The Oregon Natural Resource Council's 18-dam "hit list" is already growing shorter. An Oregon irrigation district voted Jan. 5 to remove the Savage Rapids Dam on the Rogue River.
"This is not the decision our hearts want to
make," Grants Pass Irrigation District board member Catherine Davis
told the Associated Press, "but it's the decision that our
intellect requires of us."
The district decided
it would be less expensive to scrap the worn-out dam than to buy
replacement parts. Installing new fish ladders and new turbines to
power the current pumps would cost slightly more than razing the
72-year-old dam, restoring the area, installing new irrigation
pumps and buying electricity for the pumps, according to a
Removing Savage Rapids Dam will
save fish as well as money. Fisheries biologists estimate that
27,000 more chinook and coho salmon will spawn above the dam site
each year when the dam is removed, perhaps saving the fish from
Savage Rapids Dam may be a
harbinger of future dam removals, says Jim Middaugh, staffer with
the Oregon Natural Resources Council. "It shows that removing a dam
doesn't mean that the world comes to an end."
Elk Creek, the final dam of a three-dam flood
control project on a tributary to the Rogue, is another targeted by
ONRC. Environmentalists legally challenged the dam's construction
in 1986, and forced the Corps to stop work until it completed a
supplemental environmental impact statement. The study, completed
in 1992, called for the dam to be built without a reservoir, except
during floods, to protect fish spawning habitat.
Federal Judge James Burns must now decide
whether to lift the construction injunction or order the Corps to
rip out the dam to protect coho salmon and steelhead trout
migrating from the Rogue.
Judge Burns said he
hoped to reach a decision by the end of 1993. Until he issues a
decision, the Corps is trapping and hauling fish around the
Like Savage Rapids, Elk Creek
Dam would be cheap to remove. The Corps says it has already
invested more than $100 million in the dam's construction and needs
another $70 million-$80 million to complete the project. But if the
dam is completed, it will return less than two-thirds of the money
invested in construction, reports the General Accounting Office.
Only $10 million-$20 million would be needed to
remove the structure.
Even with the obvious
economic and environmental benefits of taking down antiquated or
incomplete dams like Savage Rapids and Elk Creek, they may not fall
quickly, or at all.
In voting to remove the
Savage Rapids Dam, the irrigation district demanded the government
meet 11 conditions to keep the district financially solvent. Those
conditions may not be met for at least three to six years, says Bob
Hunter, president of WaterWatch.
Sen. Mark Hatfield, R.-Ore., could stymie efforts to take down Elk
Creek Dam no matter what the federal judge decides. "Savage Rapids
sets a precedent," says Hunter, "but every dam is unique."
* Bryan Foster, HCN