Money to remove Oregon dam headed for Senate floor

Money to remove Oregon dam headed for Senate floor

Associated Press
July 05, 2006

ROGUE RIVER, Ore. (AP) — Plans to remove Savage Rapids Dam from the Rogue River for the benefit of the river’s salmon and steelhead runs are moving forward.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bill Friday containing $13 million for removal of the dam, which is downstream from the city of Rogue River. The same amount was approved earlier this year by the House. The bill now awaits approval by the full Senate.

The money would be used to remove the 85-year-old dam in 2009. In its place, pumps would be used to provide water for the Grants Pass Irrigation District’s patrons.

“The dam is known as the biggest fish killer on the Rogue,” said Bob Hunter, attorney for WaterWatch of Oregon.

Its removal would cap nearly two decades of debate, court fights and negotiations over the dam, which is on one of the nation’s original wild and scenic rivers. It once drew Western writer Zane Grey and actors Clark Gable and Ginger Rogers to fish.

In a 2001 federal court consent decree, the Grants Pass Irrigation District board agreed to convert to pumps.

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study has concluded that removing the dam would improve wild fish migration by more than 20 percent.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation recently completed an environmental study that concluded removing the dam and installing pumps was the cheapest and most effective way to solve the dam’s fish-passage and water-delivery problems. The bureau’s conclusion mirrored that of a 1995 study.

The dam’s removal would open the river to recreational boating between Grants Pass and the city of Rogue River, Hunter said.

“The dam was not just a barrier to fish but to boat traffic as well,” he said.

Hunter said Oregon’s congressional delegation has offered bipartisan support, coming from Sens. Gordon Smith, a Republican, and Ron Wyden, a Democrat, and U.S. Reps. Greg Walden, a Republican, and Peter DeFazio, a Democrat.