PGE Fisheries Conference

Jul 27, 2016
Natasha Bellis reports on attending the Pelton Round Butte Project Fisheries Workshop and salmon reintroduction.

By Natasha Bellis
Conservation Associate

Salmon recovery has defined the majority of my professional career. In my previous job—restoring streamflow to creeks in Oregon’s eastern Columbia Basin—my focus was improving habitat to increase existing salmon populations. With the Land Trust, habitat restoration to restore salmon populations continues to be a focus of my work, but it is in the context of a reintroduction effort to establish a population. This distinction—between recovery and reintroduction—may seem superficial, but for me it has meant adjusting my definition of success to reflect the scale of the effort—one that is essentially starting at ground zero.

From this perspective, the salmon reintroduction effort is defined less by what it hasn’t yet accomplished and more by what it has. Recently, I attended Portland General Electric (PGE) and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs’ Pelton Round Butte Project Fisheries Workshop in Madras. The annual workshop addresses the operation of three dams along a 20-mile stretch of the Deschutes River and their impact on the salmon reintroduction effort. The workshop is an opportunity for agencies and entities to present findings on a variety of topics, including fish migration and water quality.

This year, the workshop highlighted a number of successes, including the highest rate of Chinook passage since the reintroduction effort began six years ago! What I found most interesting was PGE’s efforts to adaptively manage the hydroelectric operations in response to research on juvenile fish. For example, the operation of the dam at Round Butte creates a current that attracts fish to a capture facility where they are captured, tagged, and transported around the dams and then released to continue migration downstream. When PGE learned that the capture rate of fish at the dams was too low to establish a sustainable population, they changed how they were operating the dams.

This year, PGE began a pilot project to increase nighttime electricity generation in the hopes of encouraging more juvenile fish to move into the capture facility during their most active time of day. Early findings have shown an increase in capture rates, but how PGE will balance this with the need for electricity generation remains to be seen.

The conference underscored the huge effort undertaken by salmon reintroduction. The Fisheries Workshop was a good reminder that six years of reintroduction pales in comparison to the 40+ years salmon have been absent in the Metolius, Whychus and Crooked River watersheds since the construction of dams. While the reintroduction effort will doubtlessly face great challenges and hard decisions if it is to succeed, I think this gives us permission to celebrate the seemingly small successes.

Read this article by The Bend Bulletin for more information on project operations.