Throughout 2011 and 2012 we had many discussions with friends who fish the lower Deschutes River often. Often enough to know when something had changed. Some of those friends are guides and outfitters who are on the river almost daily from early May until November. We all shared the same observations and concerns. There were things that just were not the same on the river. Insect hatches were sparse where and when they were once robust. Turbidity had suddenly become an issue. The arrival of steelhead had been delayed. There was a new and different algae covering the rocks in riffles. Bats and swallows were less commonplace. Why were these things happening and what did they mean? No one seemed to know.

So in January of 2013, with the cooperation of many of those friends (who included the likes of Steve Light, John and Amy Hazel, John Smeraglio, Dave Moskowitz, John Judy, Damien Nurre, Forrest Foxworthy, Brian Silvey, Steve Pribyl, John Belozer and Rick Hafele) we decided to organize some meetings and bring in authorities who we hoped could provide explanations.

Originally we called ourselves the Lower Deschutes River Coalition. We met on a monthly basis and the more we dug into the issues on the river, the more we realized we were treading into unknown territory. Agencies and other river managers had not noticed and were not paying attention to the changes we had seen.

We realized our coalition had to become the forum and process for understanding these changes. In the wake of ongoing reductions in state agency funding over the past twenty years, and restrictions on the ability of the federal government to respond, we also knew we would have to take responsibility for ensuring these issues would be investigated and defined.

In 2014 the Deschutes River Alliance (DRA) embarked upon a science-based, collaborative, in-depth look at the health of the lower Deschutes River. We wanted to better understand the biology, water quality and other issues that could impact the future of the river. By the summer of 2014 the DRA was conducting an aggressive research and study process that helped us understand the issues we face and need to solve.

That was the beginning. The DRA hopes the end will be the resolution of imminent threats to the river and a legacy to leave to future generations.

By the end of 2015 the DRA had published numerous reports on the lower Deschutes River, including what is to date the only thermal-imaging study of the lower river. We began conducting aquatic insect studies, and doing highly involved water quality work. The product of these efforts can be found under the “Reports” tab on our website.

The information we acquired through our own work, and by reviewing published studies by Portland General Electric (PGE), The Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation, and multiple agencies, informed our desire and need to seek solutions to the ecological problems we have identified in the lower river.

After many meetings and attempts at negotiations to reduce the harm being done to the lower Deschutes River, we were forced to file a lawsuit against PGE, based on hundreds of violations of the Clean Water Act certificate for the Pelton-Round Butte Hydroelectric Complex. This lawsuit remains active, and in spring 2017 we won a great legal victory, affirming the right of citizen groups like the DRA to enforce water quality requirements at hydroelectric facilities.

Today, we hope that either through a court order or through negotiations we will put the pieces in place to resolve the many problems plaguing the lower river.  We promise to push hard to leave the lower Deschutes River a treasure for generations to come.

Greg McMillan