November 26, 2011 - Bend Bulletin - An upstream success for fish getting closer

Nov 28, 2011

November 26, 2011 - Bend Bulletin - An upstream success for fish getting closer

An upstream success for fish getting closer

Salmon and steelhead may spawn above the Pelton Round Butte dams next year

By Dylan J. Darling / The Bulletin
Published: November 26. 2011 4:00AM PST

MADRAS — A decade and more than $100 million in the making, a major step in reviving Deschutes River salmon and steelhead could happen next year: Adult fish spawning in waters upstream of the Pelton Round Butte dam complex.

“We are hoping in 2012 that there will be salmon at Camp Sherman and steelhead up at Sisters and in Prineville,” said Don Ratliff, senior aquatic biologist with Portland General Electric.

The adult fish would be the first in more than 40 years to spawn in the Metolius, Deschutes and Crooked rivers upstream of the dams, as well as Whychus Creek. The 465-megawatt dam complex produces enough power for a city about the size of Salem.

Scientists and volunteers have been releasing young steelhead, a sea run rainbow trout, since 2007 and salmon since 2008 above the dams.

Starting in late 2009 an elaborate submerged tower, which cost Pacific Gas & Electric and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs $108 million, has created a current like a free-flowing river and restored the downstream movement of the fish.

Last May the first Chinook salmon returned to the dam complex, in July the first sockeye and in October the first steelhead. In all, seven chinook returned between May and July, 19 sockeye between July and August and nine steelhead from early October until now, Ratliff said.

Collected by scientists in a trap near the base of the lowest dam, so far those fish have gone to the Round Butte Fish Hatchery and not to spawning waters upstream of the dams.

Breeding the fish at the hatchery maximizes their reproduction rates, said Mike Gauvin, mitigation coordinator at the complex for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. As more and more fish return, the likelihood of their release into the rivers above the dam complex increases.

“It's going to get to a point where it makes sense to put fish above the project,” Gauvin said.

There is a possible hitch, though.

State scientists are monitoring the returning fish for any diseases from the ocean, the Columbia River or lower Deschutes River, said Brett Hodgson, ODFW district fisheries biologist in Bend. The dams have kept these diseases out of the upper Deschutes and they don't want the salmon and steelhead to introduce them.

“We are advocating a conservative approach for moving the adult fish upstream,” Hodgson said.

Handled and trucked

Young fish swimming downstream and adult fish returning upstream are all handled by scientists after either being collected at the tower near Round Butte Dam or a fish trap near the lowest dam in the complex. The adult salmon and steelhead in the reintroduction program are distinguished from wild fish and fish from other hatcheries by a bone removed near their mouths.

For now, truck rides are a part of the life cycle of the fish. Trucks haul the young fish collected at the tower about 10 miles below the dam complex and carry the returning adult fish back up the 10 miles to the hatchery at the bottom of Round Butte Dam.

Eventually the truck rides could be phased out if the tower continues to prove effective in drawing young fish down the river and old elements of the dam complex's original fish passage system — including a three-mile-long fish ladder — are revitalized, Ratliff said.
“That's quite a ways away,” he said.

He said it could be 10 to 20 years until salmon and steelhead are swimming, and not riding, around the dams.

Confusing current

Built in the 1950s and 1960s, the Pelton Round Butte Complex created Lake Billy Chinook and Lake Simtustus near Madras along the southeastern edge of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. While salmon and steelhead were able to migrate upstream around the dams, using the long ladder and a since removed tram, it was soon learned that young fish had trouble navigating downstream, said Mark Manion, fisheries harvest manager for the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation.

Mixing currents from the Deschutes, Metolius and Crooked rivers and Whychus Creek caused young fish to swim up the Metolius and not down the Deschutes toward the Columbia River and eventually the ocean.

For decades, fish managers abandoned the possibility of having salmon and steelhead runs around the dam complex, which is owned by PGE and the tribes, until it came up for a new federal license in the mid-1990s. That's when the plan to remedy the current problem with the tower and reintroduce salmon upstream of the dams began.

“It's started. It seems to be working,” Manion said. “It's just a mater of time.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7812,
Published Daily in Bend Oregon by Western Communications, Inc. © 2011

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