New Level of Protection Achieved for Rogue River Flows, Fish, and Recreation


New Level of Protection Achieved for Rogue River Flows, Fish, and Recreation

Substantial New Instream Water Right Provides Certainty for Rogue’s Future

The Rogue River Watershed
(click image to enlarge)

MEDFORD, OR Aug 14, 2009

Bob Hunter (541)826-4399

Continuing an unprecedented series of recent restoration achievements for the Free the Rogue Campaign, this month WaterWatch of Oregon announced that 800 cubic feet per second (cfs) of river flow is now permanently protected as an instream water right for fishery benefits with a June 17, 1918 priority date.

Grants Pass Irrigation District (GPID) had previously held a power right to use the 800 cfs to operate its pump/turbine system at Savage Rapids Dam near Grants Pass, Oregon, but agreed to transfer the water right to instream use as part of a larger accord leading to the removal of the dam this year. Phil Ward, director of the Oregon Water Resources Department, signed a final order transferring the power right to instream purposes on August 6, 2009. WaterWatch played a leading role in advocating for Savage Rapids Dam removal, brokering the removal accord, and ensuring any water rights made obsolete by the deal be transferred to protect the Rogue’s prized fisheries. The right runs from May through September of each year, typically the driest period in the Rogue Basin.

“This substantial new instream water right is great news for the Rogue’s world-famous salmon and steelhead runs,” said WaterWatch staff attorney Bob Hunter. “The protected flow will provide a crucial safeguard for the river’s natural heritage as we head into the uncertainty of a global warming future.”

Because Savage Rapids Dam functioned for nearly a century, the new instream water right has senior water right status, with a priority date of June 17, 1918.  “In first in time, first in line pecking order of Oregon water rights, a 1918 priority date means flows of at least 800 cfs will be protected in the Rogue River, except during the most extreme drought,” explained Hunter.  “Beside protecting Rogue River flows, this will also give the Grants Pass Irrigation District added security that there will be sufficient flows to operate its new pumping plant.”

The announcement comes during a sustained wave of restoration achievements on the Rogue River. The removal of Savage Rapids Dam – one of the largest removals in the country – will be completed this fall. Calendar year 2008 saw the removal of the Gold Hill Diversion Dam on the Rogue’s mainstem, and the notching of Elk Creek Dam, an important spawning tributary of the Rogue. On June 30, 2009, Jackson County received a $5 million stimulus grant from the Obama Administration to remove Gold Ray Dam, the removal of which will achieve 157 miles of free flowing Rogue River. WaterWatch has played a key role in making a free-flowing and protected Rogue a reality.