meetings included data presentations and roundtable discussions of the problems being seen in the lower river by guides and recreational users.
  • We began sampling and photographing aquatic insects and algae in 2013.
  • In collaboration with PGE, we established a water temperature-monitoring array in 2013.
  • DRA Board member and renowned aquatic entomologist Rick Hafele designed an adult aquatic insect hatch survey to gather data on hatch timing and densities. That study continues on an annual basis documenting changes in hatches on the lower Deschutes River. Rick is also managing our ongoing benthic aquatic insect-monitoring program. Neither PGE nor the resource agencies are monitoring aquatic insects at this time.
Rick Hafele providing training for adult aquatic insect hatch observers. Photo by Greg McMillan.

Rick Hafele providing training for adult aquatic insect hatch observers. Photo by Greg McMillan.

  • In December 2013 we held a science-planning meeting with multiple agencies and PGE. Our science plans have been a product of that meeting.
  • In July 2014, we did a three-day (72 hour) water quality monitoring synoptic at five sites (most of them remote) on the lower Deschutes River.
  • We conducted a second three-day water quality monitoring synoptic at three sites in August 2014.
  • We contracted with Quantum Spatial to conduct thermal imaging of the lower Deschutes River and the area around the three dams of the Pelton-Round Butte Complex.
  • We attempted to collaborate with PGE on a water quality study in Lake Billy Chinook and the lower Deschutes River. The initial planning meeting was cancelled by PGE without follow-up.
  • In January 2015, we submitted objections regarding the Low Impact Hydropower Institute’s certification of the Pelton-Round Butte Hydroelectric Complex.
  • By spring of 2015 we were starting our own algae and water quality study on Lake Billy Chinook and the lower Deschutes River. That study continues today. Cost of equipment and lab fees to date: $30,000. Value of the data: priceless.
Larry Marxer installing a Hobo temp water temperature monitor. Photo by Greg McMillan.

Larry Marxer installing a Hobo temp water temperature monitor. Photo by Greg McMillan.

  • In the summer of 2015, warm water temperatures in the lower Deschutes River contributed to fish die-offs near the mouth and near the confluence with the Warm Springs River. These events were first detected and reported by the DRA and DRA supporters.
  • In the fall of 2015, with the permission and funding of a private property owner on the lower Deschutes River, we established a monitoring station to perform benthic aquatic insect sampling, continuous water quality monitoring, and photo documentation of algal growth. We then acquired the permission of private landowners to set up a second study site in the Kaskela area.
Rick Hafele examines contents of a kick screen on the lower Deschutes River. Photo by Greg McMillan.

Rick Hafele examines contents of a kick screen on the lower Deschutes River. Photo by Greg McMillan.

  • In September 2015 we gathered the five conservation groups who are signatories to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license for the Pelton-Round Butte Complex to discuss the problems resulting from selective water withdrawal.
  • In October 2015 we appealed the Low Impact Hydropower Institute’s certification of the PRB Complex. Conditions were imposed on the certification as a result of our interventions.
  • In December 2015 we, along with the conservation group signatories to the PRB license, met with PGE to ask for measures to lower river temperatures when high temperatures pose a risk for fish. This request was denied, and PGE foreclosed the possibility of any future meetings.
  • In spring of 2016, we formed our legal team. We subsequently served Portland General Electric with a sixty-day notice of intent to sue based on water quality violations.

This is only a partial list of our accomplishments. These are the kinds of things that are happening at the DRA on a day in, day out basis, and now on a year-to-year basis. Volunteers do much of this work.

Rick Hafele examining trout stomach contents. Photo by Greg McMillan.

Rick Hafele examining trout stomach contents. Photo by Greg McMillan.

Our next year looks to be more exciting and more productive. Check back here over the next few weeks for announcements!

In the meantime, we appreciate all of the support shown to us in the past three years. To all of you who have donated, volunteered, or otherwise supported us, thank you! With your support, our combined passion and love for the river will accomplish great things.


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In Memoriam: Doug Robertson

It was with great sadness that we learned of the passing of Doug Robertson, a longtime advocate for the Deschutes River and for wild fish. Doug was 69 years old.

Each person who floats, fishes, or camps on the lower Deschutes River below Macks Canyon should give thanks to Doug.

In 1983 the Eastern Oregon Land Company owned most of the lower twelve miles of the Deschutes River. The land was used primarily for cattle grazing, and the banks of the river were totally denuded of any vegetation. Gravel bars over a mile long were the norm. There were few alder trees to offer shade.

Doug learned that Eastern Oregon Land Company was interested in selling the property. One potentially interested party was planning on developing a resort in the Harris Canyon area.

Doug negotiated an offer to purchase the property, and then convinced then-Governor Vic Atiyeh to provide State of Oregon backing for the offer. Governor Atiyeh asked Oregon Wildlife Heritage Foundation to lead an effort to raise funds to purchase the land. OWHF raised over $1 million of private money, and cobbled together state and federal funding to complete the purchase on behalf of the people of Oregon.

The State of Oregon took possession of the property, and streamside recovery began under the management of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. That stretch of river is nearly unrecognizable from what it was before Doug stepped in. Today, it is one of Oregon’s most treasured recreational assets.   None of this would have happened without Doug’s vision and efforts. All of us should be eternally grateful to him.

Doug was a dedicated fly angler, and he had a lifelong love for the Deschutes. He and his wife Nan own a cabin above the Locked Gate. Doug was also a longtime board member of the Native Fish Society.

There is a monument bearing Doug and Nan’s names at Robertson Point near Harris Canyon. If you stop there, please take a moment and say a heartfelt thanks to a man who made a major difference on the lower Deschutes River.

Our sincerest condolences go out to Doug’s wife Nan, and their family and friends.

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2016 Stonefly Hatch: A Recap

Photo by Rick Hafele.

Photo by Rick Hafele.

It’s come and gone. No one is even talking about it any longer. Why? Well, it wasn’t exactly epic. Or was it?

Here’s the lowdown on the 2016 stonefly hatch based on personal observation; reports from friends, guides and outfitters; emails; and reports to our hatch observer database. This collectively represents hundreds of fishing days, if not over a thousand. None of this will be a surprise to those who were there for it. And many were there! The annual stonefly hatch remains the single largest trout fishing frenzy on the lower Deschutes River.

The first salmonflies were seen mid-April once again this year. Golden stones were seen not long after. Both were first spotted down below Sherars Falls. The big bugs appeared very sporadically until early May. Then numbers began to pick up and the hatch spread further upstream to well above the locked gate at the upper end of the access road above Maupin.   There were a few scattered reports of good numbers of stoneflies during that time. If you were fortunate enough to be on the river those days, the fishing was off the hook.

Then harsh weather set in. It got colder and there were heavy rains and the hatch all but disappeared but for a few hardy bugs clinging to grass and alder leaves.

Days later, the bad weather turned back to good weather and the hatch started back up, progressing up to the Kaskela area. Once more, if you were on top of the hatch in the right location, fishing was excellent. Then once again the weather turned wet and cold for days on end. The bugs again became hard to find. The quality of the fishing suffered. The last guide report of large numbers of salmonflies or golden stones seen on the river was May 17th. Only low to moderate numbers were seen after that until the final observed golden stones were reported on June 5th.

Photo by Brian O'Keefe

Photo by Brian O’Keefe

When weather conditions in the canyon were wet and cold, it was hard to find a stonefly anywhere. The trees and grass were bare. The big bugs were hiding from the conditions. If they aren’t out crawling all over the place, they aren’t finding mates. If they aren’t finding mates, no mating takes place.

This pattern repeated itself three times. Finally a meager representation of the hatches of earlier years hung on for about a week and half, reaching all the way up to Dizney Riffle. Then it fizzled out all together.

Mixed in with the stoneflies in mid-May was about a week and half period where everything was hatching. Green drakes, pale morning duns, pale evening duns, Beatis, caddis, it was all happening at once. There were even a few Antocha crane flies seen! But all of that ended as quickly as it began. And the total numbers weren’t all that exciting. It was perplexing to see June and July hatches in mid-May.

We are still getting some reports of good numbers of caddis in the tops of alders at last light on calm evenings. But the mayfly hatches of early to mid-summer are now totally missing in action.

What meaning does all of this have for the lower Deschutes River and the future of aquatic insect species? If this year had been a one time, one-off affair, it would probably mean little, being what biologists call annual variability. But it’s become a common way for spring to unfold on the lower river.

Most disconcerting is the role this might be playing in stonefly reproduction. Salmonflies emerge after three to four years as nymphs, golden stones after two to three years as nymphs.   Any impact of this year’s weather on mating won’t be seen until 2018 to 2020. The problem is this: with warmer winter and early spring river temperatures as a consequence of surface water withdrawal at Round Butte Dam, stoneflies emerge sooner and into the often harsh conditions of early spring, not late spring/early summer as they used to. The consequence is that reliably they are now challenged to find mates and get their reproduction needs accomplished.

Anyone who has spent years on the lower Deschutes River knows that stonefly numbers are down. Way down. According to Portland General Electric’s Lower Deschutes River Macroinvertebrate and Periphyton Study (page 97), “Stoneflies were not numerically abundant, but were widely distributed and contributed substantially to the invertebrate biomass by virtue of the often large size.”  That was some nice positive spin in the end of that quote, but the reality is that stoneflies are no longer “numerically abundant.” Unlike with many of the mayfly species and Antocha crane flies, this is probably not linked to the nuisance algae growth in the lower river.

Salmonflies as nymphs are detritivores, meaning they scavenge broadly across a river bottom eating dead material, mostly from plants. Golden stoneflies are roving predators and tend to feed on slow moving macroinvertebrates like midge larvae and worms. So the documented increase in worm populations in the lower river should be benefiting them. Nuisance algae are less likely to affect stoneflies as they spend time crawling between or under rocks, avoiding the algae covered top and side surfaces.

That means the declining numbers are most likely due to something else. Most likely that “something else” is hatching early into weather conditions not conducive to mating activity for much of the short adult phase of their relatively long lives. If reproductive success declines, the population declines.

June was a much warmer, drier month than May this year (like most years) on the lower Deschutes River. We’re guessing the stoneflies would have preferred those conditions.

Photo by Brian O'Keefe.

Photo by Brian O’Keefe.

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Oregon Department of Environmental Quality Notifies Portland General Electric of “Serious Shortcomings” in R2 Resource Consultants Report on Insects and Algae in Lower Deschutes River

Round Butte Dam and the Selective Water Withdrawal Tower. Photo by Greg McMillan.

Round Butte Dam and the Selective Water Withdrawal Tower. Photo by Greg McMillan.

Citing flawed laboratory methodology and inappropriately applied statistical analysis, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ) informed Portland General Electric (PGE) in a May 23, 2016 letter that PGE’s report by R2 Resource Consultants has been deemed inadequate and deficient in several key components.

The primary purpose of the R2 Resource Consultants study, titled “Final Report: Lower Deschutes River Macroinvertebrate and Periphyton Study” and mandated by the dam operators’ Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certification, is to determine whether or not operation of the Selective Water Withdrawal Tower at Round Butte Dam has had an impact on the ecology of the river below the dam complex. A baseline study was done in 1999-2001. The present study was intended to compare current in-river conditions in the lower Deschutes River to prior conditions as they were documented in the baseline study.

ODEQ has given PGE until June 30, 2016 to “respond with a plan for mitigating or eliminating the shortcomings of the study.”

As a result, the study’s conclusion that water quality and overall health has improved in the lower river has been rendered an assertion without scientific support. The ODEQ review even went on to say that there are indications that the study supports the opposite conclusion and that water quality has been reduced.

The ODEQ review of the study also expressed the same concern that the DRA had previously described regarding the collection of water quality data and the suggestion by the authors that unfavorable water quality results in the report were due to poorly calibrated instruments.

DRA Analysis of the Report

The DRA had asked four highly qualified individuals (each has a PhD in a field specific to the R2 report) to critique the study. We recently received the first of those critiques back. It is critical of the statistical methodology employed by R2 Resource Consultants and confirms ODEQ’s analysis.

We sought these four reviews as we had major concerns about the R2 report. Almost all of our concerns are mirrored in the ODEQ analysis.

The Selective Water Withdrawal Tower above Round Butte Dam. Photo by Greg McMillan.

The Selective Water Withdrawal Tower above Round Butte Dam. Photo by Greg McMillan.

How Did This Happen?

The macroinvertebrate and periphyton study is a highly important component of the monitoring of the Pelton-Round Hydroelectric Complex impact on the Deschutes River. The installation and implementation of the Selective Water Withdrawal Tower was the single largest anthropogenic change that has been imposed on the lower Deschutes River in the past fifty years. The impacts of that change have to be monitored effectively using appropriate methodology and analysis. This sort of monitoring is mandated by the Water Quality Management and Monitoring Plan, a part of the Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification that sets standards for operations at the Pelton-Round Butte Hydroelectric Complex.

This is the only way to determine if tower operations are having harmful effects on the lower river.

The dam operation permits and certification call for “adaptive management” in the event that there are problems created by Selective Water Withdrawal. To date, the only “adaptive management” invoked by PGE has been to seek agreements from ODEQ not to enforce various water quality requirements imposed on dam operations. The intent of the macroinvertebrate and periphyton study is to determine if that has or has not resulted in damage to the ecology of the lower river.

So the stakes are high for PGE. If this report were to document a decline in water quality and unfavorable changes to the ecology of the river below the dam complex, changes in dam operations would need to be made.

R2 Resource Consultants seem to be highly qualified to conduct studies such as this. But the work was done as a paid service to PGE.

PGE has been entrusted with the responsibility of monitoring for adverse changes to the river system as a consequence of the SWW Tower and its operation. This responsibility needs to be undertaken with a rigorous and transparent approach to assessing the state of a public resource affected by their operations. Anything else is a violation of that responsibility.

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