DRA & The 2015 International Federation of Fly Fishers Fair

The International Federation of Fly Fishers Fair will take place this August 11-15, 2015 in Bend, Oregon. This is a great event including presentations, workshops, and fly fishing industry representatives and conservation groups from all over the world.

The Deschutes River Alliance will host a table in the Exhibit Hall throughout the Fair, and will be giving a presentation on our conservation work and recent news on the lower Deschutes River on Thursday, August 13 from 2-3 pm.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Source: IFFF.

Source: International Federation of Fly Fishers.

Source: Deschutes River Alliance.

Source: Deschutes River Alliance.

Deschutes River Alliance: Cooler, cleaner H2O for the lower Deschutes River. 

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Lower Deschutes River Water Temperatures Dropping

By Greg McMillan & The Board of Directors of the Deschutes River Alliance

It’s mid-July and it’s already been a very hot summer.  And a very bad summer for fish.  Agencies, anglers and fish advocates are worried about the long-term consequences of large fish kills.

In the upper Columbia Basin, dams are releasing cold water to attempt to cool the Columbia River to try to protect fish.  Extra water is being released from dams in Canada, Montana and Washington, according to an article recently posted on Oregon Public Broadcasting’s website.

A coalition of fishing and environmental groups is calling for a blanket closure of all rivers with salmon and steelhead populations if water temperatures exceed 64.4 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Centigrade).

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, effective July 18, has closed many streams to angling after 2 PM to protect wild fish from heat associated hooking mortality.

Lower Deschutes River. Photo by Brian O'Keefe.

Lower Deschutes River. Photo by Brian O’Keefe.

Changes in Dam Operations

Back on our own lower Deschutes River, the site of two salmon fish kills, water temperatures are dropping.  We would like to acknowledge the release of cold water from Lake Billy Chinook by the dam operators at the Pelton-Round Butte Dam Complex.  Portland General Electric and The Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation own and operate the dams.  This is an important step in an attempt to improve conditions in the lower Deschutes River ecosystem, and possibly provide a cold-water refuge at the mouth of the lower Deschutes for Columbia River migrating fish.  The “Deschutes River Near Madras” gauge shown below is located in the tailrace just below the Pelton Reregulation Dam, the last dam of the three dam complex.

July 2015 water temperatures at Madras gauge. Source: USGS online.

July 2015 water temperatures at Madras gauge. Source: USGS online.

Although air temperatures have also been cooler, the cooler dam releases seem to be having an impact at the Moody temperature gauge at the mouth of the Deschutes River.

July 2015 water temperatures at Moody gauge. Source: USGS online.

July 2015 water temperatures at Moody gauge. Source: USGS online.

What Happens When Hot Temperatures Return?

Water temperatures will climb as air temperatures increase.  We would like to encourage the dam operators to continue to help mitigate the warm water temperatures in the river with cool water from the bottom of the reservoir, rather than once again warming the river with dam releases.  The water temperature at 260 feet of depth in front of Round Butte Dam was 49 degrees on Tuesday, July 14.  That is the level at which bottom water is drawn into the Selective Water Withdrawal Tower at Round Butte Dam.

We understand that the dam operators are concerned about depleting the supply of cold water at the bottom of Lake Billy Chinook.  Historically, for the 55 years of dam operation prior to implementation of the Selective Water Withdrawal system, this was apparently not a problem.  We have studied what happened last year when the dam operators lowered the discharge temperature (the temperature spike in August was due to a lightning strike and subsequent equipment malfunction):

July - October 2014 water temperatures at Madras gauge. Source: USGS online.

July – October 2014 water temperatures at Madras gauge. Source: USGS online.

From this graph you can see that it is apparent that the dam operators were able to discharge cool water until the end of September, when decreasing air temperatures cool the river.  We would be grateful for that temperature management to be undertaken again this year, when it’s critical for fish survival.

We have had only sporadic reports of single dead fish from guides floating the lower river the past several days.  Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reports that they found dead spring Chinook, mostly downstream from the confluence of the Warm Springs River with the lower Deschutes.  Many of those fish were apparently highly decomposed, which suggests death had occurred several days preceding their observation.

For the Future

We believe that a threshold peak water temperature should be determined so that in the future, when conditions begin to create thermal stress that leads to potentially lethal problems for fish, dam operations would change automatically.  Oregon Administrative Rules state that streams with salmon and trout rearing and migration should not exceed a seven-day average maximum temperature of 64.4 degrees Fahrenheit.   Discharge temperatures from the Pelton Reregulation Dam did not exceed these temperatures.  But river temperatures downstream from the dams did.  By discharging colder water using the Selective Water Withdrawal Tower, temperatures downstream from the dams could be proactively and automatically reduced and made safer for fish.

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Second Fish Kill Detected in Lower Deschutes River

 

By Greg McMillan & The Board of Directors of the Deschutes River Alliance

For the second time in a week, we’ve learned about a fish die-off in the lower Deschutes River.  This second fish kill is happening in the area of Whitehorse Rapids (25 miles upstream from Maupin at river mile 77, and 23 miles downstream from the Pelton-Round Butte Dam Complex) and consists of dead spring Chinook salmon.  A cause of death for these fish has not yet been determined.

Dead and dying spring Chinook were first reported by Taylor Geraths of TaylorMade Outfitters on Friday, July 10, and shortly thereafter confirmed on the same day by Deschutes River Alliance board member and Vice-President Damien Nurre, owner-operator of Deep Canyon Outfitters.  Both observed numbers of dead or dying spring Chinook between Whisky Dick Campground (river mile 78) and Nena Boat Launch (river mile 59).

Probable Cause of Death

There are two possible, and even likely, causes of these spring Chinook deaths.  The first is columnaris, which the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife believes is killing sockeye salmon at the lower end of the river.  The other is Ceratomyxa shasta, a not uncommon parasite in the Pacific Northwest.  It infects salmonids in warm water conditions.  Rates of C. shasta infections have reportedly been high in Chinook salmon exposed to Lake Billy Chinook (PGE Fisheries Workshop, 2015).

Both of these infections occur when salmonids are in water warmer than their normal and usual temperature range.

We know that these fish have been in the Deschutes River for weeks to a couple of months.  These fish enter the lower Deschutes River primarily in April and May.  So this is not an effect of exposure to the Columbia River that is crippling and killing these fish.  Conditions in the lower Deschutes River are contributing to the death of these fish.

Photo by Damien Nurre.

Photo by Damien Nurre.

River Conditions

Water temperatures in the lower river in the past few weeks have exceeded 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and been as high as 75 degrees at the Moody gauge on some days.   According to Rod French, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife fisheries biologist from The Dalles Office, in an interview in 2010 (OregonLive.com, July 22, 2010), “It’s not healthy for fish to be in 70-degree water for long periods of time.”

No one can control the weather conditions that have led to warm water in the lower Deschutes.  But the operators of the Pelton-Round Butte Dam Complex can control the temperature of the water leaving the dams thanks to the Selective Water Withdrawal Tower at Round Butte Dam.  By mixing warm surface water with cold bottom draw water they have an ability to adjust temperature from a low-end of near 50 degrees (the temperature of water near the bottom in Lake Billy Chinook) to over 70 degrees (surface water temperature in Lake Billy Chinook), or to temperatures anywhere between.  During the time of warm water conditions leading up to the two fish kills, the dam operators were discharging water as warm as 60.5 degrees.  When air temperatures are in the nineties, the water doesn’t have to travel far to hit the 70-degree temperature Rod French defined as unhealthy for fish.

This makes the situation in the Deschutes very different from the other rivers in Oregon where fish kills are taking place.  On the lower Deschutes, there is the ability to cool the river using water at depth in Lake Billy Chinook.

Fortunately, the weather has cooled.  River temperatures are dropping from crisis levels.  The dam operators have reduced the temperature of water leaving the dams.  But warm to hot weather will be returning soon.  Another warming trend is forecasted for the end of the week July 13. 

Photo by Andrew Dutterer.

Photo by Andrew Dutterer.

What To Do

The obvious answer is to discharge cooler water from the PRB Dam Complex.  Portland General Electric claims that they can’t do that because their operating license won’t allow them to cool the river.  But the fact is that they have done it (July 19, 2014).

There is language in their license allowing, and even mandating, “adaptive management.” (Water Quality Management and Monitoring Plan, Exhibit A, September 2002).

We believe it’s time to adapt to weather and climate conditions and save fish.

We also note that language in the operating license for the dam complex calls for changes in operations when fish or wildlife are threatened by dam operations.  According to the license (Article 405, Order Approving Settlement and Issuing New License, Project No. 2030-036, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, June 21, 2005.):

If at any time, unanticipated circumstances or emergency situations arise in which non-ESA listed fish or wildlife are being killed, harmed or endangered by any of the project facilities or as a result of project operation, the licensees shall immediately take appropriate action to prevent further loss in a manner that does not pose a risk to human life, limb, or property.

Similar language also applies to species listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

What You Can Do

Contact Portland General Electric’s Portland offices.  Let them know that the lower Deschutes River and its fish are important.  Let them know we need cooler temperatures in the river when the weather returns to being hot in another week.

customer.relations@pgn.com

Or call them at:

Community Affairs: 503-464-8599

Corporate Communications: 503-464-8949

Special Thanks

A great deal of work went into preparing this blog post.  Members of the DRA who contributed to this blog include: Steve Pribyl, Andrew Dutterer, Rick Hafele, John and Amy Hazel, Damien Nurre, Cam Groner, and Rick Trout.  I am indebted to them.

Greg McMillan

Deschutes River Alliance: Cooler, cleaner H2O for the lower Deschutes River. 

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The Heat Wave: Part 2

 

By Greg McMillan

The record-breaking heat wave that has taken the Pacific Northwest and held it hostage continues.  Fortunately it looks like there is a break coming this weekend.  Temperatures are predicted to drop by ten to fifteen degrees by Sunday, July 12.  That is very good news for fish.

In the meantime, more fish have been reported to be dying in the lower Deschutes.  Dead sockeye salmon have been seen as high as 3 miles upstream from the mouth of the Deschutes.   Dead sockeye are reported to be floating by the boat ramp at Heritage Landing, at the mouth of the Deschutes.  Steve Pribyl (retired ODFW fish biologist and DRA board member), is floating the lower river and will return on July 9 and we’ll have an update on the status of the fish kill at that time.

Autopsy reports just released by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife indicate that the sockeye salmon are dying not just of heat stress, but of an infection associated with high water temperatures: columnaris.  In their press release, ODFW suggests that these fish went up the Deschutes seeking refuge from the Columbia River.

The Columbia River, like all bodies of water right now, is getting hot.  Here’s how hot:

July 2015 Columbia River water temperatures. Source: USGS online.

July 2015 Columbia River water temperatures at The Dalles, Oregon. Source: USGS online.

That means that fish are seeking refuge in any cooler water that they can.  In a cruel trick of fate, fish were probably being lured into the Deschutes from the Columbia when overnight temperatures would get down to about 68 degrees in the Deschutes.  Then the next day the Deschutes would warm up to a temperature that exceeded that of the Columbia, making the situation even worse for the fish that sought relief in the Deschutes.

July 2015 lower Deschutes River temperatures at Moody. Source: USGS online.

July 2015 lower Deschutes River water temperatures at Moody gage (mouth of the Deschutes River, near the confluence with the Columbia River). Source: USGS online.

It’s now likely that fish, especially sockeye salmon, are dying in the Columbia.  They need cold-water refugia in the tributaries.  These might very well be Snake River sockeye salmon listed as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act.

Clearly fish in the lower Deschutes that aren’t dying are stressed at this point.  Anywhere the river is exceeding 70 degrees during the day the fish will be working to survive.

Meanwhile, at the Pelton-Round Butte Dam Complex, the dam operators continue to crank up the heat, making the lower river even warmer.  Need we say more?

July 2015 lower Deschutes River water temperatures at Madras (discharge from the Pelton-Round Butte dam complex). Source: USGS online.

July 2015 lower Deschutes River water temperatures at Madras gage (discharge point from the Pelton-Round Butte dam complex). Source: USGS online.

These temperatures are from the Pelton Reregulation Dam tailrace.  Given how hot it is, perhaps the dam operators can’t change the temperature of the river all of the way to the mouth (although there are data showing that in some circumstances they can).  But as cold, clean water sits at the bottom of the reservoir and the lower river is gripped in a heat wave that is killing fish, it seems like it’s time to let some of that cold water go.

Until December 31, 2009, all water discharged into the lower river was from the bottom of the reservoir.  Then Portland General Electric and The Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation constructed the Selective Water Withdrawal Tower to create surface currents in Lake Billy Chinook and provide temperature control for water discharged from the dam.  That temperature control is being implemented in a way that makes a bad situation worse.  We hope the dam operators begin to recognize the importance and value of the lower Deschutes River and provide cooler temperatures for the lower river.  They have cold water to use in this urgent time of need.  So use it.

This situation speaks for itself.

If you would like to let PGE know what you think, there is a  “Contact Us” function on their website.  It can be found at:

PGE: Contact Us

(https://cs.portlandgeneral.com/secure/contactUs/default.aspx)

Ask them your questions.  Leave them your contact information.

Or call them.

PGE Community Affairs: 
503-464-8599

PGE Corporate Communications: 503-464-8949

Deschutes River Alliance: Cooler, cleaner H2O for the lower Deschutes River. 

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Fish Kill Discovered on Lower Deschutes River

 

By Greg McMillan

“It’s not the heat, it’s the humility.”   –Yogi Berra

On Saturday, July 4, Steve Pribyl, retired Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife fisheries biologist and Deschutes River Alliance board member, found over a dozen dead sockeye salmon between Rattlesnake Rapid and Moody on the lower Deschutes River.

According to Steve, the fish were dead of apparent thermal stress from the high water temperatures.  Several sockeye were observed in slow, shallow water in obvious distress.  No other possible cause of this fish kill was noted (toxic spill, etc.).

Sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) are known to have a lower tolerance for warm temperatures than other salmonids.  That makes them the “canary in the coal mine” for heat related stress and death for salmonids.

Steve attempted to notify officials from The Dalles Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife office, but was unable to reach anyone over the weekend.  The Dalles ODFW office has been notified by email that the dead fish had been observed.

At the present time, despite high temperatures in the lower river, we don’t believe any monitoring program is in place to detect fish die off.

Although record high temperatures in north central Oregon are warming water, discharge temperatures at the Pelton-Round Butte Dam Complex (owned and operated by Portland General Electric and The Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation) have been increasing as the dam operators are drawing from the surface of the reservoir as the primary component of water being used to run turbines.

Last summer (2014) the dam operators elected to lower discharge temperatures by using more water from the bottom of the reservoir.  We think it’s time to do that once again.

 

Fish kill, lower Deschutes River, July 6, 2015. Photo by Steve Pribyl.

Fish kill, lower Deschutes River, July 6, 2015. Photo by Steve Pribyl.

Fish kill, lower Deschutes River, July 6, 2015. Photo by Steve Pribyl.

Fish kill, lower Deschutes River, July 6, 2015. Photo by Steve Pribyl.

Fish kill, lower Deschutes River, July 6, 2015. Photo by Steve Pribyl.

Fish kill, lower Deschutes River, July 6, 2015. Photo by Steve Pribyl.

Deschutes River Alliance: Cooler, cleaner H2O for the lower Deschutes River. 

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Heat Wave

By Greg McMillan

“If you saw a heat wave, would you wave back?”   –Steven Wright

 The lower Deschutes River has hit a water temperature of 73 degrees each of the past two days at the Moody gauge.  The weather forecast is for more hot weather for everyday of the foreseeable forecast.  In other words, it’s not likely that the water temperatures at Moody will go down in the next few days.

Moody Rapids, Lower Deschutes River. Photo by Brian O'Keefe.

Moody Rapids, Lower Deschutes River. Photo by Brian O’Keefe.

There are many factors that cause the lower river to warm up.  Foremost is how warm the weather is.  But length of day, how warm it stays at night, and finally, the temperature as the river leaves the dams at the Pelton-Round Butte Hydropower Complex.

Here are the temperatures at the Reregulation Dam (the last of the three dams in the three dam complex, located 100 miles upstream) and Moody Rapids (located just above the confluence with the Columbia River).

temp graph - madras no arrow lg.

temp graph - moody no arrow lg.

The dam operators have control over the temperature of the water leaving the Pelton Reregulation Dam.  That control is created by blending surface and bottom water from the Lake Billy Chinook reservoir at the Selective Water Withdrawal (SWW) Tower at Round Butte Dam, the upper most of the three dams.  We recently took temperatures in the forebay of Round Butte Dam.  The surface water was 72 degrees Fahrenheit, and the water at the bottom was 50 degrees Farenheit on the day we took measurements.

The dam operators seek to eliminate the thermal presence of the dams by setting a goal for water temperature that would be the same temperature as if the dams weren’t there.  They do this using a complicated formula that includes the temperatures of the tributaries as they enter Lake Billy Chinook and air temperature at Redmond Airport.

In the meantime, cooler, cleaner water sits at the bottom of the reservoir.  Last year, during the week of July 19, the dam operators conducted an experiment wherein they increased the bottom draw of reservoir water to 45% of the blend created by the SWW Tower to see how long it would last.  They’ve told us that the cold water supply ran out in September.  September, when the weather is cooler and the nights are longer.

When the temperature of the discharge water at the Reregulation Dam dropped, so did the temperature at Moody about a day and a half later (the length of time it takes for the water to travel 100 miles downstream).

temp graph - madras with arrow lg. 2

temp graph - moody with arrow lg. 2

We believe it’s time to do this “experiment” again.  The dam operators will tell us that what they are doing is what is required by their operating license.  That what they are doing is trying to return the river to its historic conditions.   One wonders what the trout and steelhead in the river would have to say about this?  Perhaps their answer will be to just die from thermal stress.

But the dam managers were operating under the same license last summer, and they were able to lower the temperature.  Their license also calls for “adaptive management.”

And although we (the DRA) are looking into the historic conditions, we can tell you that climate change wasn’t part of the picture prior to dam construction in the 1950s.  The data on pre-dam construction conditions are sparse.  We do know that there has been a great deal of riparian recovery in the past thirty years.  Shifting to more efficient systems has decreased irrigation withdrawals.  Sewage treatment that didn’t exist upstream from the dams now is in place.  Do we really want to return to those conditions?

If this heat wave continues, we can’t predict what will happen with the river, because none of us who have been on the river, even for as long as most of the DRA board members have, don’t remember an event like this.  As a result, we call on the dam operators to discharge cooler water to improve biological conditions in the lower river.

The Deschutes River just above Moody Rapids. Photo by Brian O'Keefe.

The Deschutes River just above Moody Rapids. Photo by Brian O’Keefe.