The last pieces of the Savage Rapids Dam, widely regarded as the worst fish-killer on Oregon’s Rogue River, are being removed today. The river will be restored to its natural bed for the first time in 88 years, just in time for the Fall run of coho salmon.
The demolition is the direct result of a lawsuit Earthjustice attorneys Mike Sherwood and Claudia Polsky participated in on behalf of WaterWatch of Oregon. WaterWatch waged a two-decade campaign to remove the dam. Removal of the dam opens access to 500 miles of spawning and rearing habitat for Rogue River salmon.
The 39-foot high dam, built in 1921 by the Grants Pass Irrigation District, had been the first artificial obstacle migrating salmon and steelhead would encounter on their runs up the Rogue River from the ocean. A 1994 Bureau of Reclamation study found that the dam was the single biggest threat to coho salmon on the entire river. Removing the dam will result in an estimated 114,000 additional salmon and steelhead in the Rogue Basin and an end to a significant barrier to fish passage and river recreation.
"This is a great day for the Rogue River, and for its coho and steelhead," said Mike Sherwood of Earthjustice. "The science is in: Removing dams is the best way to restore imperiled salmon runs. Demolishing the Savage Rapids Dam is a great start."
Earthjustice has long been working to rebuild and restore strong salmon and steelhead runs throughout the West from southern California, to San Francisco Bay/Delta, to Puget Sound. Runs of all five salmon species native to the Pacific Northwest are imperiled, some of them critically. A wide range of human activities pose threats to Pacific salmon, from improper pesticide use to water diversions for agriculture to logging practices that bury salmon spawning gravel in mud, to blockage by dams.
Dams that block other Pacific Northwest salmon runs are coming down as well. Two large dams on Washington’s Elwha River in Olympic National Park, long criticized as "salmon-killing dams," are slated for removal starting in 2011. Salmon activists continue to call for removal of four dams on the Lower Snake River that scientists have long agreed pose the greatest obstacle to salmon recovery in the Columbia and Snake rivers.