trim Gold Ray aftermath studies
Federal budget cuts
have forced Jackson County to scale back
studies chronicling changes to the Rogue
River from Gold Ray Dam's 2010 removal, but
an infusion of lottery money has kept the
most important studies alive, officials say.
NOAA-Fisheries has pulled
its $275,000 grant, which was slated to pay for
the final two years of a five-year effort to
study various changes to the Rogue, its flora,
fauna, water-quality and even economic impacts
of the Rogue flowing freely past the dam site
after 106 years of blockage.
But that money was cut from
NOAA-Fisheries budget, sending county officials
scrambling to fill the void.
The Oregon Watershed Enhancement
Board has awarded the county a $135,385 grant, which the
county Board of Commissioners this week approved with no
match in county dollars.
The money from OWEB, which is
funded largely through lottery profits, will allow the
continuation of what county officials called the most
significant post-dam removal studies for two more years.
Those include the socioeconomic
impacts of removing the Rogue's last artificial barrier
in its lower 157 miles, the effects on wild coho salmon
and other fish species, as well as some downstream
impacts to groundwater, wetlands and stream channels in
the post-dam era.
These studies had been in place
for three years — one year of pre-removal data and two
years after removal. But that span is not long enough to
count returns of wild salmon and steelhead born after
the dam's removal, because the majority of those fish
remain at sea and have yet to mature.
"As we're cutting this back,
we're going to focus on the studies where we'll find the
most to learn," said John Vial, the county's roads and
parks manager, who is overseeing the dam-removal project
for the county.
"If we stopped these studies at
year three, you don't even get the life cycle of the
salmonids coming back," Vial said.
But gone now are bird population
studies for the old Gold Ray Reservoir, which was
largely drained by the dam's removal, as well as some
river-bottom mapping, water-quality surveys and aerial
photographs documenting the largest alteration to the
Rogue since the building of Lost Creek Dam near Trail in
"The most crucial ones we kept,
but we're not doing everything," Vial said. "We never
said we were doing everything."
The Ashland-based Klamath Bird
Observatory was part of the multidisciplinary team
monitoring changes, with its role being a study of
upstream riparian habitat and bird populations in what
used to be Kelly Slough. Included in the work was a look
at the abundance of birds such as yellow-breasted chats,
yellow warblers and willow flycatchers — all considered
indicator species of healthy riparian zones, said Jaime
Stephens, KBO's research and monitoring director.
Stephens said studying those
populations several more years would have gone a long
way toward measuring not only the impact of removal
upstream of the dam site but also help quantify whether
upstream riparian restoration work was reaching desired
"Our intention was always for it
to be a long-term study," Stephens said. "That's one of
KBO's primary projects, and we'll seek money to continue
The OWEB grant kicks in for
monitoring efforts from September 2012 through August
2014. The money will be funneled through the Rogue
Valley Council of Governments, which has an agreement
with the county to handle post-removal habitat
restoration efforts and monitoring.
When county and RVCOG officials
began putting together the slate of pre- and
post-removal studies, the project was seen as an outdoor
laboratory to look closely at what happens when a major
dam is removed from a major river.
"Removing dams is still something
fairly new in the Pacific Northwest, and each one is
different," said Craig Tuss, a fish biologist hired by
RVCOG to oversee the project. "It's losing an
opportunity to gather information that could inform us
about future dam removals.
Most people assume that removing
dams from rivers like the Rogue help restore their
natural functions, "but we're making a lot of
assumptions about removing dams," Tuss said. "It's good
to have information to back up what your assumptions
Tuss said he intends to seek more
money in the future from OWEB and other sources to
continue some monitoring past the five-year window.
The original Gold Ray Dam and
powerhouse were built in 1904 on the Rogue upstream of
Gold Hill, providing the first hydroelectricity to
Medford. It was mothballed by Pacific Power in 1972 and
deeded to Jackson County for potential use as a park.
The dam's fish ladder, however,
did not meet federal fish-passage requirements, and the
county sought the dam's removal to reduce its liability.
It received $5.6 million in grants for the removal. The
land now is a county park, and county officials are
exploring what, if any, improvements should be made
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at
541-776-4470, or email at