DRA Releases 2018 Lower Deschutes River Water Quality Report

The Deschutes River Alliance accomplished a lot of important work for the lower Deschutes River in 2018:

None of this work would have been possible without the generous support and dedication to the lower Deschutes River of our donors.

Photo by Wesley Noone.


In addition, we are pleased to announce the release of the DRA’s 2018 Lower Deschutes River Water Quality Report. The report is a comprehensive analysis of data collected from our water quality monitoring work conducted in 2018. This monitoring continues to be an important element in our science efforts and provides invaluable insight into changes occurring on the lower Deschutes River.

What did we find? Once again, our data (in combination with our data we’ll be publishing soon on Lake Billy Chinook) finds the following:

  • Water quality in the surface water in the forebay of Lake Billy Chinook is composed of water matching Crooked River water. This seasonally warm, algae laden and nutrient polluted water forms the surface water that is drawn into the Selective Water Withdrawal (SWW) Tower and, for much of the year, is being discharged undiluted into the lower Deschutes River. Prior to surface water withdrawal, reservoir algae absorbed and utilized the excess nutrients entering the reservoir from the Crooked River.  Then later in the year, the reservoir would mix, or “turn over.”  Back then, cool, clean water was discharged from the bottom of the forebay at Round Butte Dam. Now with surface water draw at the tower, the residency time of surface water is reduced, resulting in nitrogenous nutrients being transferred to the lower Deschutes River.
  • The consequence of this surface water withdrawal is a yearly seasonal pattern of exceeding or not meeting the water quality requirements of the Water Quality Management and Monitoring Plan of the Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification of the Pelton-Round Butte Hydroelectric Complex. The exceedances are primarily for pH and temperature.
  • Dissolved oxygen is not being managed for redband trout during much of their spawning period in the lower Deschutes River.
  • Oregon Department of Environmental Quality pH data collected at the Hwy. 26 bridge on the lower Deschutes River continues to record significantly higher pH (a marker of increased nutrient pollution and algae growth) since the SSW Tower went into operation.
  • In 2018, a reduction in observed turbidity, and increased adult aquatic insect hatch activity during the month of May coincided with reduced Upper Crooked River flows.The upper Crooked River went dry just above the reservoir in mid-May of 2018.


These findings are detailed and substantiated in our annual water quality report.

Absent effective action by state and federal authorities, DRA will continue to seek to enforce Clean Water Act water quality standards as a principle means of restoring the ecological integrity of the Lower Deschutes River.

Going forward, we are also implementing a water quality monitoring program for the Crooked River.

We are eager to get our Lake Billy Chinook data published later this summer.  Watch for it in mid-July to early August 2019.

We want to give our most heartfelt thanks to our supporters for making it possible to do this work in monitoring and defending the lower Deschutes River.


Whirling Disease Not Likely in Lower Deschutes River

We received the photo below via social media a few weeks ago and we were asked if the fish in the photo was affected by “whirling disease” or Myxobolus cerebralis.



No diagnosis of whirling disease can be possible without a proper examination by someone knowledgeable in fish pathology despite the appearance of the fish.  There are other causes of the spinal and other malformations that are more likely in the lower Deschutes River trout population.

First amongst those is trauma from electroshocking.  Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) has been conducting electroshocking studies in the lower Deschutes River for several years.  Trauma such as seen in the photo above, although rare, is not unusual.

This fish could also have been the victim of osprey predation as a juvenile, but managed to escape.

Myxobolus cerebralishas a relatively complicated three-stage, two-host, life cycle.  Part of that life cycle requires a tubificid oligochaete(Tubifex tubifex).  Although the lower Deschutes River has seen a large increase in oligochaetes since the implementation of surface water draw from Lake Billy Chinook, this specific oligochaete has not been identified in either of two sampling studies of benthic fauna.

There have also been no other reports of similarly afflicted fish in the lower Deschutes River.  Whirling disease tends to occur in epidemics.

At one time in the 1990s and early 2000s, there were suspicions that whirling disease might be present in the Upper Deschutes River watershed, although no publications that we are aware of substantiate that.  Whirling disease is an ongoing concern and is monitored for in hatcheries.

If you find fish with an appearance similar to that in the photo above, please photograph the fish, and if possible, get it to a local ODFW office (on ice of course!).

Everyone can help prevent the spread of whirling disease (and other invasive species like New Zealand mud snails) here and elsewhere by following guidelines for cleaning waders and wading boots.  Here is information on how to clean your gear:


Helping Neighbors in Need

The residents of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Reservation have had major problems with their domestic water supply recently.  The problems are so bad that there has been no water delivery to homes or other buildings via the municipal piped water system for weeks now.

The problems include breaks in the water main, and prior to that, boil water notices due to inadequate filtration of the domestic water which is drawn directly from the Deschutes River.

A date for completion of the water main repairs still remains in the future.  Until the water main repairs are complete, residents must use bottled water at home.  Showers have been provided using the mobile showers firefighting camps use.

On Tuesday, June 18, the Deschutes River Alliance delivered 100-gallon jugs of commercial purified spring water to the water crisis command and distribution center in Warm Springs.  This was a veritable drop in the bucket compared to the overall need. But we’ll return again next week with another delivery. We’ve been told that Warm Springs is going through about 600-gallons a day of bottled water.

Wes Noone after loading 100 gallon jugs of water in the back of a pickup for delivery to Warm Springs.


The entire population that lives south of Highway 26 is presently without water.

Our offering of 100-gallons of water was very warmly received.  We’d like to suggest that others make similar donations. Gallon jugs are requested to limit the amount of plastic that will need to be recycled after the crisis is over.


Volunteers unloading our donation at the Warm Springs emergency water distribution center.


Sarah Cloud Named New Executive Director of the DRA

Please join us in welcoming our new Executive Director to the Deschutes River Alliance!  

As you know, Jonah Sandford recently left us to join the Northwest Environmental Defense Center.  We are excited for both his future endeavors and ours as we enter this transition.

Sarah comes to us with over twenty years of non-profit and political campaign management experience and a desire to protect the environment.  Most recently she has worked for non-profits focused on gender equity in the tech industry and housing issues. In addition, she has worked with the Citizens’ Utility Board of Oregon and various political campaigns.

“I have always been drawn to work that fights for the underdog. Unfortunately, the environment is an underdog in our current climate. I look forward to working with a team dedicated to protecting and preserving the Deschutes River as the treasure it is.” Sarah shares.

She has a diverse skill set that includes fundraising, conflict resolution, utilization of mainstream and social media, and data management.

Although not a fly angler (yet), Sarah sees and understands the importance of clean water and citizen enforcement of clean water laws. Some of her fondest childhood memories are of fishing with her dad on Lakes Michigan and Hamilton in the Luddington, Michigan area. These days you will often find her exploring many of the flat waters of the region via her kayak.

You’ll be hearing more about, and from, Sarah in the coming months.  Please join us in giving her a warm welcome.


Big Transitions at the DRA

In the coming months, you’ll be seeing some big changes at the Deschutes River Alliance. We are reorganizing with an eye towards managing for the continued success and growth of our science, legal, and advocacy programs. Ultimately, these changes will allow us to more effectively achieve our mission of protecting the Deschutes River.

These changes come on the heels of an announcement from our Executive Director, Jonah Sandford, that he will be leaving the DRA to join the Northwest Environmental Defense Center, one of the leading legal advocates for environmental issues in the Pacific Northwest.  Although we hate to see him go, we are probably as excited about this new opportunity for Jonah as the Northwest Environmental Defense Center is.  Jonah has done a tremendous job for the DRA and we know he will be successful in his new position at NEDC.


Jonah and Jasper Sandford. We’ll particularly miss seeing Jasper’s face in the DRA’s newsletters!

As we move forward in the next chapter of the DRA, our new Executive Director will focus on increasing our capacity in areas such as public relations, communications, and organizational management, all while leading DRA’s advocacy efforts on behalf of this remarkable river.  A search for a new Executive Director has already begun.  We anticipate having the position filled by mid-May to early June.

Krista Isaksen has been an outstanding Development Director for the DRA, as exemplified by the success of our annual auctions these past two years. She will be continuing in that role, as well as taking on more operational responsibilities.  Her new title will be Director of Operations and Development.


Krista Isaksen, DRA’s Director of Operations and Development

In addition, we have hired Wesley Noone as a full-time Science Team member.  He will be coordinating our field work and helping us publish our scientific work.  Despite the many papers and reports we’ve published, we have a backlog of data to report and Wesley will play a major role in getting those data published.


Wesley Noone, DRA’s new Water Quality Technician

We will continue with the legal support of Dan Galpern and Doug Quirke, who have been our external legal counsel and representation for the past three years.  They will continue to represent us in our lawsuit against the owners/operators of the Pelton-Round Butte Hydroelectric Complex.

We are saddened to see Jonah leave the organization, but we are thrilled for his new opportunity, and we’re looking forward to implementing the next chapter of the DRA. It is an outstanding opportunity to re-structure the organization so as to maximize our effectiveness in the coming years. We will be sure to keep you updated as we progress through these exciting transitions.

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

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Attention Bug Watchers: Announcing DRA’s New Lower Deschutes River Hatch Survey App!

Bug 1

Photo by Rick Hafele

We are proud to announce the release of DRA’s new Lower Deschutes River Hatch Survey App! This app is easy to use on any smartphone, and allows users to easily gather and upload information on aquatic insect hatches in the Deschutes River. We hope you’ll add it to your phone today, and use it to help us more fully understand aquatic insect populations and hatch timing on the lower Deschutes.

Since 2013, DRA has collected macroinvertebrate hatch data from river guides who documented the presence and abundance of major adult aquatic insect hatches during their guide trips on the lower Deschutes. These survey results have been collected and analyzed in annual reports, which can be found on our website. This hatch data provides essential information about changes to the river’s insect community, as well as important insights about the overall health of the lower Deschutes River ecosystem.

This year, DRA has partnered with Trout Unlimited to create an app to make the survey process more streamlined and user-friendly, and we want your help collecting data! The app can be added to your phone’s home screen, data can be collected even when you’re out of phone service, and we’ve added photographs and other features to ensure the app is easy to use and data collected is accurate.

We will host a training session and kick-off for the app on Sunday, March 24 in Maupin, and all are invited (see details below). In the meantime, we invite everyone to access the app and familiarize yourself with its features. A guide to the survey, including how to access it and a brief tutorial, can be found here. The training session will answer all your questions about how to use the app, how to identify the major hatches, and a summary of past results. 

DRA Hatch Survey Kick-off and Training
Sunday, March 24, 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM
Maupin American Legion Hall
311 Deschutes Avenue
Lunch Provided!

 Please RSVP for the event by emailing Krista at krista@deschutesriveralliance.org. We’ll see you there!


Pale Evening Dun. Photo by Rick Hafele.


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

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Read DRA’s New Report on Water Quality and Land Use in the Crooked River Basin

Crooked River photo 1

Photo by Rick Hafele

We are pleased to announce the release of a new DRA report: Mapping Water Quality and Land Use in the Crooked River Basin, Oregon from 2010-2014. Using Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, the report provides, for the first time, maps and analysis of currently available water quality data collected throughout the Crooked River basin. We believe this report will be the first in a series of meaningful steps to address nitrogen pollution in the Crooked and lower Deschutes rivers.

DRA’s primary focus remains securing evidence-based management changes at the Pelton Round Butte Hydroelectric Project, to protect and restore water quality in the lower Deschutes. We believe there are available operational changes that would immediately benefit the lower river, and we will continue advocating for these measures. But it is also essential, for the long-term health of the entire basin, that Crooked River water quality be addressed as well. Our new report provides an initial roadmap for that work.


In 2015 and 2016, DRA undertook a water quality sampling project in Lake Billy Chinook. This effort included sampling at the mouths of the three major tributaries to the Deschutes River—the Crooked, Middle Deschutes, and Metolius rivers. This sampling made clear that the Crooked River, in particular the consistent load of nitrogen-based nutrients it delivers to Lake Billy Chinook, is the primary cause of annual algae blooms in the reservoir. Further, because that Crooked River water is now discharged directly downstream, via surface water withdrawal at the Pelton Round Butte Hydroelectric Project, pollutants from the Crooked River are the primary driver of new nuisance algae blooms, as well as impacts to water quality and aquatic invertebrates, in the lower Deschutes River below the Project.

As a result, we believe it is essential for the restoration of both the Crooked and lower Deschutes rivers that sources of water quality pollution in the Crooked Basin be more fully identified and understood. To do this, DRA commissioned a GIS mapping project to examine data collected between 2010 and 2014 by the Crooked River Watershed Council and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. The resulting maps and analysis provide a critical first step for DRA and other stakeholders interested in tackling nitrogen pollution in the basin. The report is already guiding DRA’s 2019 monitoring efforts in the Crooked River.

Next Steps

Crooked River photo #2

High levels of nitrogen entering the Crooked River watershed result in excessive growth of aquatic plants and algae that cause further degradation of water quality. Photo by Rick Hafele

We believe that efforts to reduce nitrogenous pollution in the Crooked River are essential to the long-term future of the Deschutes Basin and the fish, wildlife, and people who live there. We are proud to be involved in these efforts, and this year we are expanding our scientific research into the Crooked River. Through these additional monitoring efforts, we will gain a better understanding of the river’s water quality issues, and begin identifying strategies for reducing the nitrogen load transported into Lake Billy Chinook.

While these efforts are underway, however, it is important to remember that these Crooked River pollutants do not have to be transported from Lake Billy Chinook into the lower Deschutes River. For the first 50+ years of Round Butte Dam’s existence, all water discharged to the lower river came from the bottom of Lake Billy Chinook. That water, generally of Metolius River origin, is much cleaner than the Crooked River water at the surface of the reservoir.

Discharge of Metolius River water helped create the high quality conditions that made the lower Deschutes a world-class habitat for insects, fish, and wildlife. And that cool, clean water is still down at the bottom of Lake Billy Chinook. As DRA expands our research and outreach in the Crooked Basin, we will continue to advocate forcefully for evidence-based management solutions at Pelton Round Butte and in the lower Deschutes River.

DRA’s new report provides the first GIS basin-wide analysis of water quality in the Crooked Basin. It will help guide our research in 2019 and beyond, and we are proud to release it today. Special thanks to Elinore Webb, the report’s lead author and GIS specialist, for all her work bringing this report to completion. And thanks to the Crooked River Watershed Council for allowing us access to their water quality data.

Read the full report here.

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

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