Dam Down

The Rogue River flows again
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The Rogue River flows again

On Friday, crews removed a temporary dam on the Rogue River east of Grants Pass. It had been holding the river back while the 88-year old Savage Rapids Dam was removed so that the Rogue could flow freely again. For 88 years the dam was used to divert water for irrigation. That part wasn't a problem. What was: it also blocked the river for recreation. And it blocked more than 58,000 salmon and steelhead from reaching their spawning grounds each year--many dying instead, in some cases from raised water temperatures in tributaries with reduced flow and resulting higher water temps.

The take down was celebrated on Saturday by a 80 drift boaters, rafters and kayakers who floated through the site of the old dam celebrating NGO WaterWatch's persistence. WaterWatch began the battle to take the dam down in 1988. According to the Associated Press (AP), it wasn't until 2001, when the Grants Pass Irrigation District had lost every lawsuit and spent more than $1 million on legal fees, that it agreed to remove the dam. The irrigation solution: pumps will redirect water as needed.

The Rogue was one of the original rivers to get federal wild and scenic protection in 1968. And this dam was not the last on the Rogue. According to the AP, Gold Ray dam near the city of Gold Hill, is likely to join Savage Rapids soon. Another small diversion dam at Gold Hill has already come out. And a half-built dam on a major tributary, Elk Creek, has been notched.

According to American Rivers, there are severe ecological consequences of dams Dams dramatically alter a river’s flow regime by blocking a river’s passage, storing water in both large and small artificial reservoirs, and disrupting the cycles that many aquatic organisms depend upon.

There are many NGOs working on dam removals throughout the American West. Read American Rivers study of the Ecology of Dam Removal.

Click here for a clearing house of dam removal information in the US.

-Berne Broudy