Removal of Oregon Dam Allows Reopening of 500 Miles of Salmon Spawning Habitat

Removal of Oregon Dam Allows Reopening of 500 Miles of Salmon Spawning Habitat

By Tom Alkire
Bureau of National Affairs
October 14, 2009

Source: Daily Environment Report: All Issues > 2009 > October > 10/14/2009 > News > Endangered Species: Removal of Oregon Dam Allows Reopening Of 500 Miles of Salmon Spawning Habitat


PORTLAND, Ore.—The Savage Rapids Dam on the Rogue River in southern Oregon was removed on Oct. 9, allowing access to 500 miles of salmon spawning and rearing habitat.

The dam removal is believed to be one of the largest in the nation, according to WaterWatch of Oregon, one of the conservation groups that negotiated the agreement with the dam’s owner.

The removal project has cost a total of $40 million in federal and state funds, according to the Pacific Northwest Regional Office at the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Rogue River coho salmon are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The 39-foot-high irrigation diversion dam was built in 1921 by the Grants Pass Irrigation District. The fish ladders and screens intended to help fish bypass the dam were considered ineffectual, and the dam was partially blocked by anadromous fish, including coho and chinook salmon and steelhead trout.

A study by the bureau found that the dam was the single biggest threat to coho salmon on the river, according to WaterWatch. Removing the dam is expected to result in an estimated 114,000 additional salmon and steelhead in the Rogue basin, the group said.

Removal Under Terms of 2001 Consent Decree 

The dam removal agreement was included in a consent decree reached in 2001 by the district and WaterWatch. Under the decree, the irrigation diversion dam was to be removed; in its place the bureau was to build a new pumping plant to supply irrigation water to farmers. The dam did not provide any flood control or generate any electricity (United States v. Grants Pass Irrigation District, D. Ore., No. CV-98-3034, 8/27/01).

Two years ago, the 22-megawatt Marmot Dam on the Sandy River near Portland was removed and has allowed better access to salmon spawning and rearing habitat (143 DEN A-9, 7/26/07).

Two other older hydroelectric dams on the Elwha River in the Olympic National Park are slated for removal in 2011 to restore salmon spawning and rearing habitat.

More Information on removal of the Savage Rapids Dam is available at