Rogue River Runs Free at Former Gold Ray Dam Site

For Immediate Release

WaterWatch Of Oregon * Rogue RiverKeeper * National Center for Conservation Science and Policy

October 14, 2010

Media Contact:
Bob Hunter, WaterWatch, cell: 541-778-3380
Lesley Adams, Rogue RiverKeeper, 541-488-5789
Brian Barr, NCCSP, cell: 541-621-7226

Rogue River Runs Free at Former Gold Ray Dam Site
Project marks river’s fourth significant dam removal in three years

Central Point, OR -– Today a celebration at the former site of the 38-foot high, 360-foot long Gold Ray Dam will mark the successful completion of the Gold Ray Dam removal project. Waters now flow freely past the former site, capping an unprecedented wave of dam removals on Oregon’s famous Rogue River. This historic event marks the fourth significant dam removal in three years on this storied salmon stream, making the Rogue River the beneficiary of the most substantial dam removal efforts yet undertaken in the western United States. With the removal of Gold Ray, the Rogue River now flows freely from the Lost Creek Project to the Pacific Ocean for the first time in 106 years – a distance of 157 miles.

“This is a great moment in river restoration and for the many people who have worked long and hard to remove this dam and restore the Rogue River’s internationally renowned salmon and steelhead runs,” said WaterWatch staff attorney Bob Hunter.

Spanning the mainstem of the Rogue 125 miles from the Pacific Ocean, Gold Ray Dam was built in1904 to generate power. By 1972, power generation at the dam ceased permanently because the facility was obsolete and no longer economically viable. At that point, Jackson County took ownership of the dam and adjacent lands with thoughts of developing a recreational park. The dam became a liability burden and a safety concern for the county. The county lacked the funding to address these concerns, until a $5 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and a $1 million grant from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB) were awarded in 2009.

A government study completed in February 2010 documented that the dam was structurally unsound, did not meet federal standards for fish passage and could not legally or economically be retrofitted for power generation. Based on the study, Jackson County elected to remove the dam in May and dam removal commenced in June. Removal of the concrete and original crib dam was completed in September, and crews are just finishing the remaining work at the old dam site, grading slopes, planting vegetation and stabilizing banks.

The Gold Ray project was one of the largest dam removals in the country, and followed in the wake of three other significant dam removals on the Rogue in the last two years. The removal of Savage Rapids Dam -– also one of the largest removals in the country -– took place last October at rivermile 107. Calendar year 2008 saw the removal of the Rogue’s Gold Hill Dam and the notching of Elk Creek Dam. Slayden Construction Group, an Oregon company, was awarded the contracts to remove Gold Ray, Savage Rapids, and Gold Hill dams and another Oregon company, McMillen-McDougall was awarded the contract to notch Elk Creek Dam.

“We’re very pleased that the dam removals on the Rogue have allowed Oregon companies to employ more Oregonians during these difficult economic times,” said Leslie Adams, Rogue RiverKeeper. “We also know their work will provide economic benefits long into the future through improved salmon runs and new recreational opportunities in the region.”

Overall, the four Rogue dam removals are intended to benefit the Rogue’s fish populations and enhance fishing and recreational opportunities. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife identified Gold Ray Dam as the fifth highest priority for removal or fish passage improvement on Oregon’s Statewide Fish Passage Priority List. The dam was a significant barrier to fish and its removal paves the way for better access to 333 miles of salmon and steelhead spawning habitat upstream of the dam. Gold Ray removal also reclaimed approximately 1.5 miles of salmon spawning habitat that was buried beneath the dam’s impounded waters. The Rogue dam removals will provide a boost to the Rogue’s coho salmon listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act, and augment runs of spring and fall Chinook salmon, summer and winter steelhead, resident cutthroat trout, and Pacific lamprey.

“Over the course of the last 100 years, salmon and steelhead of the Rogue River suffered from the effects these dams have had on water quality, fish habitat, and migration,” said Brian Barr of the National Center for Conservation Science and Policy (NCCSP). “This is transportation planning for fish – removing these four dams makes the future much brighter for the Rogue’s salmon and steelhead by allowing them to migrate much more freely through the river on their own schedule.”