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NW Fishletter #358, June 6, 2016

[6] Deschutes River Alliance Plans To Sue PGE Over Water Quality

The Deschutes River Alliance (DRA) notified PGE in a May 13 letter that it intends to bring a suit in federal district court within 60 days.

The notification asserts that between 2010 and 2014, the utility repeatedly violated its water-quality certification for the Pelton Round Butte Hydroelectric Complex, a three-dam project on the Deschutes River in Oregon.

DRA says the violations fall under the Clean Water Act Section 401 certification required in the license granted to the hydro complex by FERC, in its water-quality management and monitoring plan.

The Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon is a co-owner with PGE in the Pelton Round Butte Hydroelectric Complex.

The DRA faults a selective water-withdrawal tower at Round Butte Dam for what it says are deleterious water conditions in the lower Deschutes River.

The $90-million underwater withdrawal system, completed in December 2009, mixes warmer water from the surface and cold water from the bottom of the river to modify water temperatures and reservoir currents to approximate natural conditions.

Selective Water Withdrawal and Fish Collection Facility. Courtesy of CRITFC.

The currents are intended to attract juvenile fish migrating from the Metolius, Crooked and upper Deschutes rivers to an adjacent collection facility, where the fish are lifted out and released downstream of the dams.

On their return, the adult fish enter a trap at the most downstream of the three dams and are transported above the project to complete their life cycle.

The selective water-withdrawal system is not helping the reintroduction of anadromous fish and is instead having an "alarming effect on water quality" in the lower river, the DRA said.

The notification letter says that since 2010, PGE has not complied with the water-quality plan's requirements for temperature, pH and dissolved oxygen.

The resulting changes, the group said, include increased water temperatures during late winter, spring and summer; algae blooms that negatively affect the ecology of the lower river; and changes in the quantity and timing of aquatic insect hatches, which impact fish, birds and other insect-eating organisms.

In response, PGE spokesman Steve Corson told NW Fishletter, "We are working hard to help improve conditions for salmon and steelhead on the Deschutes and restore healthy runs to the upper basin, and we believe we're complying with the Clean Water Act as we do this."

Corson noted the streams hadn't hosted salmon and steelhead runs in 40 years, and said the utility's fisheries work is a long-term commitment.

"We haven't yet reached the sustainable, harvestable runs that are our long-term goal, but neither we nor anyone with a realistic understanding of what we're trying to accomplish could have expected us to achieve that goal in just six years," Corson said.

PGE is "working closely with state and tribal water quality regulators to make sure we're meeting the law's requirements," he said.

The alliance alleges that the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has not enforced the regulations, and has instead deferred to PGE. -Laura Berg

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Publisher/Editor-in-Chief: Mark Ohrenschall, Editor: Laura Berg
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