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September 16, 2009

How to Make a River Fish-Friendly

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Filed under : General Green
Fall Salmon Run

Making Oregon rivers fish-friendly

As you probably know, I live in beautiful Central Oregon.  There are 300 days of sunshine a year, and lots of rivers, mountains and natural beauty to enjoy.  My children love visiting the numerous fish hatcheries around our region.  So, we were pleased to hear about a new effort by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to make the rivers more fish-friendly here.

Not only is this beneficial to wildlife, but there are a number of people who come to Oregon to fish in its beautiful streams each year.  From sportsmen to environmentalists…. everyone will benefit from the new fish reintroduction program underway in the Metolius River, Whychus Creek and Crooked River (all of which feed into the Deschutes River).

Recently, millions of tiny Steelhead and Chinook salmon have been reintroduced into the Upper Deschutes and Crooked River basins near Bend, Oregon.  Why is this so significant (numbers aside)?

The Bend Bulletin reports that the fish fry are the first of their kind to swim in the region’s rivers in nearly 50 years, since dams were constructed, blocking migration to the Pacific Ocean.   Now, new projects are required so that tiny fish fry can swim past the dams on their annual migration path.

Central Oregon

The gorgeous Deschutes River in Central Oregon

Millions of dollars are being invested in a series of projects that will return Oregon rivers to the fish-friendly habitats that they once were.  Among numerous investments, one of the most newsworthy is a $100 million underwater structure that will help collect fish and transport them around the Pelton Round Butte dam.  Funds will be provided in part by a grant from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, funded by the Oregon Lottery.

In addition to the “big project” numerous other smaller approaches will be funded with approximately $25 million – from restoring stream banks to removing irrigation dams, where necessary.  As shown in the next video, high school students also have worked on Whychus Creek to undertake restoration projects, with great success!

a river runs through it...

Beautiful rivers and creeks in Oregon

Portland General Electric (PGE) and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, which co-own the dams, set up the “Pelton Fund,” which will provide an ongoing source of funds over 15 years for habitat improvement projects.  The goal is to eventually encourage 2,000 Steelhead and Chinook (combined) to return each year.  Yet, its a lofty goal that will definitely take time to achieve.  But with the combined efforts of so many organizations, land-owners and utilities, we’ll get there.

Overall, in order to help the region become more fish-friendly again there are three main elements: (1) help the fish get past obstacles like irrigation diversions/dams; (2) increase water flow in order to lower water temperature and improve water quality; and (3) generally improve physical habitat for fish.

The Deschutes Land Trust is playing a key role in restoring Central Oregon rivers by purchasing blocks of land for conservation and restoration.  Recently, it worked to recreate the natural winding nature of Whychus Creek in Polk Meadow to correct the situation in which it had been forced into a straight channel, which destroyed Steelhead habitat.

In addition, the Deschutes River Conservancy works with farmers/irrigators to allow more water to remain in the creeks.  That helps improve both water quality and habitat.

Of course, its not only fish that benefit from the projects and efforts to make the rivers more fish-friendly.  Song birds, hawks and other species rely on natural, clean, free-flowing channels.  Observes Tod Heisler, executive director of the Deschutes River Conservancy:

“What the reintroduction has done is provide funding opportunities to restore streams and creeks and … rivers here in the upper basin, and we all very much hope that reintroduction is successful … and we expect it will be.  If not, the health of these rivers and streams is important, generally speaking, for other native species and for people.”

If you’d like to help the mission of these organizations and companies, you can donate time or money to help improve rivers and streams in Oregon to make the fish reintroduction successful.  Just click on one of the links below:

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