Silent Auction Items for the 2019 Gathering & Auction Announced!

The Second Annual Gathering & Auction is just two weeks away! This year, we have expanded our silent auction to include dozens more items and packages. Check out our incredible selection below. Thank you to all our donors and supporters who made this possible!

See something you like, but are not able to attend? No problem – email Krista Isaksen at krista@deschutesriveralliance.org with your proxy bid and we will contact you after the event if you are the winner.

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Live Auction Items Announced for the DRA’s February 9th Gathering

Artwork by Clay Nowak of Roundhouse Agency

Saturday, February 9, 2019

1pm – 5pm

Montgomery Park, Portland, OR

 

In just a few weeks, the Deschutes River Alliance community will assemble once again for our annual Gathering and Auction. We are honored to once again share an incredible afternoon with so many of our fellow Deschutes lovers and look forward to accommodating even more folks next year.

Here’s a list of this year’s live auction items:

 

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What Changed on the Lower Deschutes This Year?

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Photo by Brian O’Keefe

Something was different on the lower Deschutes River this year. Water clarity seemed noticeably improved over recent years. Anglers were pleasantly surprised at the size of some aquatic insect hatches, particularly for caddis. Craneflies and midges seemed to be more plentiful as well.

So, what changed? Which variable, or variables, in the Deschutes system were different compared to previous years—and different enough to result in these notable changes to the lower river?

Many, ourselves included, initially hypothesized that Portland General Electric had simply adjusted the blend of surface and bottom water being drawn through the Selective Water Withdrawal tower. Lake Billy Chinook surface water is composed primarily of water originating in the Crooked River basin. This surface water is warmer, and richer in nutrients and agricultural pollutants, than the water near the bottom of Lake Billy Chinook, which is primarily of Metolius River origin. As a result, we have long advocated for significant increases in the percentage of bottom water drawn through the tower, to be discharged to the lower Deschutes. If PGE had increased the amount of bottom draw coming through the tower this year, we would expect to see improvements in water quality.

This explanation, however, didn’t pan out. A close examination of the Project’s blend data from 2018 showed no significant changes from the blends in previous years. In other words, the percentage of surface water being drawn from the reservoir this year was similar to previous years of SWW operation.

One Likely Contributor: Low Crooked River Flows

So what was responsible for this year’s improved conditions?

We believe a likely explanation, or partial explanation, for these changes in the lower river is that this year there was simply less Crooked River water entering Lake Billy Chinook. Snowpack in the Crooked Basin was extremely low last winter, resulting in well-below average flows throughout the spring and summer. The hydrograph below compares 2018 flows above Prineville Reservoir (the green line) to average flows in that location (the red line).

Hydrograph 1

Source: United States Bureau of Reclamation

These reduced flows above Prineville Reservoir, particularly in the winter and spring, ultimately resulted in a significant reduction in Crooked River water entering Lake Billy Chinook in 2018. The hydrograph below, from near Opal Springs, tells this story clearly. Note that in 2016 and 2017, there were huge spikes in discharge between January and July; these peak spring flows simply did not occur in 2018 (note that peak spring flows were 10 times lower in 2018 than 2017).

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Source: United States Geological Survey

This decrease in Crooked River flows could well help explain this year’s changes on the lower Deschutes River. We have often hypothesized that it is the polluted, nutrient-rich Crooked River water that is responsible for many of the observed changes on the lower river since SWW operations began—including new proliferations of nuisance algae, harm to water quality and clarity, and impacts to aquatic insect and fish populations. With less Crooked River water (and its attendant agricultural pollution) entering the reservoir, there would necessarily be less Crooked River water and agricultural runoff being discharged downstream—even if the same percentage of surface water is being drawn through the tower as in previous years. There are almost surely multiple factors at play influencing this year’s lower river conditions, but reduced Crooked River flows and agricultural runoff could represent a big piece of the puzzle.

Even This Year, Water Quality Problems Remain

It is also worth noting that even this year, SWW operations are resulting in alarming water quality issues in the lower Deschutes, particularly with regard to pH. The following hourly pH data are from DRA’s water quality monitoring station, located one mile below the Pelton Reregulating Dam. High pH levels are a useful indicator of excessive algal growth and nutrient enrichment in freshwater systems. (For more information on why pH matters, click here). As you can see, daily maximum pH levels were recorded above the basin standard of 8.5 standard units each day between March and November.

2018 pH graph Entire year

Note: The width of the graph line represents the daily swing in pH levels from a low in the early morning around sunrise to a peak in the mid-afternoon. The wide range of daily pH readings is directly due to high algal biomass in the river. A complete assessment of this year’s pH data, and all other water quality parameters, will be available when DRA’s 2018 water quality report comes out in early 2019.

So even in a year when Crooked River flows were reduced, pH levels were still unacceptably high below the Pelton Round Butte Project. This underscores the need for a fundamental re-thinking of SWW tower operations, to ensure compliance with water quality standards and protection of the aquatic life–and central Oregon communities–that depend on a healthy lower river. This year’s data and observations also point to the benefits we could see in the lower Deschutes if PGE operated the SWW tower to reduce the amount of Crooked River water released downstream.


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

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Announcing the Deschutes River Alliance 2018 Annual Donor Update!

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Dear Members of the Deschutes River Alliance Community,

We are pleased to share with you our 2018 Annual Donor Update. As you’ll read inside, 2018 was an exciting year at the DRA, as we broadened our science and advocacy efforts on behalf of all who treasure this remarkable river. And we’re not slowing down: 2019 promises to be another critical year, as we fight to protect water quality, aquatic life, and the communities who depend on a healthy Deschutes River.

As always, none of our work would be possible without the support of our many donors: the individuals, corporations, foundations, and fellow environmental organizations that make it possible for the DRA to accomplish our mission. We are sincerely grateful for all your support, and are excited to share our many accomplishments with you, along with our big plans for 2019 and beyond. With your support, we will restore cooler, cleaner water to the lower Deschutes River.

Click here to read about our many successes this year, and about how we plan to keep it going in 2019.

And if you would like to make a donation towards our programs in 2018, please click here.

Wishing you all the best this holiday season. Here’s to another great year in 2019!


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

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Recap and Photos From a Successful Lower Deschutes Cleanup!

Fence crew

Photo by Brad Staples

Last Saturday, December 1, the DRA was thrilled to help organize and participate in a unique river cleanup day on the lower Deschutes. The fires that tore through the Deschutes Basin this summer cleared massive amounts of vegetation from the lower river’s banks, exposing trash and other debris which had previously been hidden or inaccessible. On Saturday, we partnered with several jetboat guides and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to gather and haul out this newly exposed debris.

The day was an incredible success. The weather cooperated, and volunteers were transported via jetboat to various locations on the river’s lower twelve miles. As you’ll see in the photos below, volunteers gathered a remarkable amount of wire, old barrels, fencing, garbage, and an assortment of other random finds. We had a great BBQ lunch provided by ODFW, saw old friends, and made new connections with nearly 30 Deschutes-lovers.

This event would not have been possible without the time and generosity of jetboat guides Brad Staples, Sam Sickles, and Curtis Ciszek, or the support of Jeremy Thompson and the rest of the ODFW staff. And an enormous thanks to all the volunteers who got out of bed early to provide the manpower. The response we received for the event was incredible, and the work performed Saturday will have a real impact on the lower river for years to come.

Check out the photos below, and be sure to sign up for our email list to hear about more volunteer opportunities!

Starting the Day

Jetboats loaded and ready for the day. Photo by Jonah Sandford.

Fence crew

One jetboat crew and their captain. Photo by Mark Hesterberg.

Heading downstream

Barrels and debris getting transported off the river. Photo by Jonah Sandford.

Silvey

A satisfied volunteer. Photo by Jonah Sandford.

Trailer

One of two trailers packed with trash and debris. Photo by Jeremiah Jenkins.

Lunchtime

A well-deserved lunch break. Thanks again to ODFW for a fantastic lunch. Photo by Brad Staples.

Truck #2

A second trailer packed with debris. Photo by Jonah Sandford.

Group photo

The full volunteer crew. Photo by Brad Staples.


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

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New Report: In Whychus and McKay Creeks, Hatchery Steelhead are Replacing Native Redband Trout

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Photo by Brian O’Keefe

It has long been clear that efforts to reintroduce salmon and steelhead above the Pelton Round Butte Hydroelectric Project are altering the Deschutes River’s ecology below the dams. The transfer of Lake Billy Chinook surface water to the lower river, through the Selective Water Withdrawal tower, has led to nutrient enrichment, nuisance algae proliferations, and subsequent impacts to aquatic life in the river’s lower 100 miles.

Now, a new report from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and PGE indicates that the fish reintroduction program is also negatively impacting Deschutes Basin ecology above the Pelton Round Butte Project. According to the report’s authors, hatchery steelhead are replacing native redband trout in Whychus and McKay creeks, two important tributaries where the hatchery fish are released as part of the reintroduction program. This is the second study to find such replacement of natural-origin fish in the upper Deschutes Basin: a 2015 report from U.S. FWS and the U.S. Forest Service also found that hatchery steelhead from the reintroduction program had largely replaced native redband in Whychus Creek.

Background

Since 2007, juvenile hatchery steelhead have been released in Whychus Creek—a main tributary of the upper Deschutes River—as part of the Pelton Round Butte fish reintroduction program. In the Crooked River tributary McKay Creek, releases began in 2008. In total, nearly 7 million hatchery steelhead juveniles have been released in the upper basin since the program began.

Before these hatchery releases began, both McKay and Whychus creeks had important populations of wild native redband trout. However, it is well understood that wild populations can be heavily influenced by hatchery releases, either through interbreeding or through competition. The new report from U.S. FWS and PGE examines the impact that hatchery steelhead releases have had on the wild populations in Whychus and McKay creeks. 

Troubling Results

The results of the report are simply alarming, indicating that hatchery fish are quickly replacing native redband trout in these important tributaries. In Whychus Creek, the authors conclude that O. mykiss from the Round Butte Hatchery have predominantly replaced natural-origin O. mykiss from Whychus Creek. McKay Creek has not yet seen this level of replacement, but the authors warn that “the increasing genetic similarity of the [McKay Creek] population to Round Butte Hatchery fish through time suggests the population is being heavily influenced by hatchery releases.”

Put simply, this report indicates that hatchery steelhead releases are jeopardizing the survival of native redband trout in Whychus and McKay creeks. Per the report’s authors, these hatchery releases “represent a substantial risk to the persistence of the naturally-spawning populations, given what we know about the potential risks of hatchery introgression.”

Why This Matters

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Photo by Brian O’Keefe

Interbreeding between hatchery fish and wild, natural origin fish can have severe impacts on the fitness and reproductive success of a naturally-spawning population. This can occur either through competition, or by decreasing the population’s genetic diversity (and thus ability to adapt). For those who value healthy, adaptable populations of native redband trout in Whychus and McKay Creeks, this report’s conclusions should be of great concern.

This study also illustrates another troubling impact on the basin from current fish reintroduction efforts. DRA has long supported the goal of returning salmon and steelhead to the upper Deschutes basin, but these efforts simply cannot come at the expense of native fish populations—or the health of the lower Deschutes River.

DRA will be studying these results closely in the coming weeks, and asking tough questions of the agencies responsible for native fish management. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, in particular, is responsible for managing Oregon’s native redband trout pursuant to the Native Fish Conservation Policy. That Policy identifies ODFW’s principal obligation for fish management as “conservation of naturally produced native fish species in the geographic areas to which they are indigenous.” We believe it is time for ODFW to take a close look at how Pelton Round Butte operations are impacting native fish in the upper Deschutes Basin.

Read the full report here.


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

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Poor Fish Returns to Pelton Round Butte, Part 2: Where Do We Go From Here?

Option 1

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

Earlier this month on the DRA blog, we provided an overview of adult fish return numbers to date for the Pelton Round Butte fish reintroduction program (of which the Selective Water Withdrawal Tower is the centerpiece). Those numbers are pretty disappointing; and likely not just for us, but for everyone involved in the project.

At the DRA, we have raised concerns several times—most recently in an October 30 letter to several agencies, which can be read here—about low adult returns. The responses we’ve heard from supporters of the current program primarily fall into two categories. The first is to attribute the poor return numbers to current climate conditions. The second is to argue that the program simply needs more time. Both of these responses are worth examining.

Climate Conditions

The low numbers of returning adult fish are regularly blamed on current climate conditions. Indeed, there is no doubt that climate conditions—and subsequent poor ocean conditions—have created survival challenges for all anadromous fish. However, these conditions are not new.  They have plagued salmon and steelhead in the Columbia Basin for at least two decades. However, as far as we can tell these inherent difficulties were not included in the planning or acknowledged uncertainties regarding the Pelton Round Butte fish reintroduction program.  And not all years since reintroduction was initiated have been low snowpack or low precipitation years.  2017 was a remarkably high precipitation year with near record-breaking snowpack. 2011 also saw robust precipitation and runoff.  In other words, we continue to see annual precipitation variations.

With that said, there appears to be little hope for higher average precipitation levels as we move into the future (see Mote, et al, Dramatic Declines in Snowpack in the Western US, Nature: Climate and Atmospheric Science, March 2, 2018, and https://www.opb.org/news/article/snowpack-west-oregon-washington-climate-change/).  The long-term trends all indicate that in coming years the Western U.S. will see a continued decline in precipitation, along with reduced snowpack.

In other words, these climate conditions are here to stay. In our view, any hope or reliance on increased precipitation or other improved climate conditions for the benefit of the fish reintroduction program appears misguided.

It’s Going to Take Time

Another common refrain we hear from the more ardent supporters of the fish reintroduction program is that more time is needed. They point out that a program like this has never been attempted before, and argue that the system operators simply require more years of research, data collection, and “adaptive management” to get things right.

However, we have not seen a clear explanation as to what exactly will happen with more time to make the program more successful. What factor or variable will change over time that will lead to better results?  How much better will the results be?  Exactly how much more time is needed?  What are these predictions based on?

We believe it is critical that if this program is to continue, then there must be answers to these fundamental questions. To this point, we have not seen convincing arguments, plans, or data demonstrating that more time will lead to greater reintroduction success. All of this underscores the need for firm goals for the program, on a specified timeline, that the public can access and review in coming years.

The Future

The costs of this program have been enormous.  We have not seen a thorough cost analysis, but we know based on numbers released to the public that the costs for planning, studies, construction, and implementation likely exceed $150 million. And this does not include costs to the lower Deschutes River ecosystem—and the communities that depend on it—resulting from an increased nutrient load being transferred below the Project due to surface water withdrawal at Round Butte Dam.

Given all of this, and the fact that trend lines for adult returns are moving in the wrong direction, it only seems reasonable to ask for a critical analysis and review of the current fish reintroduction program.

We continue to maintain that an expert panel, external to PGE and the agencies comprising the Project’s “Fish Committee,” should be convened to analyze the current program and assess for modifications that could lead to significantly improved performance.  If significant improvements in adult fish returns are not possible, then it is time to consider new fish mitigation alternatives, as contemplated by the Pelton Round Butte Project’s license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Without significant changes in operation, calls for more time will only delay what ultimately must be done to provide real mitigation.

Fish passage at the Pelton Round Butte Project was attempted when the dams were first constructed.  A fish ladder was built (at the time, the longest fish ladder in the world) and a gondola at the upper end of the fish ladder lifted adult upstream-migrating fish over Pelton Dam.  But juvenile fish couldn’t find their way downstream through Lake Billy Chinook or through Lake Simtustus.  When those efforts proved unsuccessful, measures were quickly taken to find alternative methods of mitigation for the lost runs of steelhead, spring Chinook and sockeye.

We have requested that the relevant agencies identify potential alternative fish mitigation plans, should the current reintroduction program also prove unsuccessful. We believe it is time to think about the future of fish mitigation at the Pelton Round Butte Project.  If it is simply more of the same, we fear the future is bleak for anadromous fish above the dams, and for the health of the lower Deschutes River.


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

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