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Medford Alternative Medicine Examiner July 17, 2011

Heavy metals are being churned-up by the removal of local dams on the Rogue River.

The health of our local rivers dearly affects our lives, more so than many people typically think about. It is up to the many devoted non-profit river watch organizations in this country to keep a watchful eye on the health of our countries rivers.

In Southern Oregon the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board has helped the local counties remove 3 decrepit dams from the Rogue River in the past 3 years. This is a move in the right direction for the overall health of this nationally recognized pristene river; but it may have created a temporarily unhealthy water quality, due to the significant increase in heavy metals that are being churned up. Once the dam removal project is completed, the Rogue River will flow continuously for more than 157 miles from Lost Creek Dam to the Pacific Ocean.

The Rogue River is a minerally diverse area with many magnetic metals naturally occurring in its bedrock. Amazingly Josephine County was a leading source of chromium mining in the world from 1917 to 1958. This naturally occurring metal in and of itself is not a problem, but a certain type called chromium 6 is considered by the FDA and EPA to be carcinogenic and may increase the chances of humans succumbing to certain types cancer.

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Savage Rapid Dam was removed near the city of Rogue River in the fall of 2009. This was a 500-foot long diversion dam that spanned the mainstem of the Rogue River. The dam has been considered a horrendous fish killer on the Rogue for many years. The fish ladders and screens did not meet current standards, and at times the dam would completely block the passage of fish upstream.

This dam impacted a combined 500 miles of upstream salmon and steelhead spawning habitat, including 50 mainstem river miles. The removal of this archaic mass uncovers many benefits to the communities and wildlife - according to waterwatch.org, 114,000 additional adult salmon and steelhead will survive in the Rogue River; plus $5 million a year in revenue can be added to the local economies through new jobs, fishing, rafting and tourism.

The Gold Hill diversion dam was removed in summer of 2008. Originally this antiquated dam served a cement plant, and then later the City of Gold Hill to divert water for its use. The cement plant closed many years ago, and the dam became obsolete when the city installed a pumping facility.

In the summer of 2010, the last dam in the Watershed's dam project was removed. The Gold Ray Dam, a timber crib dam used by the Ray brothers starting in 1904 for hydropower, which had become a county-owned dam in the past 30 years. This 106-year-old dysfunctional hydroelectric dam interestingly cost $5,600,000 to remove, whereas the others cost no where near that much; it must have been a daunting structure.

The next project to follow for the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board is the fortification of the riverbanks just upstream from this old dam; near the connections with Bear Creek and Kelly Slough. The original logs from the Gold Ray Dam are going to be recycled as new stabilizers and structure pieces for these banks.

As far as the health of the river is concerned, the Grants Pass Water District has reported high levels of sediment in the spring of 2010; enough to clog their pumps and affect water flow. According to the agency's publicly published lab results, relatively high levels of Chromium - 6 were detected at this time also. Something to consider in all of this, is the fact that since 1986 the City of Grants Pass tests the river water quality every year, and they claim it is always within safe FDA ranges for heavy metals. This to me, as a health advocate, is very concerning.

According to several independent local environmental sources, black goo showed up on the beaches of the Rogue River in the summer of 2010; this sediment was rich in many heavy metals, including chromium - 6.

The GP Water District has stated that the metals will eventually stabilize and work their way to the bottom sediment of the river bed, and are of no major concern for public safety. But, it is a fact also that chromium - 6 has been linked to many kinds of cancer and should be closely monitored by environmental experts.

As a cancer survivor, I feel like I should do what I can to protect people from unnecessary harm from any water supply or local area resources. Unfortunately our country's low standard of environmental protection leaves many gaps in the current legal structure, and many community utilities are not required to report certain trace elements or testing numbers that fall out of a stated range.

In 2008 a local environmental activist had checked with the Three Rivers hospital, according to Curtis Hayden of The Sneak Preview, and found 17.2% of cancer cases were of the intero-gastero-intestinal type (one of the many linked to this contaminant). He checked again two years after all the dams were taken out, and the amount of cases increased to 42.6%. He thinks that there is a sound connection here; I agree and aim to look into this further myself. I plan to follow this story as I find more leads, and read about local environmental activists that are as passionate as I am about our citizen's health.

It is up to community activists like Allen Ehr, whom repeatedly attends the city hall meetings according to the records, to watch out for the local residents and their health concerns. He has been noted on several occasions to call out for a public response on the elevated chromium levels from the city of Grants Pass and the GP Water District. Thanks to him and a few others on the front lines, the heavy metals in our river and drinking water will be kept in check.

Sources:

"Is the Rogue River Safe?" by Curtis Hayden; The Sneak Preview; June 2, 2011

http://www.roguerivertrips.info/blog/news-from-gold-beach-oregon/gold-ray-dam-removed/

http://waterwatch.org/programs/freeing-the-rogue-river/savage-rapids-dam-removal

More info. on the Rogue River dam removal program:
 

http://waterwatch.org/programs/freeing-the-rogue-river/freeing-the-rogue...

 
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