Announcing the DRA’s 2016 Lower Deschutes River Water Quality Report

We are thrilled to announce the publication of the DRA’s 2016 Lower Deschutes River Water Quality Report. This report—along with three other reports we’ll be releasing over the next two months—is the culmination of the DRA’s most detailed investigation yet of the causes and extent of the ecological changes occurring in the lower Deschutes River.

An important aspect of the report analyzes hourly water quality data collected at River Mile 99, one mile below the Pelton Reregulating Dam, from February 18 through November 22, 2016. All data collected for pH, temperature, and dissolved oxygen are presented and analyzed, and compared against water quality requirements contained in the state-issued Clean Water Act § 401 Certification for the Pelton-Round Butte Complex, as well as Oregon’s water quality standards for the Deschutes Basin. Read the whole thing here.

This report represents the most complete public analysis yet of the impact of Selective Water Withdrawal operations on water quality below the Pelton-Round Butte Hydroelectric Complex. Key findings include:

  • Oregon’s water quality standard for pH in the Deschutes Basin (6.5-8.5 SU) was exceeded on 234 out of 279 days that data were collected (84%). 43% of the days sampled had pH measurements greater than 9.0.
  • Each year since 2011, Project operators have worked with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to purportedly weaken the water quality requirements in the Project’s Clean Water Act § 401 Certification. These changes include:
    • The defined spawning season for salmonids was changed from year-round to Oct. 15-June 15. This change allows the application of a lower dissolved oxygen standard during the non-spawning period (June 16-Oct. 14). However, this newly defined spawning period does not take into account the full season of resident trout spawning and egg incubation, as is required by the Oregon Administrative Rules. This has caused dissolved oxygen levels in the lower Deschutes River to fall below levels required to protect resident salmonids through egg incubation and fry emergence.
    • The water temperature that triggers the blending of cool bottom water from Lake Billy Chinook with warmer surface water has been markedly increased since the Selective Water Withdrawal tower began operations. This has allowed the release of 100% surface water into the lower Deschutes River to continue later into the summer.
  • Changes in pH and dissolved oxygen, documented by this study and ODEQ’s own data, clearly indicate that excess nutrients are being released into the lower Deschutes River from the surface waters of Lake Billy Chinook.

DRA’s 2016 Lower Deschutes River Water Quality Report clearly establishes that, in just seven years of operation, the Selective Water Withdrawal tower at Pelton-Round Butte has severely degraded water quality and threatens aquatic life below the Project. We believe this report will serve as an important document for all basin stakeholders in assessing the impact of tower operations on the river we all love.

A special thanks to all of our supporters, whose generosity and passion for the river has made all of our science work possible. We’d like to take this opportunity to specifically thank the various organizations and foundations who have provided funding to support this critical work, including:

  • The Oregon Wildlife Heritage Fund
  • Maybelle Clark MacDonald Fund
  • Flyfishers Club of Oregon/Flyfishers Foundation
  • Clark-Skamania Flyfishers
  • Mazamas
  • American Fly Fishing Trade Association
  • Tualatin Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited
  • Washington County Fly Fishers

Cooler, cleaner H2O for the Deschutes!

Photo by Brian O’Keefe


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

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Happy Holidays From the Deschutes River Alliance!

Photo by Brian O'Keefe.

Photo by Brian O’Keefe.

We would like to take this opportunity to wish all of you a warm and happy holidays and a fantastic new year. We’re especially thankful this holiday season for the continued support and engagement of all our donors and supporters. 2017 is shaping up to be an important and exciting year in our efforts to restore cooler, cleaner water to the Deschutes River, and we could not be successful without you. So here’s to all of you and to another great year!

Auction Registration Reminder and Item Preview

As a reminder, the DRA’s first-ever auction and social gathering will be taking place on Saturday afternoon, February 11, at the Ecotrust Building in Northwest Portland. Tickets are going VERY fast for this event, so be sure to register soon to reserve a seat for this great event with other DRA supporters.

The event will feature a live auction of 15 unique items assembled just for this event, with auctioneering duties performed by the DRA’s own flamboyant and entertaining John Hazel, co-owner of the Deschutes Angler Fly Shop.

Here’s an early snapshot of some of the auction items:

  • A day of insect identification and fly pattern selection with Rick Hafele and Mark Bachmann on the Salmon River near Welches. Rick literally wrote the book on western river insect identification, and Mark has been fishing the Salmon and matching the hatch for 50 years. The event will take place on river frontage at a private residence, and will include seining the river and a side channel, identifying the bugs and pattern matching, and a delicious barbecue lunch plus beer and wine. There are 12 available slots for the day, each of which will be auctioned off individually at $150 per spot.
  • Two guides and two boats for four anglers on various Oregon steelhead rivers. More details to come before the event.
  • Four anglers, two days on the Deschutes River during the stonefly hatch. Your fishing partners and “consultants” will be noted authors, speakers, and angling gurus Dave Hughes and Rick Hafele. Overnight stay in a prviate house at North Junction and a gourmet dinner. More details to come.
  • A small raffle of high quality fly fishing items will also be held.

This is just a small sample of the fantastic items that will be up for auction. Watch the DRA website and check your email for updates on other auction items!

Remember, seating is limited to 150 and is going very fast.

Can’t attend but want to help? Click here to donate to support the DRA’s ongoing efforts.

deschutes-salmonfly-hatch-close-up-1a-okeefe-72-1200-copy


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

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Announcing the DRA’s First-Ever Gathering!

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The Deschutes River Alliance’s First-Ever Social and Fundraising Event      Saturday, February 11, 1 PM to 5 PM
The Ecotrust Building in Northwest Portland

Join other DRA supporters and lovers of the Deschutes River for an afternoon of fun, food, drink, and more on Saturday afternoon, February 11, 2017.

This is the DRA’s first-ever gathering–an opportunity to visit with friends and other concerned individuals who, like you, have stepped up to help restore the health of the lower Deschutes River.

Seating is limited to the first 150 to register, so act today!

Tickets are just $75 per person, with all proceeds going to the DRA’s efforts to restore the lower Deschutes River, including our efforts to enforce the Clean Water Act at the Pelton Round Butte Hydroelectric Project.

The February 11 afternoon event will feature:

  • A premiere of the DRA’s new documentary film, which highlights the issues facing the lower Deschutes and the DRA’s efforts to restore the river we all love.
  • A short live auction with 12-15 high quality items, including incredible fishing trips and unique fishing gear custom-made for the event.
  • Complimentary wine provided by Lange Winery, and beer provided by Freebridge Brewing of The Dalles and other Columbia Gorge breweries.
  • Delicious locally sourced appetizers.

Bring some friends. Have some fun while supporting the DRA and our important work advocating for the health of the Deschutes River.

Remember, seating is limited to 150. So click here to register now!

Can’t attend but want to help? Click here to support the DRA’s ongoing efforts.

deschutes-salmonfly-hatch-close-up-1a-okeefe-72-1200-copy


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

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Deschutes River Alliance 2016 Annual Donor Update

2016-donor-report-photo

Dear Members of the Deschutes River Alliance Community,

It is with great pleasure that we share with you our 2016 Annual Donor Update. As you will read in the update, 2016 has been a big year for the DRA. We’ve continued our important scientific work in the lower Deschutes River and Lake Billy Chinook, and are now using the data we’ve gathered to create detailed reports on the sources and extent of the changes we’ve all witnessed in the lower river. Further, this research has provided a strong foundation for our increased advocacy efforts on behalf of all who treasure a healthy Deschutes River. This includes our lawsuit to enforce water quality requirements at the the Pelton-Round Butte Hydroelectric Complex.

As always, none of this work would be happening 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’re sincerely grateful for all your support, and are excited to share our many accomplishments with you, along with our big plans for 2017 and beyond. With your support, we will restore cooler, cleaner water to the lower Deschutes River.

Click here to read about the incredible momentum we’ve gathered over the past year, and how we plan to keep it going in 2017.

And if you would like to make donation towards our programs in 2017, please click here.

Wishing you all the best this holiday season. Here’s to another great year in 2017!

Lower Deschutes River. Photo by Brian O'Keefe.

Lower Deschutes River. Photo by Brian O’Keefe.


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

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Third Anniversary!

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Yes, the DRA is now three years old! And what a wild ride it’s been!

In August 2013, we filed as a non-profit corporation with the State of Oregon. We started on a shoestring budget, which consisted mostly of contributions from members of the Board of Directors. In January 2014 we sent out our first fundraising appeal. It was far more successful that we had imagined it would be.

To those donors, who recognized the need our mission addressed, we wish to thank you. Your trusted us when we had no track record. To the members of the Founding Circle, we would like to offer special thanks.

From that beginning, we have maintained a spirit of frugal but effective activism. For most of our existence, including the present, we’ve had only one paid employee. We have no offices. We’ve kept our overhead low. We contract out services as needed.

Greg McMillan and Larry Marxer taking water quality measurements in February, 2016. Photo by Andrew Dutterer.

Greg McMillan and Larry Marxer taking water quality measurements in February, 2016. Photo by Andrew Dutterer.

What we do have is excellent water quality monitoring equipment. We have board members with scientific expertise and experience. We have an outstanding legal team. And we have a passionate desire to protect the lower Deschutes River.

Larry Marxer and intern Cory McCaffrey calibrating our data sonde. Photo by Greg McMillan.

Larry Marxer and intern Cory McCaffrey calibrating our data sonde. Photo by Greg McMillan.

Here are some of our accomplishments to date:

  • Beginning in 2011, as the Lower Deschutes River Coalition (prior to becoming the DRA), we conducted meetings with Portland General Electric. These meetings included data presentations and roundtable discussions of the problems being seen in the lower river by guides and recreational users.
  • We began sampling and photographing aquatic insects and algae in 2013.
  • In collaboration with PGE, we established a water temperature-monitoring array in 2013.
  • DRA Board member and renowned aquatic entomologist Rick Hafele designed an adult aquatic insect hatch survey to gather data on hatch timing and densities. That study continues on an annual basis documenting changes in hatches on the lower Deschutes River. Rick is also managing our ongoing benthic aquatic insect-monitoring program. Neither PGE nor the resource agencies are monitoring aquatic insects at this time.
Rick Hafele providing training for adult aquatic insect hatch observers. Photo by Greg McMillan.

Rick Hafele providing training for adult aquatic insect hatch observers. Photo by Greg McMillan.

  • In December 2013 we held a science-planning meeting with multiple agencies and PGE. Our science plans have been a product of that meeting.
  • In July 2014, we did a three-day (72 hour) water quality monitoring synoptic at five sites (most of them remote) on the lower Deschutes River.
  • We conducted a second three-day water quality monitoring synoptic at three sites in August 2014.
  • We contracted with Quantum Spatial to conduct thermal imaging of the lower Deschutes River and the area around the three dams of the Pelton-Round Butte Complex.
  • We attempted to collaborate with PGE on a water quality study in Lake Billy Chinook and the lower Deschutes River. The initial planning meeting was cancelled by PGE without follow-up.
  • In January 2015, we submitted objections regarding the Low Impact Hydropower Institute’s certification of the Pelton-Round Butte Hydroelectric Complex.
  • By spring of 2015 we were starting our own algae and water quality study on Lake Billy Chinook and the lower Deschutes River. That study continues today. Cost of equipment and lab fees to date: $30,000. Value of the data: priceless.
Larry Marxer installing a Hobo temp water temperature monitor. Photo by Greg McMillan.

Larry Marxer installing a Hobo temp water temperature monitor. Photo by Greg McMillan.

  • In the summer of 2015, warm water temperatures in the lower Deschutes River contributed to fish die-offs near the mouth and near the confluence with the Warm Springs River. These events were first detected and reported by the DRA and DRA supporters.
  • In the fall of 2015, with the permission and funding of a private property owner on the lower Deschutes River, we established a monitoring station to perform benthic aquatic insect sampling, continuous water quality monitoring, and photo documentation of algal growth. We then acquired the permission of private landowners to set up a second study site in the Kaskela area.
Rick Hafele examines contents of a kick screen on the lower Deschutes River. Photo by Greg McMillan.

Rick Hafele examines contents of a kick screen on the lower Deschutes River. Photo by Greg McMillan.

  • In September 2015 we gathered the five conservation groups who are signatories to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license for the Pelton-Round Butte Complex to discuss the problems resulting from selective water withdrawal.
  • In October 2015 we appealed the Low Impact Hydropower Institute’s certification of the PRB Complex. Conditions were imposed on the certification as a result of our interventions.
  • In December 2015 we, along with the conservation group signatories to the PRB license, met with PGE to ask for measures to lower river temperatures when high temperatures pose a risk for fish. This request was denied, and PGE foreclosed the possibility of any future meetings.
  • In spring of 2016, we formed our legal team. We subsequently served Portland General Electric with a sixty-day notice of intent to sue based on water quality violations.

This is only a partial list of our accomplishments. These are the kinds of things that are happening at the DRA on a day in, day out basis, and now on a year-to-year basis. Volunteers do much of this work.

Rick Hafele examining trout stomach contents. Photo by Greg McMillan.

Rick Hafele examining trout stomach contents. Photo by Greg McMillan.

Our next year looks to be more exciting and more productive. Check back here over the next few weeks for announcements!

In the meantime, we appreciate all of the support shown to us in the past three years. To all of you who have donated, volunteered, or otherwise supported us, thank you! With your support, our combined passion and love for the river will accomplish great things.


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

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DRA Releases Reports

On March 4, we posted two new reports under the “Reports” tab on our website.

The first report is the analysis of our 2014 thermal imaging survey of the lower Deschutes River.

Slide1

This report is the analysis of the first known thermal imaging look at mid-summer temperature behavior in the lower river.  There were many unanticipated surprises from the imaging, but two findings are of greatest importance.

  • The thermal behavior of water discharged from the Pelton-Round Butte Complex during nighttime hours is unaffected by “canyon effect.” Canyon effect warms the water during the day as a product of solar radiation exposure.  Nighttime discharge, however, avoids much of the daytime warming effect.   Yet all temperature calculations used for temperature management by dam operations act as if water temperature and temperature behavior are the same day and night.  It has also been stated by the dam operators that “cooler temperature discharge from the dams wouldn’t make any difference” because of “canyon effect.”  Our findings contradict that.
  • Solar radiation (down-bound long wave radiation) is far more important than air temperature in determining river temperatures. Solar radiation warms both air and the water in the river.  That means that shade from canyon walls and riparian vegetation is important in maintaining cooler water in the river.  Air temperature in Redmond is also an important factor in determining the goal for temperature management for dam discharge, yet air temperature has little effect on water temperature.

The second report describes our data and findings from the 2015 water quality study we did in Lake Billy Chinook and in the lower river just below the Pelton-Round Butte Dam Complex. 

Slide2

The Selective Water Withdrawal Tower at Round Butte Dam (the uppermost dam of the three dam complex at Pelton-Round Butte) has intake portals in the top 30 feet of the reservoir, and at 265 feet of depth.  To better understand the water quality effects of Tower operations and selective water withdrawal, we sampled surface water and water at depth in front of the Tower, as well as in the river below the dams.

The data we gathered demonstrated many things, and also raised more questions that we will be attempting to answer through the water quality sampling we started in February of this year. Our results from 2015 shed light on a number of critical factors, including that:

  • Surface water withdrawn from Lake Billy Chinook, for much of the year, consists primarily of water from the Crooked River Arm of the reservoir.
  • Water from the Crooked River Arm is warmer, and of poor water quality (the Crooked River water quality above the reservoir is rated as “poor” by Oregon Department of Environmental Quality). Plus, the water in the Crooked River Arm supports the densest level of algae growth in the reservoir.  In contrast, water from the Metolius River, which, because of its colder temperature constitutes most of the water at the depth of 265’, is of high quality (based on ODEQ data, as well as our own data).

Questions we are hoping to answer in 2016 include (but are not limited to):

  • What is the “nutrient load” entering Lake Billy Chinook from the three tributaries, and when does it get discharged from the dam complex into the lower Deschutes River? Algae in the upper water of the reservoir actually help decrease nutrient levels during summertime growth, but nutrients in surface water discharged in late fall, early winter and spring are not likely attenuated by that algae, and probably contributes significantly to the growth of nuisance algae that has been documented in the lower river.  So we are now tracking nutrient levels at the surface and at depth in the reservoir and below the dams.
  • Is the surface water in the Crooked River Arm of Lake Billy Chinook too toxic for migratory juvenile fish survival during major algae blooms due to high pH, high temperature and/or other variables?
  • Is operation of the dam complex in compliance with the water quality requirements of the Pelton-Round Butte Section 401 Certification under the Clean Water Act and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license?

We would also like to announce that we are (finally!) getting some of our raw water quality data posted on our website.  We are open-sourcing the data for all to view or use.  It will take some time to get everything posted, but we will be working on this going forward.

We hope to post updates on our work throughout the year.  So please stay tuned.

Deep and heartfelt thanks to our donors and supporters for making this work possible!

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

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Deschutes River Alliance 2015 Annual Donor Update

Dear Members of the Deschutes River Alliance (DRA) Community,

It is with great pleasure that we share with you our 2015 Annual Donor Update.

As you will see in the update, 2015 proved to be another busy year as we continued to pursue the DRA Science Work Plan and advocacy of improved water quality and habitat conditions on the lower Deschutes River.

We have big plans in store for 2016 as we expand on our science and advocacy work to benefit the lower Deschutes and its many and diverse river users. Science and advocacy are the fundamental tenets of the DRA’s approach to improving and safeguarding the ecological health of the lower Deschutes River, and we believe that we are making progress in our mission.

Our work would not be possible without your support. From all of us at the DRA, sincerely thank you.

If you would like to make a donation towards our programs in 2016 please click here.

We wish you a happy holiday season, and we look forward to your continued engagement in our efforts on the lower Deschutes River in 2016.

Lower Deschutes River. Photo by Andrew Dutterer.

Lower Deschutes River. Photo by Andrew Dutterer.

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

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