For Anglers and Conservationists Throughout Oregon and Beyond
Opal Springs Passage


Pelton Round Butte Hydroelectric Project

The Pelton Round Butte (PRB) complex is near the town of Madras in Central Oregon. PRB is composed of three dams. Round Butte dam, the furthest upstream, creates Lake Billy Chinook. Pelton dam creates Lake Simtustus. Furthest downstream is the re-regulating dam. PRB is jointly owned by Portland General Electric and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon and provides electricity to a large service area from Portland to Salem and surrounding areas.

Lake Billy Chinook is fed by the Deschutes, Metolius, and Crooked Rivers. The lower Deschutes River emerges downstream from the project and is treasured by anglers, rafters, boaters, and outdoor lovers throughout Oregon and the Pacific Northwest.

Construction of PRB was completed in 1964. In 1966 it was clear that the project’s fish passage facility was not functional and was abandoned thus blocking access to the overwhelming majority of historic spawning habitat for Deschutes River steelhead, Chinook salmon, and sockeye salmon. Steelhead and Chinook salmon have struggled ever since. The sockeye salmon turned into a healthy population of landlocked Kokanee.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a new 50-year project license to PGE and the Tribes on June 21, 2005. Part of that license includes a requirement for a new fish passage facility. This facility is now operational and provides downstream passage for out migrating juvenile anadromous fish. Adults migrating upstream are trapped below the lowest of the dams (the re-regulating dam) and trucked to Lake Billy Chinook where they continue their migration. This FERC requirement for PGE to provide fish passage at their project has resulted in the need for fish passage at the next upstream impediment, the Opal Springs Hydroelectric Project.

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Deschutes Valley Water District

DVWD provides municipal water to the communities of Culver, Metolius, Madras and surrounding areas and is the owner of the Opal Springs Hydroelectric Project (OSP). OSP is located on the Crooked River at river mile 8, just upstream from Lake Billy Chinook, and largely blocks access to what was historically the most important spawning habitat for Deschutes River steelhead and Chinook salmon. The diversion structure associated with the hydro-electric facility currently has no fish ladder.  The existing method for addressing up stream passage is "trap and haul".  The preferable option is volitional passage via a fish ladder.

DVWD was formed in 1919. In 1985 a small diversion dam and hydroelectric facility was completed, revenues from which offset district property taxes and help fund infrastructure upgrades. No volitional upstream fish passage was required. A small fish hatchery was installed as mitigation for the project.

The diversion dam provides downstream fish passage over the spillway during high water. Fish passage is also provided through the hydro facility; literature surveys have indicated that the turbine configuration, head, and water flow are generally favorable for turbine passage. In 2012 DVWD installed a trap at the location of the fish hatchery in an attempted to capture returning steelhead and Chinook salmon. The concept was to trap the returning adults and manually transport them above the diversion dam (“trap and haul”). The trap was largely ineffective and few of the returning fish were moved above the dam. DVWD installed a new trap and made other modifications in April, 2014. Thus far it has been an improvement, but it is not volitional passage which would provide the best opportunity for successful reintroduction.

DVWD is under no legal obligation to provide upstream fish passage at Opal Springs. Their FERC license does not come up for renewal until 2032. Until that time fish passage is a voluntary activity on their part.  DVWD has been pro-actively engaged since 2008 in efforts to provide volitional passage and has completed designs for passage.  DVWD has committed significant financial resources to seeing these facilities constructed.  Additional funds are needed however.  

The Opal Springs Fish Passage Project is more fully described in the license amendment that DVWD filed with FERC on October 8, 2015.  The application describes the need for the amendment, the proposed facilities and operations, and discusses potential impacts.  It is anticipated that FERC will take approximately 18 months to review and approve the application.

See the Opal Springs Hydroelectric Project on Google Maps.

Crooked River Watershed Council

Anadromous fish passage above Lake Billy Chinook has prompted efforts to provide improved habitat on multiple upstream rivers and their tributaries.  CRWC has worked on multiple fish passage and habitat improvement projects on the Crooked River and its watershed.  See videos of some dam removals here.