Archives : Salmon and Steelhead Habitat Restoration
The Pelton Fund was created by Portland General Electric Company (PGE) and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs to protect and enhance habitat for salmon and steelhead being reintroduced above the Pelton Round Butte Project.
Historically, salmon and steelhead migrated from the Columbia River up the Deschutes River and into the Crooked River, Metolius River and Whychus Creek. In 1964, PGE completed the construction of Round Butte dam on the lower Deschutes River, providing fish passage facilities to promote continued migration. Unfortunately, the passage system was unsuccessful because of the confusing currents in Lake Billy Chinook. To mitigate the loss of the salmon and steelhead runs, PGE funded a hatchery program to replenish the downstream fishery.
In 2005, PGE and the Tribes received a new operating license which made restoring fish passage at the dams its centerpiece. To solve the fish barrier issue, PGE and the Tribes partnered to construct a $100 million dollar Fish Passage System, which saw the first returns of salmon and steelhead making their way through the facility and into the Upper Basin this year.
The Pelton Fund has been dedicated to funding habitat restoration in the Upper Basin, including the Deschutes River Conservancy’s streamflow restoration projects in Whychus Creek and the Crooked River, to support the reintroduction of salmon and steelhead. These funds have helped the DRC develop and implement the largest water conservation initiative in Oregon and to achieve one of two streamflow targets in Whychus Creek.
The Pelton Fund also supports a project to restore healthy conditions in McKay Creek, a tributary of the Crooked River. The scope of the Pelton Fund’s commitment to enhancing tributary conditions for salmon and steelhead has greatly leveraged the DRC’s ability to collaborate with its restoration partners to implement strategic and comprehensive reach-wide restoration.
The Deschutes River Conservancy recently hosted a project tour for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Bonneville Power Administration, primary funders that have been integral in shaping our conservation efforts for the past 10 years. Both organizations have funded numerous projects over the years, but this tour was all about salmon and steelhead reintroduction efforts.
The first stop on the tour was Whychus Creek in Sisters, one of our biggest success stories. Not too long ago, Whychus Creek ran dry in the summer irrigation months, dramatically impacting native fish populations. Now, after a series of restoration projects implemented by the DRC and our partners, we are able to enjoy a healthy creek that is home once again to salmon and steelhead.
The second stop was at the Crooked River near Smith Rock. This past winter, the DRC and North Unit Irrigation district broke ground on the first of a series of projects that will address irrigation needs of farmers in the Madras and Culver areas as well as the habitat needs for salmon and steelhead in the lower Crooked River. When complete, The North Unit Initiative will be the largest flow restoration project in Oregon’s history.
The last stop on the tour was McKay Creek. Nestled into the Ochoco National Forest northeast of Prineville, McKay Creek suffers from low streamflow during the summer months. When completed, the McKay Creek Water Rights Switch will provide farmers with a more reliable water source and up to 11 cubic feet per second (cfs) of streamflow will be restored in the creek during a critical period for steelhead spawning and migration.
This winter, we broke ground with North Unit Irrigation District on the first phase of the largest streamflow restoration initiative in Oregon’s history. When completed, this initiative will restore up to 190 cubic feet per second of streamflow to the Crooked River running through Smith Rock State Park. This reach of the Crooked River has historically suffered from poor water quality and a degraded ecosystem. This initiative will benefit the region’s agricultural economy while permanently improving conditions for fish, wildlife, and recreation.