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

Update on Lower Deschutes River Algae by Greg McMillan

Photo by Greg McMillan

Photo by Greg McMillan

On April 18, John Hazel and I floated from Pine Tree to Macks Canyon.  The purpose of the trip was install temperature recording devices in the river and establish algae photo points.  The photo points will be used over the course of the summer to determine algae growth rates and density.

Nearly everyone has seen and experienced the algae if they fish the lower 100 miles of the Deschutes.  Its appearance in the past few years has been hard to miss.  The rocks are more slippery than they’ve ever been.  And we fear that this nuisance algae is displacing beneficial algae that aquatic insects depend on as the base of the food chain.

It started raining before I arrived in Maupin to pick John up.  And it didn’t stop raining all day.  The clouds hung on the ridges above the canyon.  There was no wind.  The timing was perfect for an abundant March Brown (Rithrogena morrisonii) hatch.  Conditions were perfect too.  But there was almost no hatch.  We saw no more than two dozen duns in the air, none on the water or in foam lines.  We only saw three fish break the surface all day.  This matched earlier observations by knowledgeable observers that the March Browns seem to be essentially missing in action this year.

March Brown mayfly by David Moskowitz

March Brown mayfly by David Moskowitz

Regardless, it was a beautiful spring day.  The grasses, bushes and trees were fluorescent neon green.  Mules ear wildflowers had turned some hillsides vibrant yellow.  The green and yellow colors in the canyon were a stark contrast with the gray skies.  And we caught fish.  That would be what I call a great day.

Photo by David Moskowitz

Photo by David Moskowitz

But I was also alarmed by something I saw.  Along with many others, I had hoped that the high water events of this past winter might have flushed out some of the algae of last summer. And indeed it did flush out the upper portion of the adult algae, leaving behind the stalks which form a mucilaginous coating on river rock.  It’s this coating that makes the rocks so slippery.

McMillan pic of algae rock

Photo by Greg McMillan

This stuff was everywhere we pulled into shore.  And it’s apparent in this photograph taken just above Sherars Falls:

Photo by Greg McMillan

Photo by Greg McMillan

So no, the high water events did not rid us of the algae.  It’s not blooming, yet.  But the spores left behind and embedded on rocks where we find the mucilaginous slime will start to grow soon.  All we need are some sunny days and slightly warmer temperatures.

John and I talked about how this algae seemed to increase its geographic distribution last year by about 50%.  John thought 50% was on the conservative side.  It makes me fear what might happen this year.

But that’s why we are embarking on an aggressive but cost efficient data gathering project this summer to document the extent of the algae bloom and the species involved.  We’ll also be looking at the water quality issues that are likely feeding the algae bloom.  See our science plan for more details.

We are worried about this situation.  No one can predict the long term consequences of what we are witnessing.  But it is clearly a major change in the biology of our favorite river.  We are hoping that all of you will help us.  Please click on the donate button and help make our work possible.  Thank you.

Donate Here!

The DRA may be in your neighborhood soon!

FFF Booth 2

We don’t just exist on the web!  Dave and I and some of our Board members will be out and about in the upcoming months sharing our findings from meetings with agencies and other stakeholders on the lower Deschutes River.  We’ll also be talking about our scientific investigation plan to figure out how aquatic insect hatches are faring in the lower river, and why we are seeing such a massive proliferation of nuisance algae.  You can find us at the following events on these dates:

Federation of Fly Fishers Expo, March 6 and 7 in Albany, OR  [Thanks to Tom Larimer and Rick Hafele for giving presentations, and thank you to all for coming by the booth!]

Clackamas River Flyfishers, March 18 at the High Rocks Steak House in Gladstone, OR

Deschutes Guides and Outfitters Briefing, March 19, Confluence Fly Shop, Bend, OR

With Damien Nurre, John Hazel and Greg McMillan.

DRA Guides and Outfitters Briefing, April 9, Best Western Hotel, Oregon City, OR

Royal Treatment Fly Shop, Saturday April 26, West Linn, OR

Flyfisher’s Club of Oregon Auction, Tuesday May 13, Portland, OR

Bend Chapter 552 of Trout Unlimited, May 14, Bend, OR

Sandy River Spey Clave, May 16 – 17 – 18, Oxbow Park on the Sandy River

If you have a club or other organization that would like to have us appear in person, please email us and if at all possible, we will accommodate you.


Greg McMillan


Welcome to 2014 from the Deschutes River Alliance

Picture 016-GM winter 2

Lower Deschutes in winter. Photo by Greg McMillan

It’s an exciting month here at the DRA.  We have finally started fundraising to pay for the activities we have planned for this spring.  The scientific investigation plan has been created and we are now shopping for vendors for services and equipment.  So of course we have to be ready to pay for those goods and services.

We elected to do something very different with our fundraising efforts.  We felt like there are already enough benefit dinners and auctions and bulk mail campaigns out there.  We also want to use your contributions as wisely and carefully as we can.

So with the help of some innovative thinkers, including John and Amy Hazel, we decided to do an electronic fundraising campaign.  For those of you who have seen it, we have created a fundraising appeal letter.  We’ve asked a number guides and outfitters as well as fishing retailers to distribute that letter and a copy of our 2014 Science Work Plan to their clients and customers via email.  We’ve also asked each sender to write a cover letter with their own reasons why their customers should pay attention to our fundraising appeal, and even donate.

In addition to keeping costs down, we realized that this sort of campaign has many advantages.  We aren’t wasting paper.  We are spending less of your donation to raise the funds we need to protect the Deschutes River.

And we hope that by going electronic, that the fundraising letter will go viral.  It’s already been posted to internet bulletin boards and websites by some of the first recipients of the appeal letter.  By having guides and outfitters, and retail shops distribute our letter, it gives our efforts the endorsement of the sender, which we feel is incredibly important.  We just don’t get those advantages from a regular mail campaign

So just like we are breaking new ground in regards to protecting our river, we are also breaking new ground in innovative fundraising.  Please help make this campaign a success!

We look forward to seeing you in 2014!

Greg McMillan and David Moskowitz



Welcome to the Deschutes River Alliance Blog

Lower Deschute-1

The Lower Deschutes River -Photo Robert Sheley

Throughout 2011 and 2012 we had many discussions with friends who fish the lower Deschutes often. Often enough to know when something had changed. Some of those friends are guides and outfitters who are on the river almost daily from early May until November. We all shared the same observations and concerns. There were things that just were not the same on the river. Insect hatches were sparse where and when they were once robust. Turbidity had suddenly become an issue. The arrival of steelhead had been delayed. There was a new and different algae covering the rocks in riffles. Bats and swallows were less common place. Why were these things happening and what did they mean? No one seemed to know.

So in January of 2013, with the cooperation of many of those friends (who included the likes of Steve Light, John Hazel, John Smeraglio, John Judy, Damien Nurre, Forrest Foxworthy, Brian Silvey, Steve Pribyl, John Belozer and Rick Hafele) we decided to organize some meetings and bring in some authorities whom we hoped could provide explanations. Originally we called ourselves the Lower Deschutes River Coalition. The more we dug, the more we realized we were treading into unknown territory. The changes we had seen had not been observed by agencies or other river managers. We realized our coalition had to become the forum and process for understanding these changes. In the wake of ongoing reductions in funding over the past twenty years for state agencies, restrictions on the ability of the federal government to respond, we also knew we would have to take responsibility for ensuring that issues would be investigated and defined.

Now, today, the newly named Deschutes River Alliance (DRA) is embarking on a science based and collaborative in-depth look at the health of the lower Deschutes River. We want to better understand the biology, water quality and other issues that could impact the future of the river. Spring of 2014 will see the DRA embarking upon an aggressive research and study process that will help us understand the issues we face and need to solve.

This is the beginning. The DRA hopes the end will be the resolution of imminent threats to the river and a legacy to leave to future generations.

Greg McMillan

Greg McMillan