Internet News RecordLibertyNewsprint.com U.S. Edition09/10/09 - 11/10/09
Dam breaching celebrated on famed Rogue River (AP)
(Yahoo! News: U.S. News)
Submitted at 10/10/2009 5:12:26 PM
ROGUE RIVER, Ore. – Thewild and scenic Rogue River hasbecome even wilder with thedemolition of a dam that hadhindered passage of salmon andsteelhead to their spawninggrounds for 88 years.A flotilla of some 80 people inrafts, driftboats and kayakscelebrated the breaching of theSavage Rapids Dam on Saturdayby floating through the remains of the concrete structure insouthwest Oregon.Among them was Jim Martin,rowing his own driftboat. His first job as a young fisheries biologistfor the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife was monitoringhow many salmon and steelheadwere killed each year by theirrigation dam."Forty-one years ago I stood onthat dam as a young biologistfresh out of school watching thefish die, and thinking how thisdam had to come out for thehealth of this river," said Martin,who rose to be chief of fisheriesfor the department and now isconservation director of PureFishing. "People said, `Jim, berealistic, it will never happen.'And it's happening."Since the dam was completed in1921, the logging and mining thatonce sustained Southern Oregonhave faded. Farms that the GrantsPass Irrigation District onceserved have sprouted homes thattap the water for lawns andgardens. And the salmon andsteelhead have struggled, with anestimated 58,000 adult salmonand steelhead blocked fromspawning grounds each year.The battles to restore thewaterway started in 1988, whenthe conservation groupWaterWatch, which organized thecelebration, Rogue Fly Fishersand the American FisheriesSociety filed a protest to stop theirrigation district from drawingmore water from the Rogue.The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation took a look anddecided the cheapest and bestsolution to provide waterefficiently without harming fishwas to remove the dam andreplace it with pumps.The irrigation district initiallywent along, but later flip-floppedand fought to save the dam.Lawsuits were filed. Battles flaredin the state Capitol. The Rogue'scoho salmon were declared athreatened species, and morelawsuits were filed.By 2001, after losing everylawsuit and spending more than$1 million on legal fees, thedistrict agreed to remove the dam.The next year the OregonWatershed Enhancement Boardpledged $3 million, and a yearlater Congress started approvingfunding that would eventuallycover the rest of the $39.3 millioncost."One reason this project took solong is people had to adjust theirnotions of what progress was,"said John DeVoe of Portland,executive director of WaterWatch."There was a lot of opposition toremoving the dam because it wasviewed as a symbol of progress."The good feelings were marredby the death of a local manrunning a jetboat through theremains of the dam on Friday,who hit a rock downstream andflipped. Three others in the boatsurvived.The Rogue, one of the originalrivers to get federal wild andscenic protection in 1968, hasgiven up its steelhead to suchnames as Western writer ZaneGrey and movie star GingerRogers. This section is milesabove the wild section of theRogue, where people come fromaround the world to float thewhitewater, camp and fish. Herethe river is hemmed in on all sidesby houses — some with docks nolonger reaching the water —Interstate 5 and U.S. Highway 97.That didn't stop Roger Funk, acarpenter from Talent, from joining the celebration. Herecalled sitting on the banks of theriver as a child and watching forhours as the salmon movedupstream. But over the years, thenumbers of fish steadilydwindled. He joined the flotillawith his 15-year-old son, and aneighbor, nursing student MaddyMorse."I have been rafting the Roguefor 35 years," Funk said. "Takingthe dam down to have afreeflowing river is exhilarating."Another old diversion dam,Gold Ray near the city of GoldHill, is likely to join SavageRapids soon. The NOAA hasoffered federal stimulus money tohelp with the cost. Another smalldiversion dam at Gold Hill hasalready come out. And a half-builtdam on a major tributary, Elk Creek, has been notched."This is the greatest number of significant dam removals in thecountry," said WaterWatchspokesman Jim McCarthy.It wasn't always so.Martin recalls seeing adultspring chinook salmon throwingthemselves against the dambecause they couldn't find thepoorly designed fish ladders, andthose that did jumping out of theladders and dying on the rocks.The more insidious harm fromSavage Rapids and other dams onthe river was caused by slowingthe river in reservoirs, allowingthe sun to raise averagetemperatures 1 degree, to thepoint that fish die from warmwater many years."Those things aren't a big dealwhen the river is plenty cold,"Martin said. "But when the riveris starting to get marginally toowarm as it is with moredevelopment and climate change,those things can be crucial."Construction crews built acoffer dam and started jackhammering half of the dam topieces last April, and on Fridayremoved the piles of rock andgravel holding the river back,allowing the river to flow freely.The rest of the dam is to beremoved by December.The river quickly cut downthrough the huge accumulation of sand, gravel and rocks that hadbuilt up behind the dam the past88 years."What this really representstoday is our culture being capableof backing up a little bit and doingsomething differently," Martinsaid as he pushed off from thebank and rowed his driftboatdown the newly freed section of river.