Southern Oregon Dam Removed Using Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Funding

By Roman Battaglia  |  Aug. 1, 2023  |  Jefferson Public Radio

A small, abandoned dam in Southern Oregon was removed last week using funds from the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The dam removal will greatly improve access to habitat for many different fish species.

The Lovelace Dam on Slate Creek is the fifth to be removed from the Applegate Valley in the last three years.

The river conservation group WaterWatch of Oregon completed the removal late last week after 18 months of work. The dam is at least a century old, and its demolition creates access to 26 miles of fish habitat upstream.

This dam was listed as one of the highest priority in Southern Oregon in the 2019 Fish Passage Priority List from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The list outlines and ranks barriers to fish passage across the state including dams, culverts and other obstructions.

Jim McCarthy, with the conservation group WaterWatch, said they believe Lovelace Dam was built for a former mill on the property. But now it’s just creating challenges for fish species attempting to find spawning habitat.

“We’re trying to make it easier for the fish to survive by removing barriers that we don’t need to have in our rivers,” McCarthy said. “This dam is not a dam that anybody was using for anything, except for maybe messing around on a little boat.”

McCarthy said the Lovelace Dam had a fish ladder, but it was woefully inadequate.

He said when they removed another dam complex upstream a couple years ago, including the Harboldt Dam, they saw almost immediate improvements in threatened salmon populations.

“The neighbors upstream who’d been living there for many years wrote to the Rogue River Watershed Council and let them know they were seeing more coho earlier and just more coho than they had seen in many years, if ever,” he said.

This is the first completed dam removal using funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law through the federal Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund managed by the National Marine Fisheries Service. The funding was distributed by the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board.

Additional funding for the project came from the NOAA Fisheries Restoration Center, ODFW and the Flyfishers Foundation among others.

McCarthy said they’re working on more dam removals in the next few years, and are taking advantage of the influx of federal funding.

This story originally appeared on Jefferson Public Radio on Aug. 1, 2023.