Savage Rapids Dam Removal
The Rogue’s Biggest Fish-Killer
Savage Rapids Dam was a 39-foot high, 500-foot long diversion dam that spanned the mainstem of Oregon’s Rogue River. The structure’s fish ladders and screens did not meet current standards, and at times the dam completely blocked upstream fish passage. Savage Rapids Dam had long been considered the biggest fish killer on the Rogue.
Formerly located at river mile 107, the dam impacted 500 miles of upstream salmon and steelhead spawning habitat, including 50 mainstem miles.
The dam negatively impacted adult spring chinook salmon, which spawn exclusively upstream of the dam, and impeded passage for four other runs of salmon and steelhead, including threatened coho salmon. Additionally, many juvenile fish headed downstream died as a result of the dam’s aging diversion structures and primitive fish screens.
The Long Road to Dam Removal
Check out our video on one of the West’s most significant dam removal achievements:
WaterWatch and others worked for over two decades to secure removal of Savage Rapids Dam. It was an exciting but long road, from WaterWatch’s initial water right protest, to working with the Grants Pass Irrigation District regarding irrigation pumps, to working with Congress to secure funding for new pumps and removal of the dam.
In 2001, WaterWatch spearheaded an agreement to have Savage Rapids Dam removed from the Rogue River. In 2004, Congress passed federal legislation authorizing the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to install pumps and remove the dam. Oregon’s congressional delegation and Governor Kulongoski helped secure $13 million for 2007’s work and $15 million in the President’s 2008 budget for the project. On-the ground work on the pumping plants to replace the dam began in October of 2006. Work to remove the dam started in 2007. The Rogue’s biggest fish-killer finally came out in 2009. WaterWatch also worked with the state of Oregon to transfer a water right associated with the dam instream to protect streamflows in the Rogue River.
Left to right: Savage Rapids Dam during removal (looking upstream) and the former site of the dam immediately after breaching (looking downstream). Photos courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation
Benefits of Removal
Savage Rapids Dam removal is expected to provide important benefits for the Rogue River and local economies, including:
- 114,000 (estimated) additional adult salmon and steelhead in the Rogue River
- $5 million/year in additional economic activity for local economies
- Removal of a major barrier to fish passage and to boating on the Rogue River
- Permanent protection of significant streamflows in the Rogue River
WaterWatch extends a sincere thank you to all of our members who helped on this campaign, and to all of the other groups we have worked with along the way. WaterWatch also thanks Oregon’s congressional delegation and Governor Kulongoski for securing funding for this important salmon conservation project.