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River group sues PGE over dam operations

By Hilary Corrigan / The Bulletin
Published Aug 17, 2016 at 12:03AM

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The Deschutes River Alliance has sued Portland General Electric, saying the utility’s operation of its dams along the Deschutes River has harmed water quality and violated the Clean Water Act.

Portland General Electric operates a dam complex — three hydroelectric dams and reservoirs, completed in 1964 — that stretches about 20 miles along the Deschutes River just west of Madras. The Pelton Round Butte Hydroelectric Project also includes facilities meant to help fish, such as the selective water withdrawal tower.

In 2009, PGE and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, a Round Butte Dam co-owner, built the 273-foot, $100 million underwater tower and fish-collection facility at Round Butte Dam. The tower draws warmer water from the surface and colder water from the bottom of Lake Billy Chinook, attracts fish into the fish-collection facility through ramps near the water’s surface and sends the water through the dam to power turbines that generate electricity.

The lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Oregon contends that the tower’s operations have harmed downstream water. Deschutes River Alliance argued that the utility has violated standards for temperature, dissolved oxygen and other factors that were established to help ensure the project does not degrade water quality. In a statement, the alliance argued that the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has not enforced the project’s water quality standards.

The group called the lawsuit a last resort and a necessary step toward restoring the river.

In a statement, PGE emphasized elements of the project meant to help restore the salmon and steelhead runs and argued that the effort is a long-term one. Restoring an ecosystem that was fundamentally changed 50 years ago with the dams’ installation will take time and investment, the utility said.

PGE also objected to arguments that it had violated the Clean Water Act, saying it has not been notified by government agencies of such violations.

“We believe we are in compliance,” said Stan Sittser, a PGE spokesman.

The lawsuit called for requiring PGE to stop running the dam complex in a way that continues the Clean Water Act violations that Deschutes River Alliance contends have been occurring. It also calls for PGE to provide the group with the dam-related reports it submits to government agencies and for PGE to pay environmental restoration costs related to water degradation that any violations helped cause.

The alliance has previously warned of declines in the population of different types of aquatic insects and an increase of algae that affects certain bugs, since the tower started operating.

— Reporter: 541-617-7812,



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