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NW Fishletter #366, February 6, 2017

[7] PGE And Tribe Say 2016 Sockeye Returns To Deschutes River Were Native

Sockeye returning to the Deschutes River Basin appear to be native fish, according to the results of genetic testing performed by Portland General Electric and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon.

The utility and the tribes are co-owners of the Pelton Round Butte Hydroelectric Project on the Deschutes River.

An estimated 536 adult sockeye returned to the hydroelectric complex last summer, beating previous numbers that until now ranged from 19 to 86 fish, according to a press release from the utility and tribes. Utility and tribal efforts to re-establish the run began in 2010, and the first fish returned in 2012.

The testing was done by Hagerman Genetics Laboratory, a research center operated by the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission and the University of Idaho.

Tests showed that over 93 percent of the returning sockeye originated in the middle Deschutes basin, and most of those--92 percent--were from Lake Billy Chinook, the news statement said.

Not all 536 sockeye were tested. Eight of the sockeye were visually identified as strays from other Columbia River Basins. A fin clip was taken from the rest of the run and used in the genetic tests.

Salmonids are spawning again above Round Butte Dam. Photo: NOAA

Most of the sockeye passed upstream of the hydro project, while a smaller number spawned at Round Butte Fish Hatchery.

In fall 2016, PGE and tribal biologists observed sockeye on spawning grounds throughout the Metolius River basin, a major Deschutes River subbasin.

Last summer's returning sockeye were from an existing kokanee (land-locked sockeye) population in Lake Billy Chinook, a reservoir created by the hydro-project's Round Butte Dam.

In addition to sockeye, PGE and the tribes are trying to restore Chinook, steelhead and lamprey runs to the Deschutes basin--fish that were blocked from 200 miles of habitat when the utility built three dams on the river in the 1950s and 1960s.

FERC issued a new federal license for the Pelton Round Butte Project in 2005 [P-2030] that committed the owners to fish passage, fish reintroduction and water-quality enhancement.

These requirements, along with a 2005 NMFS BiOp on steelhead, resulted in reintroduction of spring Chinook and ESA-listed steelhead into historic habitat above the project.

Local conservation group the Deschutes River Alliance said the reintroduction and a selective water-withdrawal tower that is an integral part of the reintroduction effort has come at the expense of water quality.

The group sued PGE last August, blaming water-quality violations on the fish-reintroduction program and the water-withdrawal mechanism that facilitates fish passage at Round Butte Dam.

The group said the water-withdrawal system operation caused unnaturally warm water in the lower Deschutes River, which degraded the river's ecology in violation of the Clean Water Act.

The group filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon. Judge Michael Simon hears oral arguments in the case Feb. 3. -Laura Berg

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NW Fishletter is produced by Energy NewsData.
Publisher/Editor-in-Chief: Mark Ohrenschall, Editor: Laura Berg
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