Beulah Reservoir on the north fork of the Malheur River in northeastern Oregon provides irrigation water to nearby farms and ranches and supports an adfluvial population of bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus), which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Water management in Beulah Reservoir results in seasonal and annual fluctuations of water volume that may affect forage availability for bull trout. Because no minimum pool requirements currently exist, the reservoir is occasionally reduced to run-of-river levels, which may decimate forage fish populations and ultimately affect bull trout. We sampled fish and aquatic insects in Beulah Reservoir in the spring, before the annual drawdown of 2006, and afterward, in the late fall. We also collected samples 1.5 years after the reservoir was dewatered for three consecutive summers. Overall, the moderate drawdown of 2006 (32 percent of full pool) did not drastically alter the fish community in Beulah Reservoir. We did document, however, decreases in abundance and sizes of chironomids in areas of the reservoir that were frequently dewatered, increased catch rates of fish with gillnets, and decreases in population estimates for smaller fishes after drawdown. In 2006, after the dewaterings of 2002-04, species composition was similar to that prior to the dewaterings, but the size distributions of most species were biased toward small juvenile or subyearling fishes and larger fishes were rare. Our results indicate that repeated reservoir drawdown reduces aquatic insect forage for bull trout and probably affects forage fish populations at least temporarily. The high catch rates of juvenile fishes 1.5 years after consecutive dewaterings suggests good reproductive success for any remaining adult fish, and shows that the fish community in Beulah Reservoir is resilient to such disturbances. There is, however, a period of time after serious drawdowns before significant numbers of juvenile fishes start to appear in the reservoir. Because Beulah Reservoir experiences a wide variety of drawdown scenarios in consecutive years, the forage fish community may never reach a state of equilibrium.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Bull Trout Forage Investigations in Beulah Reservoir, Oregon - Annual Report for 2006