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NOAA Fisheries: Helping to Make Fish Migration a Reality

For the first time in 42 years, young fish are able to make the journey past three dams in central Oregon and migrate to the Pacific Ocean thanks to the cooperative efforts of NOAA Fisheries, Portland General Electric, and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon.

The power of the Deschutes River is converted to electric energy by the Pelton Round Butte project - three dams located six miles west of Madras, Oregon. Built in 1964, Pelton Round Butte is the largest hydroelectric project located entirely in Oregon.

NOAA was a partner in the engineering of a unique 273-foot underwater tower and fish collection station. With its unique design, the tower mimics the natural conditions of the river to attract fish into the collection facility. In this facility (the only visible part of the structure), the fish are gathered, sorted by size and piped to a fish handling facility. The fish are then transported downstream to continue their migration to the sea.

Chinook salmon, steelhead, and kokanee (landlocked sockeye salmon) immediately began taking full advantage of the new travel agent created by the $108 million project. The facility started operations in December 2009 and within two hours had its first customers—two juvenile Chinook.

At a time when key decisions about the future of wild fish and the environment are often characterized by disputes and lawsuits, this process of collaboration between NOAA Fisheries Service, Portland General Electric, the Tribes and about 20 additional stakeholder groups has resulted in a unique set of perspectives, ideas and knowledge about the region and its needs. The result is a solution that not only restores fish migration, but improves the Deschutes River Basin for all who live, work and play there.

Selective water withdrawal and fish collection facility (Courtesy Portland General Electric)

 

The first two fish, spring Chinook, captured at the new water intake system at Round Butte Dam (Courtesy Michael Gauvin, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife).