A Setback, but Not the End of the Fight


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

On Friday, August 3, the Deschutes River Alliance was notified by the Federal District Court that Judge Michael Simon had ruled against the DRA in our Clean Water Act citizen suit against Portland General Electric. In recent months DRA and PGE had each filed motions for “summary judgment,” asking the Court to determine whether PGE was violating the Clean Water Act at the Pelton Round Butte Hydroelectric Project. The Court granted PGE’s motion—a decision which, if it were to stand, would result in dismissal of the case.

We are in the process of analyzing the Court’s ruling and assessing our next steps as we work to ensure that critical water quality standards are protected on the Deschutes River.

While we are disappointed in this decision, it is not the end of the fight. We will continue pushing forward to protect and restore this incredible river, using every tool available. We won’t let up until cooler, cleaner water returns to the lower Deschutes.

Be on the lookout soon for the next steps in this important fight.

Cooler, cleaner H2O for the Deschutes!

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Action Alert – DRA Calls for Afternoon Fishing Closure on the Lower Deschutes River

OKeefe DR DRA 21 72 1200 copy

Photo by Brian O’Keefe

For the last two days, water temperatures at the Deschutes River’s Moody gauge reached 71° Fahrenheit, and have exceeded 70° Fahrenheit on many recent days. With predicted temperatures in north Central Oregon near or above 100° through early next week, it’s likely that Deschutes temperatures will reach 72° and higher in the coming days.

These temperatures are extremely dangerous for Deschutes River fish, including summer steelhead–which are listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. Water temperatures this high are widely understood to cause stress in salmonids, and prolonged exposure to these temperatures can result in mortality, or leave salmonids more vulnerable to a variety of temperature-enabled diseases.

With this in mind, we believe it is imperative that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) take any and all steps within its power to protect Deschutes River fish from these dangerously high temperatures. Most importantly, we believe ODFW should immediately implement an angling closure on the Deschutes River after 2 PM, from the mouth upstream to Sherars Falls, until water temperatures are consistently lower than 70°  Fahrenheit.  Such a move would help avoid additional and unnecessary stress, and potential mortality, to the river’s fish from hooking and handling.

We believe the state of Oregon has a responsibility to protect fish (especially when Endangered Species Act-listed fish are present) from the potentially lethal consequences of catch and release fishing when dangerously high water temperatures are present in the lower Deschutes River. A plan should be in place that is automatically triggered when water temperatures at the Moody Gauge reach 68° Fahrenheit. The plan should be progressive, and implemented in a step-wise fashion similar to the following:

  1. Begin daily monitoring of water temperatures when water temperature at the Moody Gauge reaches 68° Fahrenheit.
  2. Close all recreational angling from Sherars Falls to Heritage Landing on a daily basis beginning at 2 PM on any day when water temperatures at Moody reach or exceed 70° Fahrenheit.
  3. ODFW and other resource agencies should call on PGE to release as much bottom water as possible from the Pelton Round Butte Project when temperatures at the Moody Gauge reach daytime maximums of 70°. Article 405 of the Project’s FERC license explicitly empowers these agencies to require PGE to take any “restorative measures” at the Project whenever fish are harmed or endangered as a result of Project operations.

Again, we believe ODFW should be ready to implement these measures quickly and efficiently in the event that water temperatures begin threatening salmonids.

Please take a few minutes to contact ODFW Director Curt Melcher, along with Governor Brown’s Natural Resources Policy Manager Jason Miner, and urge them to implement these sensible measures—including an immediate closure of recreational fishing below Sherars Falls after 2 PM—to protect Deschutes River fish:

Curt Melcher

Jason Miner

In the meantime, we would ask that all anglers cease fishing at 2 PM during these periods of high water temperatures. Find some shade, enjoy a cold beverage, and give the fish a much-needed respite.

Dead Chinook - Andrew

From Summer 2015: A dead spring Chinook salmon in the lower Deschutes River. Photo by Andrew Dutterer.

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

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Lawsuit Update: A Big Day in Court


The Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse. Photo by Krista Isaksen.

On July 17, the DRA again appeared before Judge Michael Simon in Federal District Court for a hearing in our lawsuit against Portland General Electric.  The hearing was scheduled to address several motions that had been filed in the case this spring.

First, PGE had filed a new motion to have the case dismissed—the company’s third such attempt since DRA brought this lawsuit in 2016.  In the current motion, PGE argued that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), rather than federal court, is the most appropriate venue to hear DRA’s claims.  PGE made this argument despite the fact that FERC has no expertise in water quality issues, has not been authorized to implement or enforce the Clean Water Act, and is not involved in formulating state water quality standards and requirements.

Next, the hearing addressed competing motions for “summary judgment” filed by DRA and PGE. With these motions, the parties each argued that the facts and law are sufficiently clear for the case to be decided without the need for a trial. After lengthy argument, Judge Simon indicated that he would likely issue a ruling later this summer.

Here at DRA, we will be eager to read Judge Simon’s analysis of the case. We believe that compliance with water quality requirements at the Pelton Round Butte complex is a critical first step to protecting and restoring this invaluable river, and we will be prepared to continue this important fight if necessary.

As always, this fight would not be possible without the support of people like you. Thank you for all you’ve helped us accomplish, and for your support as we move forward. Watch the DRA blog for further updates on this important case!

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

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Announcing the DRA’s 2017 Lower Deschutes River Water Quality Monitoring Report

Photo by Rick Hafele

We are pleased to announce the release of the DRA’s 2017 Water Quality Monitoring Report. This report presents a thorough analysis of data collected by the DRA on a continuous basis in 2017, at a location one mile below the Pelton Reregulating Dam. This monitoring is a key element of our science efforts and has been invaluable in helping the DRA and other stakeholders understand the changes occurring in the lower Deschutes River.

Key findings from this year’s report include:

  • pH measurements exceeded the basin standard of 8.5 standard units each day from May 10ththrough August 23rd of 2017, with measurements near 9.0 from mid-June through the end of July
  • In early July, dissolved oxygen concentrations began to fall below the 9.0 mg/L standard deemed necessary by ODEQ to adequately protect resident trout spawning and incubation. Dissolved oxygen concentrations below this minimum standard were measured each day from July 4 until August 27.
  • Higher water temperatures in the late winter through early summer appear to be having several significant impacts on the ecology of the lower Deschutes River. These include impacts to aquatic insect population size and hatch timing, accelerated algal growth, and increases in pollution-tolerant hosts for the Black Spot Disease and the shasta parasite.

This important monitoring work is continuing in 2018. This summer, DRA will be expanding our monitoring efforts, as we perform simultaneous continuous monitoring using two locations. This work will provide an even more detailed picture of the impacts of selective water withdrawal operations on lower Deschutes River water quality.

A special thanks to all who have made this critical work possible, including the following foundations and organizations:

  • Fly Fishers Foundation / Flyfishers Club of Oregon
  • Charlotte Martin Foundation
  • Clabough Foundation
  • Clark-Skamania Flyfishers
  • Maybelle Clark Macdonald Fund
  • American Fly Fishing Trade Association
  • Tualatin Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited
  • Washington County Fly Fishers

Read the full report here.


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Lawsuit Update: Another Victory as Court Again Allows DRA Lawsuit to Move Forward


Photo by Rick Hafele

The DRA has won another victory in our ongoing Clean Water Act lawsuit against Portland General Electric. Another request from PGE to dismiss the case has been denied. The decision allows this important lawsuit to continue to move forward.

DRA brought this suit in August 2016, to enforce water quality requirements at the Pelton Round Butte Hydroelectric Project (More background on the suit can be found here and here). In March, PGE and PGE’s co-owner (as a 33 1/3% partner) at the Project, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon (CTWS), filed motions to dismiss the case. They argued that CTWS is a necessary party to the case, but could not be joined as a defendant because CTWS, as a tribal entity, is immune from legal liability under the Clean Water Act. As a result, PGE and CTWS argued that the entire case should be dismissed.

Last week Judge Michael Simon of the Federal District of Oregon determined that the case should proceed. This is great news, as it brings us one step closer to ensuring that DRA’s claims will finally be heard in court.

One result of the Court’s most recent order is that CTWS will now enter the case as a defendant. DRA had elected to sue only PGE, and not CTWS, believing that the heaviest burden of responsibility for the Project’s water quality violations lies with PGE as the primary Project operator. However, both CTWS and PGE argued that the lawsuit could not proceed without CTWS, and Judge Simon has ordered that CTWS be made a formal defendant in the case.

This is the third time in total that DRA has defeated PGE attempts to have this case dismissed. Last year, DRA secured an important victory for clean water advocates everywhere, when Judge Simon determined, contrary to PGE’s arguments, that citizen groups like DRA have the authority to enforce critical water quality requirements at hydroelectric projects. PGE then asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to review Judge Simon’s decision, which in the face of DRA’s opposition the Ninth Circuit declined to do.

And now, PGE has filed a third motion to dismiss the suit, arguing that Judge Simon should decline to hear the case because the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and state agencies are proper venues for DRA to bring its claims, but not the courts. DRA has fully briefed that issue and will argue it, along with the legal merits of the case, in federal court on July 17.

DRA’s Clean Water Act enforcement case is a critical part of DRA’s advocacy efforts to restore cooler, cleaner water to the lower Deschutes River. As always, this work wouldn’t be possible without your tremendous support. Keep an eye on the DRA blog and social media for further updates on this important case.

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

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Clean Water Act Lawsuit Update: A Busy Summer Ahead


Photo by Brian O’Keefe

The Deschutes River Alliance legal team has a full plate this summer. Our Clean Water Act lawsuit against Portland General Electric (PGE), brought to enforce water quality standards at the Pelton Round Butte Hydroelectric Project, is moving forward quickly. Two court appearances and multiple rounds of briefing are scheduled for the coming months.

Up first is a hearing this Wednesday, May 9, in Judge Michael Simon’s courtroom in Portland. PGE and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon have filed new motions asking Judge Simon to dismiss the case. These motions, filed in late March, came nearly 18 months after PGE’s initial attempt to get the case dismissed. The parties have filed briefs on the new issues presented, and we look forward to arguing in court this week and again moving the case forward.

After that motion is resolved, the next scheduled court date is July 17. On that day, DRA and PGE will present arguments to Judge Simon on the central question of the case: whether PGE is violating the Clean Water Act at the Pelton Round Butte Project. As you may recall, in early March DRA filed a “Motion for Summary Judgment,” arguing that the facts and law in the case are sufficiently clear for Judge Simon to find PGE liable for its numerous violations, without the need for a lengthy trial. Last week, PGE filed its own Motion for Summary Judgment. After extensive briefing on these motions over the summer, on July 17 we will finally have the opportunity to argue the merits of this important case in court.

Through this lawsuit, DRA is seeking to ensure that important water quality standards are met in the lower Deschutes River. We believe this is a critical first step to restoring water quality on this incredible river, and to protecting the fish, insects, birds, and humans who call the river home. We are thrilled to finally have an opportunity to address the central issues in the case, and are looking forward to a busy summer ahead.

As always, none of this would be possible without the incredible support of people like you. We are so grateful for your help getting us to this point, and we will be sure to keep you updated on this important case as it develops.

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

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A Small Parasite is Likely Killing Deschutes River Spring Chinook

The Deschutes River population of wild spring Chinook salmon is in trouble. A pre-season run forecast by the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation (CTWS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service predicts that in 2018, only between 127 and 448 adult wild spring Chinook will return to the Deschutes River to spawn in the Warm Springs River.

This predicted return is considerably lower than the average return over the last 10 years of 685 wild fish, which itself is only around half of the optimum escapement goal for the run (identified in Oregon’s Administrative Rules as 1,300 fish per year). As an organization concerned with the health and abundance of all wild fishes in the Deschutes River, DRA finds this prediction very alarming, and is focused on understanding why this decline is happening and what can be done to reverse it.

As with other wild salmon runs in the Pacific Northwest, there are several possible explanations for the decline of Deschutes River wild spring Chinook. But there is one very likely culprit that DRA feels is being ignored. In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in the lower Deschutes River of the parasite Ceratonova shasta. This salmon-killing parasite, historically not a significant mortality factor in the lower river, is now abundant, and is having demonstrable impacts on spring Chinook. Recent studies and observations show that it is infecting and killing juvenile Chinook in the lower Deschutes, and may also be responsible for high pre-spawning mortality of adult spring Chinook. This rise in Ceratonova shasta is likely causing significant harm to the already fragile wild spring Chinook population, and also jeopardizing efforts to reintroduce spring Chinook above the Pelton Round Butte Hydroelectric Project, as those reintroduced juveniles and adults must migrate through the Deschutes River’s lower 100 miles on their journey to and from the ocean.

Why is this happening now? What more can be done to protect this important and fragile population of wild spring Chinook salmon?

Lower Deschutes River Chinook salmon. Photo by Brian O’Keefe.

Ceratonova Shasta in the Lower Deschutes River

            To understand why this parasite is so prevalent now, some background on the organism and its life cycle is important. Ceratonova shasta (or C. shasta), which is microscopic in size, is present in many Pacific Northwest streams and can be lethal to some salmonids, including Chinook salmon. It has been extensively studied for many years, and some of the original life history research on the parasite’s life cycle was done in the Deschutes River system. C. shasta has an interesting life cycle in which a small polychaete worm, Manayunkia speciosa, serves as an intermediate host which sheds the infective C. shasta organism into the water. This stage of the organism, the actinospore, then infects a fish, and the parasitic infection can be lethal from harm to the kidney and digestive system.

Life cycle of Ceratonova Shasta. Source: Oregon State University, http://microbiology.science.oregonstate.edu/deschutes-river

Historically, C. shasta has been more prevalent in warmer southern Oregon rivers, and was not thought to be a significant problem in the lower Deschutes. Unfortunately, this no longer appears to be the case. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in 2014 staff at the Warm Springs National Fish Hatchery observed returning adult spring Chinook infected with C. shasta. Additional studies found that both juvenile and adult Deschutes River Chinook were dying prematurely, with C. shasta the suspected cause. And a recent study in the lower Deschutes River demonstrated unusually high levels of C. shasta spores in the water, as well as high levels of C. shasta-related mortality in caged spring Chinook juveniles. Disturbingly, in a sampling site located near Oak Springs Hatchery (located just downstream from Maupin) as many as 87% of caged juvenile Chinook were infected with C. shasta after being exposed to Deschutes River water for 72 hours.

Why Now?

            Various explanations have been offered for the increased presence of C. shasta in the lower river, including increases in water temperature due to climate change. However, DRA believes there is a more fundamental explanation for the marked increase in the C. shasta parasite documented these last few years—an explanation we have not yet seen in discussions around the topic.

Based on available information and data, it appears that the increase in C. shasta may be directly related to operations at the Selective Water Withdrawal (SWW) tower above Round Butte Dam. Since SWW operations began in late 2009, water quality on the lower Deschutes has declined—largely due to the warmer and nutrient-rich surface water from Lake Billy Chinook that is being passed downstream into the lower river. This abrupt change in water quality has also changed the macroinvertebrate community below the Pelton Round Butte project. This has included significant increases in non-insect taxa, including in the presence of Manayunkia speciosa—the polychaete worm that serves as the intermediate host for the C. shasta parasite. While pre-tower sampling in the lower Deschutes did not collect any M. speciosa, post-tower studies in the same locations have collected as many as several thousand M. speciosa individuals per square meter of stream bottom. Similarly, DRA post-tower sampling efforts have collected as many as 8,285 M. speciosa per square meter at Dizney Riffle.

This dramatic increase in M. speciosa is likely a significant factor, if not the driving factor, in the new and increased prevalence of the C. shasta parasite, and the subsequent harm that is resulting to the Deschutes River spring Chinook population. This hypothesis is supported by CTWS data showing a dramatic increase, since 2010, in the percentage of adult spring Chinook that are being counted at Warm Springs National Fish Hatchery and passed upstream, but then dying before they are able to spawn. The chart below reflects data collected on wild spring Chinook in the Warm Springs River from 1977-2016. The chart shows the number of wild fish counted at Warm Springs National Fish Hatchery, divided by the number of Chinook redds counted in spawning ground counts later in the year. (“fish per redd”). A larger number of fish per redd means that more fish died after they were counted at the hatchery and released upstream to spawn naturally, but before those fish were able to spawn.

Fish per redd in WSR basin, 1977 – 2016. From Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon Natural Production Monitoring Progress Report, January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2016. BPA Project # 2008-311-00, BPA contracts #: 64276, 69558, 73078. Authors: Graham Boostrom and Cyndi Baker.

As you can see, the average number of “fish per redd” in the Warm Springs River jumped from 4.0 from 1977-2009, to 13.1 from 2010-2016. (Further, an astounding 19 adult spring chinook were required to result in one redd in 2016, and 24 adults were required in 2017). In other words, there has been a marked increase in pre-spawning mortality since 2010, which coincides with the commencement of SWW operations in late 2009. These pre-spawning deaths could very well be attributable to Chinook adults being infected by C. shasta on their trip up the Deschutes mainstem.

In sum: The increased presence of C. shasta in the Deschutes River is likely due in significant part to marked increases in the parasite’s intermediate host in the lower river, which in turn is likely due to changes in water quality resulting from SWW operations. And the C. shasta parasite is having a very real impact on spring Chinook salmon in the Deschutes River: it is clearly killing juveniles, and is very likely infecting and killing pre-spawning adults as well.

Deschutes River Spring Chinook Need Help

            More information is needed on C. shasta’s present impacts on Chinook salmon in the Deschutes basin. And it is imperative that basin stakeholders take a hard look at the role of SWW operations in the rise of this fish-killing parasite. C. shasta is not just impacting the threatened wild population of Deschutes River spring Chinook: it is likely playing a role in the extremely low numbers of spring Chinook returning to the Pelton Round Butte Project as part of fish reintroduction efforts there. We call on the agencies responsible for the management of this wild run of spring Chinook to acknowledge these impacts, study the situation, and take aggressive action to stop the loss of these fish before it’s too late. The present decline in wild spring Chinook numbers would predict an extinction event unless such aggressive action is taken. It is time to stop blaming ocean conditions and climate change for this problem, and acknowledge that there are immediate actions we can take that would likely reverse the decline of this treasured wild run.

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