Removal Commences on Rogue River’s Savage Rapids Dam


Removal Commences on Rogue River’s Savage Rapids Dam

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Announces Work Crews Will Begin Task by End of Next Week

Apr 01, 2009
Media Contacts:

Bob Hunter, WaterWatch, 541-826-4399
Carolyn Devine
, Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, 503-986-0195
Dan Shepard
, Grants Pass Irrigation District, 541-476-2582
Darren Funk
, Slayden Construction Group, 503-769-1969


April 7th will mark another key milestone in the ongoing restoration of the Rogue River when cofferdam construction will commence around the northern six bays of Savage Rapids Dam. The $40 million project represents one of the largest dam removals ever undertaken in the United States and is expected to increase Rogue River salmon runs by over 100,000 fish annually, bringing enduring positive impacts to the valuable sport and commercial salmon fisheries of Oregon.

Savage Rapids Dam, a 39-foot high, 500-foot long irrigation diversion dam that spans the mainstem of the Rogue River five miles east of Grants Pass, Oregon, has long been considered the biggest fish killer on the Rogue. The dam does not provide any flood control, storage, navigation, or hydropower function. WaterWatch and its conservation partners have spent decades advocating for the dam’s removal. The dam’s owner, Grants Pass Irrigation District (GPID), reached a landmark agreement with WaterWatch and other parties in 2001 that paved the way for the dam to be removed and be replaced by more efficient, fish-friendly pumps.

“This is a day of celebration for the many folks who have worked long and hard to help protect and restore the Rogue River,” said Bob Hunter of WaterWatch. “Savage Rapids Dam removal is one of the nation’s most significant river restoration projects, and it will be a tremendous boon to the Rogue’s salmon and steelhead fishery.”

In 2002, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB) pledged $3 million toward the project. With strong bipartisan support from Oregon’s Congressional delegation, federal legislation passed the next year, authorizing the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to install pumps for GPID and remove the dam.

“We are excited that dam removal is finally underway,” stated Tom Byler, OWEB Executive Director. “OWEB’s investment in this project was a critical catalyst for leveraging millions of additional federal dollars to allow this exceptional restoration effort to move forward.”

The Rogue River in southwestern Oregon is one of the nation’s outstanding rivers and the second largest producer of salmon in Oregon outside of the Columbia Basin. Because of its scenic beauty, world-class whitewater, and internationally renowned salmon and steelhead fishery, it was one of the original group of rivers designated as “wild and scenic” with the passage of the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1968. The Bureau of Land Management estimates that some 25,000 visitors use the Rogue River each year.

For years, the dam impeded passage of significant portions of five runs of salmon and steelhead, including coho salmon listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. Government scientists have estimated that removal of the dam would 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.

The Bureau of Reclamation awarded the contract to install the pumps and remove the dam to Slayden Construction Group of Stayton, Oregon on August 9, 2006.  GPID’s new replacement pumping facilities are complete and will undergo final testing in mid-April.  The $36.5 million pumping facility is expected to begin delivering irrigation water to GPID patrons in early May.

“We are really excited about the project and look forward to using our new pumping facilities,” said GPID manager, Dan Shepard.  “It will make it much easier and safer to deliver water to our patrons.”

Completion of the temporary cofferdam structure will take approximately two to three weeks, after which demolition of the 88-year-old Savage Rapids Dam will begin.  Crews are expected to pull down the north half of the dam from May through September. If all goes as planned, the north side coffer dam will be removed by October 1 and the river’s salmon will then move freely through this stretch of river for first time in nearly a century. Workmen are slated to finish the last portions of the removal plan by December.

“Slayden Construction is proud to be a part of this project and we are looking forward to seeing increased fish counts on the Rogue River as a result of our efforts,” said Darren Funk of Slayden Construction. “River enhancement projects like this are good for business, especially in the current economic conditions that the construction industry is faced with throughout the country. I believe that we will all benefit from the efforts put forth in updating the irrigation system and removing this dam.”

Project participants in the Savage Rapids Dam removal project include the Grants Pass Irrigation District, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, WaterWatch, National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Oregon Water Resources Department.


Savage Rapids Dam Removal Construction Timeline

April 7: Begin building first cofferdam around north part of dam
First wet test of new irrigation pumps
Early May: 
Irrigation begins with new pumps
Demolition of north part of dam
Late September/Early October: 
Remove north-side cofferdam
Begin second cofferdam around south part of dam
Complete dam demolition