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S. Ore. (Savage Rapids) dam awaits removal; questions raised

February 23, 2009

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) -- The 88-year-old Savage Rapids Dam in Southern Oregon is in its last months, with a few questions remaining, such as: What's going to happen to the 200,000 cubic yards of sediment behind the dam?

When the dam is breached in early October, says a federal official, there could be a significant pulse of sediment.

"This whole thing is driven to permanently benefit the fish," said Bob Hamilton, project manager for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. "The question is how do you do that to cause the least amount of short-term harm while you're doing it. It's not going to be a wall of mud."

State Fish and Wildlife biologist Dan Van Dyke says October flows are generally low, and the river historically gets murky that month when the dam is taken out of operation for the season.

Some fall chinook redds downstream may be harmed, he said, but offsetting that may be fall chinook spawning where the reservoir was.

In April, a coffer dam will be built, which will halt fish passage. Then the river will be routed to the south side, raising concern that salmon and steelhead won't be able to navigate a fish ladder, said Van Dyke.

"We concurred with the temporary interruption, but we have to have fish passage throughout the remainder of the demolition," Van Dyke said. "We don't think we've had adequate analysis from the bureau yet."

Poor passage of salmon and steelhead prompted the 20-year campaign to remove the dam. The Grants Pass Irrigation District agreed in 2001 to tear it out, ending years of court battles that cost it more than $700,000.

The dam will be removed in two phases, and the project is expected to be complete by December, at a total cost of $40 million. Afterward, a dozen giant pumps will supply water to irrigators.

About 100 feet of the dam's south side will be left, along with the former pumping structures on the north side, leaving a notch-like gap.
Information from: Daily Courier, http://www.thedailycourier.com
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