Remembering Cam Groner: 1949-2017

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of former DRA board member and Vice President Cam Groner on July 17, 2017. Cam died quietly and peacefully at the end of a many months-long battle with Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease.

Cam is deeply missed by those close to him. He was incredibly bright, sometimes irascible, strong-willed (some might even say stubborn), and nearly always right. A subversive sense of humor kept Cam from allowing any situation to become too serious. Cam could readily quote from memory Shakespeare, the law, Firesign Theater, song lyrics, and nearly anything else that he had been exposed to at some point in his life. This made him an entertaining delight to spend time with.

Cam was the consummate fly-angler. The real deal. The kind of fisherman whose life was centered around and focused on his passion for fishing. The man could fish. He took huge pleasure in every aspect of it. He was a pleasure to fish with because his joy in fishing was so intense and so contagious.

Cam especially loved fishing for steelhead. Later in life, he traveled to the Dean River in British Columbia as often as he could. He loved the wildness of the place, and the run of huge steelhead there.

Cam on the Dean River

But most of all Cam loved the lower Deschutes River. So much so that he and his partner, Ingrid Brydolf, built a second home in Maupin. It was from there that Cam could fish and entertain friends.

Cam didn’t fish much with guides, but when he did he loved to fish the waters of the Deschutes River along the Warm Springs Reservation with his friends Al Bagley and Matt Mendes. Here’s a video where Cam produces an opera, the Hardy Reel Opera, with Matt in the background. Cam loved to hear that reel sing.

Cam did his undergraduate studies at Yale, acquired a master’s degree from Harvard, and went on to graduate from Northwestern School of Law at Lewis and Clark College. Cam retired as the Chief Legal Officer for Legacy Health. His retirement career was as the first director of the DRA legal team and Vice President of the DRA Board of Directors. Cam was also a member of the DRA Founding Circle.

The rivers and fish that Cam loved benefited greatly from his advocacy and extensive legal background. In his time with the DRA, Cam worked diligently driving processes to find resolutions to the problems facing the lower Deschutes River.

Cam will be missed most of all by his children Christine, Lauren and Geoff, his life partner Ingrid Brydolf, and his best friend and fishing partner Dave Baca. Our heartfelt condolences go to them, and to everyone else who knew and loved Cam.

Memorial contributions can be made to the Cam Groner Memorial Fund at the Deschutes River Alliance. Please note on your contribution that it is for the Cam Groner Memorial Fund. All proceeds donated in Cam’s memory will go towards the DRA’s legal expenses.

http://www.deschutesriveralliance.org/supporting-the-dra/

Contributions can also be made to the Legacy Health Foundation’s Cam Groner Charity Care Fund.

You may also honor Cam by going fishing, and at the end of the day toasting a glass of good Oregon pinot noir to his life and his memory.


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

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The DRA Position on Fish Reintroduction in the Deschutes Basin

Fish captured at Selective Water Withdrawal Tower being prepared for truck transportation around the three dams at the Pelton-Round Butte Hydroelectric Complex. Photo by Greg McMillan.

Fish captured at Selective Water Withdrawal Tower being prepared for truck transportation around the three dams at the Pelton-Round Butte Hydroelectric Complex. Photo by Greg McMillan.

A Portland General Electric (PGE) spokesperson recently stated that the Deschutes River Alliance is opposed to the reintroduction of salmon and steelhead above the Pelton-Round Butte Dam Complex. Here is the quote: “They [the DRA] want to go back to status quo prior to the selective water withdrawal system, and essentially to abandon the reintroduction effort for salmon and steelhead above the dams.”  The statement was made in the August 24, 2016 edition of The Source newspaper.

We are not sure what the PGE spokesperson was basing that information on. We have never stated that we want to “abandon the reintroduction effort.” His statement was erroneous and misleading. The DRA has regularly asserted our support for fish reintroduction – on our blog, at public events, and in various publicly disseminated documents.

The Deschutes River Alliance does support fish reintroduction as long as it doesn’t take place in violation of the Clean Water Act, or degrade the ecology of the lower Deschutes River and tributaries above the Pelton-Round Butte Dam Complex.

However, if the fish reintroduction goals are not attainable without serious negative consequences to other valuable resources, then the value of fish reintroduction needs to be reassessed. Unfortunately, what the PGE representative might have been trying to say is that PGE can only conduct fish reintroduction with the methods being currently employed. We believe that demonstrates a lack of willingness to adapt to conditions as they are. The concept of “adaptive management” is written into the dam license documents. To date all adaptive management efforts have been directed at reducing the water quality requirements for dam operation. Nothing has been changed; the goals have only been set lower. It is time to adopt alternatives that protect water quality while holding promise for even higher rates of fish reintroduction success.

Fish capture facility at the Selective Water Withdrawal Tower. Photo by Greg McMillan.

Fish capture facility at the Selective Water Withdrawal Tower. Photo by Greg McMillan.

At the present time, fish reintroduction efforts based on surface water withdrawal at the Pelton-Round Butte Complex are consistently violating the Clean Water Act. That is the basis of our lawsuit against PGE, an action we do not take lightly or without extensive research, analysis and careful consideration.

Further, selective water withdrawal and the resulting water quality violations have led to major changes in the ecology of the lower Deschutes River. These include changes in benthic algae, changes in aquatic insect hatches and populations, and changes in insectivore (insect eater) populations such as songbirds and bats. Warmer spring water temperatures due to surface water withdrawal are very likely responsible for a smallmouth bass invasion in the lower river. This year the Deschutes River at the mouth reached 60 degrees about 45 days before the Columbia River did, likely luring bass from the Columbia into the Deschutes.

The ecological impacts of tower operations are not limited to the downstream ecosystem. A recent report (Genetic Determination of Stock of Origin for Oncorhynchus mykiss Collected in the Upper Deschutes River Basin, Adams, DeHaan, et al, March, 2015) states that native redband trout have been all but extirpated from Whychus Creek. The cause cited is the genetic introgression of hatchery steelhead (planted for reintroduction purposes), which, once planted in Whychus Creek, failed to out-migrate and spawned with native redband trout. This has perhaps changed the redband trout genetics in Whychus Creek forever.

We strongly support the habitat rehabilitation work being done on Whychus Creek, McKay Creek, the upper watershed of the Warm Springs River, and the work being done in the upper reaches of Trout Creek. These are necessary efforts. These habitat improvement projects should take place irrespective of fish reintroduction for all the benefits this work provides. But the hatchery fish used for reintroduction purposes should not displace native resident fish.

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

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

Fish reintroduction efforts began in 2008 when juvenile fish were first planted in the tributaries to Lake Billy Chinook. To date, the results of the reintroduction effort have been less than successful. Numerical goals defining successful fish reintroduction contained in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license for the project have never been met, and we can see no likelihood that they will be.

PGE has claimed that they need more time. To do what? What is going to change in the next year or two that will result in enough juvenile fish migrating to the fish collection facility at Round Butte Dam (there to be trucked around the dams), or enough adults returning to the Reregulation Dam (to be trucked up to the reservoir), to meet the stated and defined goals of the reintroduction program?

Last year 32 sockeye salmon returned to the Pelton-Round Butte Hydroelectric Complex. Later analysis showed that only 3 of those fish originated from the dam complex. PGE claims that this year 400 sockeye have returned to the project. But how many of those fish are from out of basin or not otherwise part of the reintroduction program? Steelhead and Chinook salmon returns have been less than bountiful. Juvenile arrival numbers at the fish collection facility at Round Butte Dam would predict no improvement in adult fish returns for at least the next few years.

An objective audit of the fish reintroduction program needs to take place. We believe a major revamping of the reintroduction program is necessary if the program is to succeed and the serious unintended consequences of reintroduction are to be stopped.

The DRA has always supported fish reintroduction. But the fundamental requirements of the Clean Water Act must be upheld, and the Deschutes River’s ecology and resident species must not be sacrificed.

The reason that fish need to be reintroduced is because several major runs of anadromous fish were lost when the dams were constructed, blocking access to some of the most important spawning habitat in the Deschutes Basin. Let’s not compound that loss with a new generation of loss.


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What Happened to All the Fish?

By Andrew Dutterer

We’ve reached that point in the year when juvenile salmon and steelhead that have been released in upper Deschutes basin tributaries to support anadromous fish reintroduction above the Pelton-Round Butte dam complex are migrating downstream to the Lake Billy Chinook reservoir. Ultimately, these out-migrating juveniles are to be captured at the fish collection facility at the Selective Water Withdrawal (SWW) Tower, located in the forebay of Lake Billy Chinook.  At that point, the collected fish are trapped, tagged, and then trucked around the three dams comprising the Pelton-Round Butte dam complex to be released into the lower Deschutes River. This migration period will continue through June, with peak reservoir migration occurring in May.

This juvenile downstream migration also marks a period during which 100% of the water released from Lake Billy Chinook and discharged into the lower Deschutes River comes from the surface of the reservoir. This maximum surface water discharge is done to provide surface currents for juvenile migrants to navigate through the reservoir to the fish collection facility. The question is: are juvenile salmon and steelhead making it to the fish collection facility?

SWW Tower and fish collection facility, located at the downstream end of Round Butte Dam. Round Butte dam is in the foreground. Photo by Greg McMillan.

SWW Tower and fish collection facility, located at the downstream end of Round Butte Dam. Round Butte dam is in the foreground. Photo by Greg McMillan.

In 2014, there was a combined 714,948 steelhead smolt and fry released into upper Deschutes basin tributaries as part of the Pelton-Round Butte reintroduction project (see Graph 1 below). That same year, 2,113 juvenile steelhead were captured at the fish collection facility. This equates to a 0.3% collection rate, which marks the lowest number of juvenile steelhead collected at the fish collection facility in any year and represents a declining trend in juvenile steelhead collection since these data were first reported in 2010. This decline persists in spite of the fact that every year since 2010 a relatively comparable rate of steelhead smolt and fry were released into the upper Deschutes basin tributaries to facilitate reintroduction (620,000-720,000 on average).

Graph 1. Source: 2007-2014 PGE Annual Fish Passage Reports to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Graph 1. Source: 2007-2014 PGE Annual Fish Passage Reports to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The percentage of juvenile spring Chinook captured at the fish collection facility has been larger than that of steelhead, but overall the results are equally underwhelming. In 2014, the fish collection facility collected 7% of the number of juvenile spring Chinook that were released in that same year (see Graph 2 below). In fact, 2014 marked the lowest number of spring Chinook collected at the fish collection facility in any year and reflects a declining trend that has averaged roughly 19% fewer fish captured each year since 2010.

Graph 2. Source: 2007-2014 PGE Annual Fish Passage Reports to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Graph 2. Source: 2007-2014 PGE Annual Fish Passage Reports to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

It is important to note that it may take several years for juvenile salmonids released in the upper Deschutes tributaries to achieve smolt stage and out-migrate to Lake Billy Chinook. Thus, we’re not drawing direct comparisons of the same fish that are released in a given year to those that are collected in that same year. However, these comparisons do depict an alarming trend in the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of either the SWW Tower to collect juvenile salmon and steelhead or the upper Deschutes tributaries to rear juvenile salmon and steelhead to smolt stage.

So, why aren’t juvenile salmon and steelhead making it to the SWW Tower fish collection facility?

There’s no easy answer to this question. Juvenile salmon and steelhead are clearly not making it to the fish collection facility with any efficiency. It could be due in part to predation or residualization in the tributaries or reservoir. Fish diseases and external parasite infections in Lake Billy Chinook are also thought to be problematic.  However, annual studies conducted by PGE have yielded concerning data about SWW Tower collection of fish that have entered Lake Billy Chinook.

The graphs below (Graphs 3 and 4) represent populations of juvenile steelhead and spring Chinook that were captured near the Deschutes, Crooked, and Metolius River tributary mouths to Lake Billy Chinook, tagged, and released at those same locations. The percentages in graphs 3 and 4 account for the number of these tagged juvenile fish that successfully navigated through Lake Billy Chinook to be captured at the SWW Tower fish collection facility using the surface water currents created by the SWW Tower. In this case, “Naturally reared” refers to fish that are raised to fry in hatcheries, released in the upper Deschutes basin tributaries without fin markings, and naturally rear in the wild before out-migrating. “Hatchery reared” refers to fish that are raised to smolt in the hatchery, then fin marked, and released in the upper Deschutes basin tributaries to out-migrate.

Graph 3. Source: 2010-2014 PGE Juvenile Migration Test and Verification Study Annual Reports to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Graph 3. Source: 2010-2014 PGE Juvenile Migration Test and Verification Study Annual Reports to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Graph 3. Source: 2010-2014 PGE Juvenile Migration Test and Verification Study Annual Reports to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Graph 3. Source: 2010-2014 PGE Juvenile Migration Test and Verification Study Annual Reports to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The annual capture rates shown here are clearly low. The red line in each graph represents the goal outlined in the Pelton-Round Butte dam complex federal operating license of a 75% or greater juvenile fish collection rate over a four-year running average at some point within the first twelve years of juvenile fish passage in Lake Billy Chinook (2005 License, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Project No. 2030-036; pages 146, 161). These data account for almost half of those first twelve years, and rates of juvenile fish collection at the SWW Tower are far from the goal. Equally disconcerting is the mostly declining trend in juvenile fish collection, particularly for naturally reared juveniles since the reintroduction effort ultimately intends to support self-sustaining, wild runs of salmon and steelhead.

To be clear, the DRA supports the reintroduction of salmon and steelhead into the upper Deschutes basin, and we continue to advocate for successful reintroduction. However, we believe that current management of the SWW Tower as a function of the reintroduction effort has generated unintended, adverse environmental impacts on the lower Deschutes River while at the same time not coming close to meeting stated reintroduction goals. The DRA has been documenting these damaging environmental impacts over the past several years. They include (but are not limited to) the rampant proliferation of nuisance algae, altered water temperature cycles, changes in aquatic insect hatch timing, and declines in aquatic insect populations.

In light of these impacts and their possible implications on fish habitat and fish populations in the lower Deschutes River, it is imperative that alternatives to current management of the SWW Tower and the reintroduction project are urgently investigated and implemented. Salmon and steelhead reintroduction in the upper Deschutes basin and ensuring the health of the lower Deschutes River do not need to be mutually exclusive pursuits. It’s time to explore approaches that best achieve both goals.

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WHY IT MATTERS by Greg McMillan

The lower Deschutes River is monitored and managed by a complex ménage of government agencies, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, and of course Portland General Electric.

So what does a group like the DRA have to add to the mix? Primarily this: we spend a lot of time in the lower river. Not on it, but in it. We wade it, we fish it, we float it, and we camp on it. And as anglers, we tend to pay attention. We also love it. It’s not just a river represented as numbers on spreadsheets indicating water quality results, flows, or biological inventories.

Instead, it’s part of our souls. Not one of my fishing friends and partners would ever trade the memories and experiences they acquired on the lower Deschutes for anything.

Photo by David Moskowitz

Photo by David Moskowitz

I personally grew up on the banks of the Deschutes. Having grown up in Bend, the river literally ran through my upbringing. My first kiss was on the banks of the Deschutes (seventh grade, the young lady and I snuck out of the Tower Theater, where our parents believed us to be, and we made out in Drake Park). My first near-death experience was in the Deschutes at the age of 19. My first casts with a fly rod, were of course on the Deschutes (at the age of 12). First fish on a fly? Also on the Deschutes. Learning about the complex web of life in a river, of course that happened on the Deschutes. First steelhead, well where else?

Photo by David Moskowitz

Photo by David Moskowitz

A group of friends and I did what I believe was the first paddle raft descent of lower Benham Falls in 1984. I don’t know of anyone having repeated that, in retrospect, foolhardy adventure. All I have to do is close my eyes and I can see that day as clearly as if it was yesterday. What an exciting day that was! It was a once in a lifetime experience to be sure.

I have two friends who have died, and whose ashes were scattered in the lower Deschutes River. Mine will probably be scattered there too.

Since I started fishing the lower river, I’ve lived in half of a dozen different cities or towns, and at least ten different houses, held multiple jobs, and had more than my share of girlfriends. That adds up to a lot of change. So in my life, the constant, the touchstone, has been the lower river canyon. When I launch from a boat ramp in my drift boat, there is always a sense of the canyon walls welcoming me back home. I feel more like myself there than anywhere else.

Photo by David Moskowitz

Photo by David Moskowitz

No scientific study can quantify any of this. But we have to do science to protect our river. No one else has the exact same connection to the river we do. Especially not government agencies, although I have fishing friends at agencies who love the river as much as any of us do. But they are often handcuffed by a lack of agency will, bureaucratic barriers, lack of funding, or conflicting agendas. So it’s up to us to care for a river we love. And we have to do that through science and advocacy.

In the words of Jeff Johnson, an adventure-seeking sailor and surfer who re-traces Yvon Chouinard’s epic 1968 trip to Patagonia:

“If you love a place you have a duty to protect it.  And to love a place you must know it first.”

Photo by Robert Sheley

Photo by Robert Sheley

So, why us? Why can’t agencies and others be blindly entrusted with protecting the river we love? Because they sometimes don’t care about it in quite the same way we do. Too many in responsible positions see the river as numbers on a spreadsheet. It’s a job. It’s projects and studies. It’s reports that always seem to need completion. It’s revenue. It’s regulations that need to be complied with or enforced. It’s megawatts of energy production.

To me, and my friends, the Deschutes River is home. And its loss would be unbearable to us.

 

Thank you for your continued support for the Deschutes River Alliance.

Greg McMillan

President of the Board

 

 

Seeing Redd – written by Greg McMillan

 

steelhead

Photo from Clark County Public Works, WA

It’s that time of year again. Wild trout and steelhead in the Deschutes and its tributaries are making their way to spawning gravel to simultaneously begin and complete the cycle of life. It’s nothing short of magic that steelhead can emerge as fry, grow to smolts, find their way to the ocean, and return to water and gravel that is often within feet or yards of where they began their lives as fertilized eggs.

babySalmonSmall

Photo by Alaska F&G

If one knows where to look, this fascinating act of gravel preparation (the prepared gravel is known as a “redd”), mating and egg-laying can be observed from the old railroad bed that forms the road we use to access the lower river. Look carefully into the water with polarized lenses and watch for gravel that has been worked into clean patches, especially in the often shallow rolling hills of gravel that are spawning dunes. If you find those spots during April and May, chances are you’ll find fish, steelhead and trout, spawning.

imagesUPTCAR61

Photo by NOAA

Often fish congregate in these locations not just to mate, but to feed on the eggs that don’t become trapped in gravel. Aquatic insects can also get churned up from the gravel when fish are working that same gravel for spawning purposes. That makes the insects more available to predation from fish. As a consequence, it creates a tempting spot for fish to find an easy meal. This also makes for a tempting spot to fish, especially with egg patterns.

images

Photo by ADFG

“But to do so is very short sighted. Fish disturbed during spawning might not complete this part of the cycle of life if disturbed or spooked from spawning areas. Wading on spawning gravel is incredibly negligent and harmful to the future survival of the very fish you are pursuing. So please, enjoy watching this most interesting and magical of fish activities, but leave spawning fish to complete their task.  Please don’t disturb or wade on spawning gravel – the fish will appreciate it, and so will your fellow anglers.”

eyed eggs

Photo by ADFG