Editorial: More time for fish solution

Jun 22, 2016

Bend Bulletin

Editorial: More time for fish solution It’s far easier to block fish from the Deschutes River south of Lake Billy Chinook than it is to return them to that same stretch years later. That’s one of the lessons to be learned from the latest effort to do just that, an effort that’s now entering its second decade.

Steelhead and salmon, which had historically been found in the Crooked River to Ochoco Creek, in Deschutes County’s Whychus Creek, Metolius River and the Deschutes at least as far south as Terrebonne, were becoming hard to find as far back as 1939, according to archives of The Bulletin.

The completion of Portland General Electric’s three dams, including Round Butte Dam at Lake Billy Chinook in 1964, nearly ended any hope of restoring fish to the middle and upper river. Fish passages on the three PGE dams were declared a failure in 1968.

Things have changed since then. A variety of conservation groups, including the Deschutes Land Trust and the Deschutes River Conservancy, are working to restore stream flows and fish habitat along the river and its tributaries. And PGE began operating a one-of-a-kind fish moving device just below Round Butte Dam in 2009.

It hasn’t been completely smooth sailing. Though work on creating the fish passage — a large tower that sucks fish and water in and gathers the fish for trucking around the dams — began as far back as 2004, it was not completed until 2009.

That there have been problems should surprise no one. The tower itself is unique, and there have been bugs to work out. Restoring stream flows vital to fish survival is also no easy task — irrigators and others have legal rights to some river water. Those rights cannot simply be ignored.

All that said, it’s not time to give up on the tower or on the dream of restored fish runs in Central Oregon. It may take more time than some had hoped.

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