This article was published on: 08/8/22 1:17 PM
By Angelina Huber, PGE Project Zero Intern
Recently, Portland General Electric (PGE) and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs held their 28th annual fisheries workshop to discuss the state of fish and their passage, supported by terrestrial, hydrological, and technological updates, all within the Deschutes River Basin. The workshop lasted six hours with speakers throughout the day attending from non-profits, federal and state agencies, and companies like PGE. As an intern with the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council and the Deschutes River Conservancy, I was able to accompany members of the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council and learn about the state of our water basin and of the fish that reside in it.
Here are five takeaways from the multitude of information I learned that day.
1) As fish passage is halted by dams, innovative ways to provide fish safe travel through the Deschutes become increasingly important.
The series of presentations began with an overview of facility updates to the Pelton Round Butte Dam by Rich Madden with PGE. The Round Butte Dam, the uppermost dam in the hydroelectric project on Lake Billy Chinook, was finished in 1964.
Since its creation, the run that provided passage for steelhead, sockeye, and chinook salmon to the Metolius, Crooked, and Upper Deschutes Rivers was completely blocked. To combat this issue, an upstream fish ladder and gondola were built but were soon abandoned in 1966 after little success. To date, PGE has made significant efforts to improve river connectivity for migrating fish by creating a Selective Water Withdrawal (SWW) system, the first of its kind as of 2011.
Floating above the Round Butte Dam, this facility guides fish through the facility by redirecting surface currents and mixing deep water with surface water. A large lead (200ft by 70ft) net was introduced this year to capture fish more efficiently to ensure a greater number would pass through the dam successfully.
The fish travel through the facility with minimal separation from water to limit their shock from rapid travel. Before being released below the dams, fish are taken to a newly established stress relief pond below the deregulation dam to decompress after transport. The efforts exhibited here have increased anadromous fish returns in recent years.
2) The significance of salmon and steelhead smolt acclimation and its relevance to higher adult returns.
Erik Moberly of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) spoke next. His presentation focused on updates to the salmon and steelhead smolt acclimation sites on the Upper Deschutes basin.
There are currently four sites used on the Deschutes sub-basins and Metolius and Crooked rivers. The season of release lasts from February to May with length times of 17 days for Spring Chinook salmon and 13 days for summer steelhead.
It is Moberly’s hope that the season will lengthen but with that, the number of days for acclimation periods will decrease. In coming years, adaptive management techniques by Moberly and his peers will be used to maintain healthy populations with restored habitat, increased smolt protection, increased fish pathology to protect against disease, and a diet regimen that brings fish back to a “wild fish template”.
Further research done for fish acclimation should mean more returns, which will eventually bring a healthier future for our Deschutes River.
3) Terrestrial improvements are just as important as hydrological improvements for creating a healthier Deschutes River and fishery overall.
Though the workshop focused mostly on fish and water, there were some very intriguing presentations from land management speakers as well. One of these came from Thad Fitzhenry of PGE and Reese Mercer of Beaver Works, (an organization that supports restoration projects that return land sites to a condition suitable for beaver occupation).
Fitzhenry discussed the importance of continued land monitoring and restoration in the area of Round Butte Dam to catalog disturbances to local wildlife, especially raptors and waterfowl. Mercer focused his presentation on the importance of beavers to both hydrological and terrestrial zones.
Until the 1800s, there were one million beavers in Oregon, but that number has drastically reduced by 95%. The absence of beavers is linked to the absence of natural damming and debris that create pools and dynamic zones for rivers and fish to thrive. Without beavers and their engineered habitats, erosion, channelization, and river straightening become more common.
Mercer’s conclusion was that Central Oregon’s lands need to be restored to provide a better landscape for beavers to thrive in, which will create a beneficial system for all to thrive in.
4) Pathology on fish may be integral to their success.
Fish pathology and its importance have been a more obscure topic to me than others, but Stacy Strickland of ODFW did a great job of bringing it to the forefront of my mind.
The presentation started by explaining the effect of a copepod on the health of Chinook and Steelhead. This copepod parasitizes both fish species, but mainly Chinook, and can cause eventual death in a fish. In years to come, the rate of infection is likely to increase and may drastically reduce the fish population in Lake Billy chinook.
With continued research, it has been discovered that SLICE, a benzoate used to treat sea lice in salmon and trout, can be used to fend off this parasite. When ingested by fish in their food, SLICE disrupts nerve transmissions in copepods inhabiting these fish, resulting in the parasite’s loss of bodily function and mortality.
By keeping track of fish pathology, more fish will be saved in the future, providing a new angle for how to combat every decreasing fish population.
5) There are many organizations and people who care deeply about our water, fish, and wildlife.
In this frightening time of rapidly changing climatic conditions and wildlife losses, it’s heartening to see so many people from different organizations come together to discuss the welfare of fish and wildlife. I learned about a multitude of projects underway with the goal of creating a healthier Deschutes River Basin and met many individuals whose primary goals were to return this watershed to a sustainable and successful environment. It is good to know that forward growth will not stop here and there will be even more accomplishments to exchange at next year’s workshop.
About Angelina Huber
Angelina Huber is an intern for Deschutes River Conservancy and Upper Deschutes Watershed Council for the summer and fall of 2022. Both internships are facilitated by the Central Oregon cohort of the Project Zero Green Jobs Internship run by Portland General Electric. Angelina grew up in Bend, Oregon, and graduated from the University of Oregon with a BS in Environmental Science and a minor in Biology.