Clock ticks for Savage Rapids Dam
ROGUE RIVER — Construction crews have entered a key summer window of work that largely will determine whether Savage Rapids Dam gets removed from the Rogue River, and out of the way of migrating salmon, as early as next year.
Over the next few months, the pace of construction of the new water intake to feed irrigation needs could allow for the long-awaited removal of the 86-year-old dam a year ahead of schedule, officials said. But any delays in construction — particularly during a critical in-river work window that closes Aug. 31 — could push the dam’s demolition back to late 2009 as planned.
“There’s a lot of work to be done,” said project manager Bob Hamilton of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which is overseeing the project. “If they can do it, I’ll be the first to stand up and cheer.”
Hamilton’s cheers could be drowned out by those from Bob Hunter, the WaterWatch of Oregon attorney who for two decades has championed the dam’s removal and the switch to electric pumps as providing the best future for the district and the river’s salmon runs.
Federal studies over the years have estimated that the dam’s placement, style, antiquated fish ladders and water intake screens cumulatively represent the single greatest impediment to the Rogue’s wild salmon and steelhead runs.
“I think everyone would like to see it done as soon as possible,” Hunter said. “But the important thing is that it’s going to happen and that it’s going to happen in the next two years.
“One year earlier, though, means one more year that it doesn’t harm the fishery,” Hunter said.
Dan Shepherd, manager of the Grants Pass Irrigation District, said he would prefer to open the 2008 irrigation season using the new electric pumping station to funnel water to roughly 9,000 district patrons instead of the dam, which raises the Rogue surface to feed gravity-reliant canals.
Irrigators in recent years have experienced water-delivery interruptions because of dam breakdowns that are expensive to repair.
“This dam is old and tired,” Shepherd said. “We’ve been limping around with old equipment. This thing could screech to a halt any time. It would be nice to have new equipment.”
The new equipment and facilities are being built by the Slayden Construction Group Inc. of Stayton, which won a bureau bid on the project.
Crews last fall began work on the pumping plant while awaiting June 15, the date when crews were permitted to start work inside the stream. The so-called “in-stream work window” of June 15 through Aug. 31 permits in-river work during a period considered least threatening to wild salmon.
“The schedule is ultimately controlled by the fish window, and they’re on schedule for that window,” Hamilton said.
Construction crews have spent much of the past two weeks filling and installing sandbags to push the Rogue around a spot in the river bed where the new water intake will be built. That area is on the Rogue’s southern bank immediately downstream of the dam, which spans the river near the Jackson/Josephine county line.
The sandbags, which were filled with dirt and rock, range in size from 50 pounds to 20,000 pounds.
Large pumps were scheduled to be used this week to begin drying out the construction area so work on the intake can proceed, said Josh Satterlee, Slayden’s office manager at the project site.
After the intake is built, crews likely will build a suspension pipe over the river to deliver water to GPID’s patrons north of the Rogue, Satterlee said.
If the intake and pumping plant are completed in time to use in 2008, Slayden crews by April could then begin focusing their attention on dismantling most of the dam, Hamilton said.
Crews then could begin constructing temporary coffer dams on both sides of the current dam to create a dry area. There, plans call for crews to cut and remove about three-fourths of the structure, leaving a part of the old concrete at the current dam’s north side.
Completing a year early, however, would cause some juggling of the financing by Congress that has funded work on a year-by-year basis.
Congress for this fiscal year budgeted $13 million toward the project, and President Bush’s upcoming 2008 fiscal-year budget proposal has $15 million in it for construction.
The total federal cost for the project was previously estimated at $32 million, meaning roughly $4 million was earlier earmarked for the 2009-2010 fiscal budgets to round out the project.
“If they can do this — super, great,” Hamilton said. “The challenge would be to find some money sooner.”
About $3 million of state money slated for dam removal is sitting in a state account ready to spend.