Exciting Progress in Removing Fish Killer
OWEB reports on the Savage Rapids Dam Removal Project.
Six years ago the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB) invested over $3 million in the Savage Rapids Dam Removal Project. At the time, the Savage Rapids Dam Project was the single largest OWEB investment. It showed the state’s commitment to this major river restoration project on Oregon’s internationally famous Rogue River, and provided much needed momentum to move this project along.
This major restoration project is now well underway with new pumping facilities expected to be online this summer and dam removal to follow next year, if not sooner. On March 20, at 8am, the OWEB board will be touring the project construction site to see first hand how the project is progressing.
“We are excited about the progress,” stated Tom Byler, OWEB Executive Director. “OWEB’s investment was a critical catalyst for leveraging millions of additional federal dollars to allow this exceptional restoration project to move forward.”
Savage Rapids Dam, a 39-foot high, 500-foot long diversion dam that spans the mainstem of the Rogue River at river mile 107, has long been considered the biggest fish killer on the Rogue. The dam impedes passage of significant portions of five runs of salmon and steelhead, including coho salmon listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. The Bureau of Reclamation estimated removal of the dam will increase the number of fish reaching spawning grounds at the site by 22%. This translates into approximately 114,000 more salmon and steelhead each year (87,900 that would be available for sport and commercial harvest and 26,700 that would escape to spawn) valued at approximately $5,000,000 annually.
“This project, when completed, will be one of the nation’s most significant river restoration projects,” said Bob Hunter of WaterWatch. “Not only will it be a tremendous boon to the Rogue River salmon and steelhead fishery, it will also open up new recreational boating opportunities between Rogue River and Grants Pass.”
The dam is strictly an irrigation diversion dam, owned by the Grants Pass Irrigation District (GPID). It does not provide any flood control, storage, navigation, or hydropower function. GPID is receiving a modern pumping facility that will serve the district’s customers better than the dam’s worn out diversion system.
“We are really excited about the project and look forward to getting our new pumping facility online,” said GPID manager, Dan Shephard. “OWEB’s involvement really gave credibility to the project and helped us get the federal funding jump started.”
In addition to this investment toward freeing the Rogue, OWEB also contributed $541,500 to complete the removal of Gold Hill Dam located approximately 15 miles upstream of Savage Rapids Dam. This dam is scheduled for removal this summer.
“Both projects are great examples of multiple party partnerships that provide tremendous benefits for both fish and local communities,” said Dan Thorndike, OWEB Board member and chair of the Oregon Water Resources Commission. “They are just the type of projects OWEB likes to support and facilitate.”
Project partners for the Savage Rapids Dam removal include the Grants Pass Irrigation District, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Oregon Water Resources Department, WaterWatch, and OWEB.
Partners for the Gold Hill Dam removal include the City of Gold Hill, the Rogue Valley Council of Governments, the World Wildlife Fund, OWEB, American Rivers and the Rogue Basin Fish Passage Technical Team.
OWEB invests in local actions across the state to conserve and restore habitat supporting fish and wildlife. OWEB funding comes from the Oregon Lottery as a result of a citizen initiative in 1998, sales of salmon license plates, federal salmon funds and other sources.