How Healthy Are Lower Deschutes River Redband Trout? Read Steve Pribyl’s Letter to ODFW.

Lower Deschutes River redband trout. Photo by Brian O’Keefe.

Last week Steve Pribyl, retired ODFW biologist on the lower Deschutes River and DRA board member, sent a letter to ODFW Director Curt Melcher and to each member of the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission. The letter responds to recent ODFW assertions regarding the health and abundance of the lower Deschutes River redband trout population. Steve points out several critical misstatements from the agency that misrepresent the results of recent ODFW resident trout surveys. That letter can be read here.

As a brief summary, ODFW has performed electrofishing on the lower Deschutes River each April from 2014-2017 to capture and measure redband trout. After this year’s survey, an ODFW Field Report claimed there “is no indication the population has been adversely effected [sic]” by Selective Water Withdrawal operations, and that “Deschutes redband appeared to be in good abundance based on how easily [sic] they were to catch during this year’s monitoring.” SWW supporters have taken these statements and cited them repeatedly as evidence that the lower Deschutes redband trout population is as healthy and abundant as ever.

Obviously, we are all hopeful that the redband trout population below Pelton-Round Butte is healthy and abundant. However, as Steve explains, there is simply no way to know this based on the ODFW surveys performed to this point. These surveys have all been conducted to collect information on a few metrics, on a limited sample of trout, in only a few locations, at one point in time. This sampling is not designed to, nor is it capable of, estimating trout abundance and overall population health in the 100 miles of the lower Deschutes River. In fact, a 2016 ODFW field report specifically qualified the ability of these studies to assess trout abundance, stating “Abundance will not be evaluated due to the difficulty of accurately estimating trout abundance in large productive rivers like the Deschutes.”

Steve spent 20 years of his 30-year ODFW career on the lower Deschutes River, and performed many of the surveys that ODFW now claims to be “replicating.” In his view, ODFW’s statements on trout population health and abundance are extremely misleading, and are simply not supported by the survey data collected. We are disappointed that ODFW is making such unsupported statements, which are now being repeated by various Deschutes Basin stakeholders. And it is unfortunate that ODFW has not implemented adequate pre- and post-Selective Water Withdrawal monitoring studies to truly evaluate the population health of redband trout in the lower Deschutes River.

Lower Deschutes River Redband trout. Photo by Brian O’Keefe.

It is also unfortunate that such detailed studies were not mandated during the Pelton-Round Butte FERC relicensing process. At that time, ODFW had the authority to recommend various licensing conditions related to fish and wildlife. The agency did in fact recommend several such conditions, which were largely incorporated into the final FERC license. However, ODFW did not recommend that the licensees (PGE and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs) perform any type of baseline redband trout monitoring in the lower river, or any post-SWW follow-up monitoring to assess changes in population health and abundance below the Project. This was a missed opportunity: rather than requiring the licensees to monitor and assess redband health populations, any such studies must now be funded and performed by ODFW. The redband studies performed so far seem designed to minimize cost and staff time, rather than to make detailed, accurate assessments about the trout population.

We think it is also worth mentioning that in ODFW’s post-SWW reports on redband trout health, the agency has failed to mention the black spot disease epidemic currently being observed in the lower river. Any discussion of fish health in the lower Deschutes River right now must include the infections being regularly observed in caught fish. Given the high numbers of Black Spot-infected fish observed by anglers these last two years, it is highly unlikely that ODFW has failed to observe the disease in their surveys.

The ventral surface of a redband trout with black spot disease, caught in the lower Deschutes River in late April 2017. Photo by Jamey Mitchell.

In sum, it seems that native redband trout in the lower river have become a lower priority for the management agencies—and the Pelton-Round Butte licensees—than the salmon and steelhead being planted above the Project. This is truly unfortunate, as the lower river trout population is an incredible native resident resource, and much of the year is what draws anglers and others to the lower Deschutes River.

We urge you to read Steve’s letter.


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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


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Lawsuit Update: Court Denies PGE’s Motion to Dismiss

Round Butte Dam and the Selective Water Withdrawal Tower.

Great news! On Monday morning, Judge Simon denied PGE’s motion to dismiss the DRA’s Clean Water Act lawsuit. In its motion, PGE had argued that the Clean Water Act does not authorize lawsuits by private citizens, including groups like the DRA, to enforce water quality requirements at hydro projects like Pelton-Round Butte. Judge Simon’s decision thoughtfully rejected each of PGE’s arguments on the issue, ultimately finding that the company’s interpretation of the Clean Water Act “rewrites the statute.” Read the whole decision here.

Judge Simon’s ruling, which allows the DRA’s lawsuit against PGE to proceed, is great news for lovers of the Deschutes River, and a critical step in our efforts to return cold, clean water to the lower Deschutes. But it’s also a great victory for river advocates across the country: a decision in PGE’s favor would have impacted the ability of citizens and states to protect water quality on all rivers impacted by hydroelectric projects.

This is truly an important decision for the Deschutes River, and we’re eager to finally move on and address the merits of the case. Judge Simon’s ruling ensures that the DRA will have the ability, as the Clean Water Act clearly provides, to hold PGE accountable for violations of water quality requirements at Pelton-Round Butte. This is the first step to restoring the river we all love.

Keep an eye on the blog for more updates on the lawsuit, and on all of the DRA’s science and advocacy efforts. Cooler, cleaner H2O for the Deschutes!

Redband trout, lower Deschutes River. Photo by Brian O’Keefe


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Recap and Photos from the DRA’s First Annual Gathering and Auction

Photo by Dave Moskowitz

Photo by Dave Moskowitz

We’ve fully recovered from the DRA’s first gathering and auction, which took place last Saturday, February 11, at the Ecotrust Building in Northwest Portland. We were blown away by the support we received at the event–the building was packed to capacity with DRA supporters, and it was a true honor to host so many old and new friends.

We drank fantastic beers from Freebridge Brewing and outstanding wines from Lange Estate Winery.  Attendees bid on an incredible selection of live auction items, with proceeds going directly to the DRA’s efforts to return cold, clean water to the lower Deschutes River. And we premiered our new documentary film, The Rapid Decline of the Lower Deschutes River, which led to a lot of great conversations about the issues facing the lower Deschutes and where we go from here. The film is now available online–check it out below:

Again, THANK YOU to all who attended the event, and helped make the afternoon so special. The support we’ve received from all of you over the last few months has been incredible–2017 is shaping up to be a huge year for the DRA and the lower Deschutes River. Check out a few more photos of the festivities:

Emcee John Hazel and Auctioneer Grant Putnam. Photo by Dave Moskowitz.

Emcee John Hazel and Auctioneer Grant Putnam. Photo by Dave Moskowitz.

Photo by Dave Moskowitz.

Photo by Dave Moskowitz.

Steve Light, of Freebridge Brewing. Photo by Dave Moskowitz.

Steve Light, of Freebridge Brewing. Photo by Dave Moskowitz.

Photo by Dave Moskowitz.

Photo by Dave Moskowitz.

Photo by Dave Moskowitz.

Photo by Dave Moskowitz.

Photo by Dave Moskowitz.

Photo by Dave Moskowitz.

Photo by Dave Moskowitz.

Photo by Dave Moskowitz.

Photo by Dave Moskowitz.

Photo by Dave Moskowitz.

Photo by Dave Moskowitz.

Photo by Dave Moskowitz.

Photo by Dave Moskowitz.

Photo by Dave Moskowitz.

Finally, a very special thanks to all the supporters who donated auction items, time, and expertise to the event. We truly couldn’t have done it without these great folks:

Alex Gonsiewski | Brian Silvey | Brian Henninger | Chris O’Donnell | CF Burkheimer | Craig Sweitzer | Dave Hughes | Deschutes Angler Fly Shop | Dick and Kathy Bushnell | Dillon Renton and Renton River Adventures | Elke and Alysia Littleleaf | Freebridge Brewing | Grant Putnam and Benefit Auction Fundraising | Jeff and Kathryn Hickman and Fish the Swing | John Smeraglio and Deschutes Canyon Fly Shop | Jeff Perin and The Fly Fishers Place | Jerry Swanson and Fishhead Expeditions | Joel LaFollette and Royal Treatment Fly Shop | Lange Estate Winery | Mark Bachman and Patty Barnes of The Fly Fishing Shop | Marty Shepard and Little Creek Outfitters | Micheal McLean | Mike Kuhnert | Nick Rowell and Anadromous Anglers | Pat Becker | Rick Trout | Rick Hafele | Saracione Reels | Terry Vance | Travis Duddles and The Gorge Fly Shop | The Trout Shop on the Missouri | Troy Jones | Warner Munro


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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


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Announcing the DRA’s First-Ever Gathering!

event-photo

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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