WaterWatch Media Advisory: Demolition Commences on Rogue River’s Savage Rapids Dam


WaterWatch Media Advisory: Demolition Commences on Rogue River’s Savage Rapids Dam

Work Crews Move Closer to Historic Restoration

GRANTS PASS May 28, 2009

Media Contact:

Bob Hunter, WaterWatch, 541-826-4399
For more information online, visit www.waterwatch.org

June 1st will mark another milestone in the ongoing restoration of the Rogue River when dam demolition will commence on 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 22% 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.

Crews recently completed construction of a temporary cofferdam structure at the site, started during the first week in April. The cofferdam creates a dry space for work, allowing demolition of the 88-year-old Savage Rapids Dam to begin.

From today through September, crews are expected to pull down the north half of the dam. If all goes as planned, the north side coffer dam will be removed by October 9 and the river’s salmon will then move freely through this stretch of river for the first time in nearly a century. Workmen are slated to finish the last portions of the removal plan by December.

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 produced in the Rogue River 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.

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.

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 began delivering irrigation water to GPID patrons in early May.

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 Timeline

April 7: Start cofferdam construction around north part of dam
Mid-April: First wet test of new irrigation pumps
Early May: Irrigation begins with new pumps
June-September: Demolition of north part of dam
Early October: Remove north-side cofferdam
October: Begin second cofferdam around south part of dam
November-December: Complete dam demolition