DRA Releases 2014 Lower Deschutes River Water Quality Report

By Greg McMillan

We’ve just posted the 2014 Water Quality Report to our website.  The report details our findings from last summer’s water quality sampling we did on the lower Deschutes River.  A lot of work went into the sampling, analysis, and report writing.  But it was worth it.  Here are some highlights:

  • Although there are several significant tributaries to the lower Deschutes River, they appear to have little effect on water quality (the exception being turbidity from White River sediments). Therefore, we have determined that the primary driver of water quality in the lower river is water discharged from the Pelton-Round Butte Dam Complex.
  • There are multiple indicators of high levels of algae activity. Evidence of this starts as high up in the lower river as we could sample (which was just below the Pelton Reregulation Dam).
  • The pH of lower Deschutes River water violates Deschutes Basin standards established by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. This is in no small part due to the high levels of algae activity, which results in CO2 being taken up for photosynthesis.  CO2 combines with water to make carbonic acid, so lower levels of CO2 result in water being more alkaline.
  • Chlorophyll-a levels of periphyton algae (algae growing on the stream bottom) exceeded the level established to determine if algae is at or above nuisance levels.

This work would not have been possible if not for the generosity of our donors, and the support of the Oregon Wildlife Foundation, Flyfishers Club of Oregon, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, as well as other individuals and organizations whom we’ve listed on our website.

There were hundreds of hours of work put into this effort.  Larry Marxer deserves thanks and kudos for writing up the water quality sampling protocol that we used, which was based on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality standards, managing the field equipment, and helping coordinate the field work. We especially want to thank Rick Hafele for his work in writing up the report.  Our field volunteers were outstanding.  They endured some brutal weather during our sampling periods.  Our timing last summer also meant we were dealing with river closures due to the Warm Springs Reservation fires, so there was much uncertainty to be dealt with.  They meticulously followed science-based protocols in the sampling and evaluation of those samples.  Our thanks to each of the following individuals:

Jeremiah Bawden                                  Jeff Mann

Kurt Carpenter                                        Larry Marxer

Robert Casey                                         Greg McMillan

Joe Combee                                           David Moskowitz

Rick Hafele                                             Kate Puddy

Bonnie Lamb                                          Larry Whitney

nuisance algae

Nuisance algae in the lower Deschutes River. Photo by Greg McMillan.

wq supplies

Water quality monitoring equipment in the mobile laboratory. Photo by Greg McMillan.

2014 Lower Deschutes River Aquatic Insect Hatch Report – by Greg McMillan

2014 Lower Deschutes River Aquatic Insect Hatch Survey Report

Now Available

Our 2014 Lower Deschutes River Aquatic Insect Hatch Survey by Rick Hafele is now available on our website. Rick, with the help of several guides and experienced fly anglers, compiled over 100 hatch observations in this report.

This is a worthwhile read to understand the hatches on the lower Deschutes. It’s also essential reading to understand the changes in aquatic insect populations and their hatch timing.

The single most startling result noted in the survey is the disappearance of the Antocha crane flies. The participants in this survey aren’t the only ones to note the disappearance of the Antochas. Portland General Electric and The Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation, owners/operators of the Pelton-Round Butte Dam complex, hired a natural resources consultant to do a biological survey of the lower Deschutes River. That consultant, in their report, has also failed to find evidence of Antocha crane flies.

How important is the loss of a species of insect in the lower Deschutes? If it’s an indicator of river health, the answer is very important. And we believe the Antochas are an indicator of river health.   We believe that the cause of their demise is the algae that now grows in the splash zone on river rock in the lower Deschutes. It’s in the splash zone that adult crane flies lay their eggs.

Deschutes Crane Flies by John Hazel

Deschutes Crane Flies by John Hazel

This algae, new since the switch to surface water withdrawal at Round Butte Dam, is likely the result of a change in nutrients being discharged from the dam. DRA has reported on this in several previous posts.

Antochas did have value to anglers. During the time of their mating, they were sometimes swept off rocks and made available to feeding fish. The astute angler could be very successful if imitating them at these times. But they had a more important role, and that was as part of the larger food chain of the Deschutes River Canyon. That food chain includes (but is not limited to) fish, birds and bats. The loss of Antochas must not be taken lightly.

Photo by Dave Hughes

Antocha Crane Fly

Special thanks to Rick Hafele for his expertise and diligence in creating this important publication. Also, special thanks to the guides and anglers who made this report possible (John Smeraglio, Sam Sickles, Alex Gonsiewski, David Moskowitz, Steve Pribyl, Steve Light, Evan Unti, Rick Trout, and Damien Nurre).

We Did It! A Report from Greg McMillan

John Hazel watches Larry Marxer measure dissolved oxygen the old-school way.

It was an unfathomable task.  Five sites on 100 miles of river to monitor for 72 hours, continuously, using a variety of complex equipment.  We were challenged by wildfire, river closures, air space closures and severe weather.  Yet our volunteers accomplished the task.

WQ Experts

Steve Pribyl, Jeremiah Bawden, Rick Hafele and Kurt Carpenter

What did we do?  We conducted an extensive water quality monitoring initiative that examined fluctuating temperature, conductivity, turbidity, pH, dissolved oxygen and chlorophyll levels.  This was conducted to look at the magnitude of algae activity in the lowest 100 miles of the Deschutes River.  We monitored conditions from sites at Mecca Flat, Davidson Flat, Oasis Recreation Site, Macks Canyon and Wagonblast.

The Nymph

It’s too early to know what the data will show.  We are still in the process of downloading data from instruments.  Those data, and the data collected via manual instruments, will then undergo statistical analysis.  We’ll be combining those data with the results of the aerial infrared thermal imaging that was completed on July 26.  We’ll look at what species of algae were present during this monitoring period (many samples were collected by Kurt Carpenter from the U.S. Geological Survey Oregon Water Science Center).  

Data Sonde

Tools of the trade – the YSI Data Sonde

Finally, thanks to Quantum Spatial, additional aerial imaging and mapping of the algae growth will take place in early September.  These combined efforts will give us a very good picture of the distribution of the nuisance algae that has appeared in the lower river in the past few years, and the impact it has on water chemistry, and by extension, river ecology.  It will also give powerful clues, or clearly point, to the source(s) of the nutrients and the algae itself.

The process

We measured Dissolved Oxygen (DO) by hand to complement the electronic monitoring devices.

 A special and heartfelt thanks goes out to our volunteers who gave not only of their time, but were willing to be trained on the use of water quality monitoring equipment, and endured some frankly challenging conditions at times.  The volunteers were:

Jeremiah Bawden

Kurt Carpenter

Robert Casey

Joe Combee

Rick Hafele

Bonnie Lamb

Jeff Mann

Larry Marxer

Greg McMillan

Dave Moskowitz

Kate Puddy

Larry Whitney


We also owe a special thanks to the Imperial River Company in Maupin, Oregon for allowing us conduct training and organize operations out of their facility, and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality for the use of water quality monitoring equipment.


Thanks also go out to our donors and other supporters.  Without your help, none of this very important work would be possible.


Greg McMillan


Director, Science and Conservation

Deschutes River Alliance

A Brief Update for Our Donors and Supporters from Greg McMillan

First, allow us to say how grateful we are for the support you’ve shown us, and the lower Deschutes River.


Photo by David Moskowitz

Second, we are very busy at the Deschutes River Alliance as we are about to deploy our science initiative.  We’ve just signed a contract to accomplish the aerial thermal and hyper-spectral imaging on the lower river.  The information from this effort will detect thermal influences, locate possible nutrient sources, and map the distribution of the invasive algae.

NASA Photo

NASA Photo

Third, we are in the process of picking up the instruments to do our in-river water quality monitoring at the peak of the algae bloom.  We will have five stations from the mouth up to the Pelton Reregulating Dam that will be gather the most comprehensive water quality data in the lower Deschutes River.

Pine Envi

Fourth, our aquatic insect hatch survey is well underway and we are accruing much more data than in 2013.

Photo by Greg McMillan

Photo by Greg McMillan

Lastly, we’ve assisted Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in their redband trout growth study by conducting the analysis of redband trout stomach contents.

Photo by Greg McMillan

Photo by Greg McMillan

None of this work would be possible without your support.  And this fall, we’ll be ready to share the results of all of our work with you.  Again, thank you for making this possible.

Sincerely and gratefully yours,

 Greg McMillan

Board President

Director of Science and Conservation