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Deschutes River Alliance presents webinar, voices concerns about ‘State of the Lower Deschutes River’

(Update: Adding video, comments by alliance executive director, Oregon DEQ)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The Deschutes River Alliance presented the State of the Lower Deschutes River, an online presentation and discussion about the water quality of the lower Deschutes River, online Tuesday evening. 

"Our focus is solely on the lower Deschutes River, protecting and promoting it. All of our advocacy is based in science," alliance Executive Director Sarah Cloud told NewsChannel 21 Tuesday.

The seminar featured members of DRA’s Science Team, Rick Hafele and Steve Pribyl, and DRA Water Quality Coordinator Derek Miller. The discussion focused on water quality issues in the lower Deschutes River, and present information from the 2023 water quality report by the DRA Science Team.

"We've been producing these science reports for the last 10 years, and our data is actually used by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality for their reporting to the EPA," Cloud said.

This year, their annual webinar focused on a number of impacts in the lower river affecting the quality of life for fishes, in particular Chinook salmon.

"So for 50 years, cool clean water flowed from the bottom of Lake Billy Chinook into the lower Deschutes River, creating a world class fishery. It was a very healthy river that supported the local economy."

But with surface water now being taken from Lake Billy Chinook, instead of bottom water, the rise in water temperature in the 100-mile Llower Deschutes is of concern.

"Taking that surface water from Lake Billy Chinook has caused an increase in temperatures and pH levels, and a decrease in dissolved oxygen, at a time critical for fish health," Cloud said.

Water quality issues have plagued the lower Deschutes River since the installation of the Selective Water Withdrawal Tower in Lake Billy Chinook in 2009, the alliance said. Issues include pH levels that exceed Oregon Department of Environmental Quality standards, dissolved oxygen levels that fail to protect spawning and young trout, salmon, and steelhead, increased water temperatures, nuisance algae, excess nutrients, and fewer insects.

DRA has been pressing state regulators for many years to take action to reduce the dam's impact on the river, and says not enough has been done. With all of the water changes taking place, DRA says the future is uncertain for the lower Deschutes.

Cloud says results for hatching a certain species of fish in the lower Deschutes is dwindling. "They get less than 100 adult per species returning, and to us that's not very successful. It's not worth putting at harm a 100-mileWwild and Scenic River."

For the past decade, the DRA has collected water quality data from the lower Deschutes River and published annual water quality reports using the highest scientific standards. Their data is also used in reports by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

A DEQ spokeswoman provided this update to NewsChannel 21 on efforts to address water issues:

"DEQ is working to address water quality issues on the Deschutes and other rivers throughout Oregon. There are multiple and complex causes of water quality issues, including climate change, drought, algae growth, land use, and higher ambient temperatures.

"PGE and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs are currently meeting requirements of the Clean Water Act 401 water quality certification for the Pelton Round Butte Dam. The water quality certification requires PGE to submit monthly monitoring reports to DEQ, which DEQ reviews as part of its oversight.

"There are several additional activities DEQ is working on with implications for the Deschutes:

  • DEQ is participating in a water quality workgroup convened by PGE, with participation from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Deschutes River Alliance, and other interested parties, to collaboratively develop strategies for continuing to improve water quality on the Deschutes. The group is called the Lower Deschutes River Pilot Stakeholder Working Group.
  • DEQ is also working on a rulemaking for aquatic life use, which may further affect requirements for the dam. Once this rulemaking is finalized, DEQ will work on a modification to the dam’s 401 certification, based on updated water quality standards.
  • Water quality in the Lower Deschutes River is affected by the water and algae that enters the river from the reservoirs and the river’s tributaries. DEQ will eventually develop a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), which will identify the dam’s potential contribution to pH, temperature, and dissolved oxygen, if any, along with the potential contribution of other sources.
Article Topic Follows: Environment

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Blake Mayfield

Blake Mayfield is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Blake here.


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