As a young boy growing up in Warm Springs, Jim Manion learned to fish the Deschutes River the traditional way at Sherars Falls. Now, he’s in charge of managing the flow of that river and helping restore fish runs to its upper reaches.
Jim is general manager of Warm Springs Power & Water Enterprises, which oversees energy development on Tribal lands.
WSPWE is responsible for managing the Tribes’ interest in the largest hydroelectric project within the State of Oregon: The Pelton Round Butte Hydroelectric Project on the Deschutes River.
In 1955 the Tribes approved the building of the first powerhouse, the Pelton Dam and the Reregulating Dam, and in 1964 the Tribes approved construction of the third dam, the Round Butte Dam.
Today, the Tribes are a one-third partner in the project, and have 100% ownership of the Reregulating Dam powerhouse. By 2037, we have an option to become the majority owner of the entire project.
The partnership has proven beneficial to both parties, providing important revenue to the Tribes, and reintroducing salmon and steelhead above the project while providing carbon-free power to the grid that feeds Warm Springs and to the PGE grid.
Bringing the fish back
As co-owners, the Tribes and PGE are also committed to making it one of the most fish-friendly hydroelectric projects in the nation. After the construction of Round Butte dam in 1964, fish had been unable to find the downstream outlet originally created for them.
In 2010, PGE and the Tribes opened an innovative underwater tower in Lake Billy Chinook that is restoring the natural salmon and steelhead runs to the upper Deschutes, and more natural temperatures to the lower river.
And for the first time in nearly 50 years, adult salmon and steelhead are now making it upstream, swimming more than 200 miles to complete their natural life cycle.
Taking the long view
Jim sees this project – more than 10 years in the making – as a major accomplishment that will benefit his community and future generations. “Fish are such a huge component of our culture and our existence,” he says. “Getting those fish up there is really rewarding.”
And the work is ongoing. Jim says the Tribes and PGE have approached this partnership in the same way the Tribes evaluate all decisions:
“We ask, ‘What impact will this have, both positively and negatively, seven generations from now?’ and PGE shares our commitment to making sure things are done right.”
Connecting with the river
A generation or two ago, Jim himself was on a platform over Sherars Falls on the upper Deschutes, trying to net his first traditionally caught spring Chinook. At 13, the experience held a mix of fear, awe and introspection.
“It’s dark, because the fish migrate through the falls at night, and you’re sitting out on the platform alone, under the stars, over the water,” Jim says. “You’re concentrating on the feel of the water going through your net and whether fish are coming in.”
Now 57, Jim still makes a point of heading out to the Falls at least once each year. Aside from the fishing, he says, “It’s an interesting time to connect and just be with the river.”
That connection to the river is as strong today as it was in his childhood. It’s embodied in Jim’s ongoing work to ensure Pelton Round Butte supports not only the Tribal community, but the health of the rivers and fish that are so much a part of its history and culture.