A river ready to run free

A River Ready to Run Free
By The Oregonian Editorial Board

May 9, 2010

One by one, obstacles to salmon and steelhead are cleared away from Oregon’s Rogue River

Gold Ray Dam

Gold Ray Dam before demolition

Now it is Gold Ray Dam’s turn to give way on the Rogue River. The Jackson County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously last week to remove the 106-year-old dam near Gold Hill.

If all goes as planned, by late summer the 38-foot-high, 360-foot-long defunct hydropower dam will be gone. And when the Rogue finally bursts through the remnants of Gold Ray, for the first time since 1904 one of Oregon’s great salmon rivers will run wild and free for 157 miles to the Pacific.

Oregonians aren’t especially given to celebrating conservation victories, probably because they usually come at a painful cost to a traditional industry or a segment of rural Oregon. But the Rogue is different. The dams that have fallen one after another on the Rogue — Savage Rapids, Gold Hill Diversion, Elk Creek and, soon, Gold Ray — generally were decommissioned relics from another era. They will not be missed.

The dams are being taken down with broad-based political support built carefully over the years by the patient, persistent leadership of the conservation group Waterwatch. The removal of Gold Ray Dam, for example, is being funded with a $5 million stimulus grant from the Obama administration, strongly supported by an Oregon Democrat, Sen. Ron Wyden, and an Oregon Republican, Rep. Greg Walden. The conservative Jackson County commission, not previously known as a dam-removal group, saw clearly that the fiscally responsible decision was to take out the dam.

As soon as next month, workers will begin the job of breaching Gold Ray. When it’s gone, salmon and steelhead will have better access to 333 miles of high-quality spawning habitat upstream of the dam — and most of the Rogue River will run wild and free for the first time since Teddy Roosevelt was president.

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