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Free Flowing Rogue River
Galice, Oregon, is an entry point to the Wild and Scenic portion of Rogue River.
Rogue River at Galice
  • One of the most significant dam removal projects on a single river in the country.
  • 157 miles of the Rogue River has unrestricted fish passage for the first time in almost 100 years.
  • Provides the foundation for a growing economy based on outdoor recreation.
The Rogue River is an Oregon treasure. Tumbling through some of southern Oregon’s most remote and scenic regions, the Rogue’s rapids have thrilled countless paddlers while its wealth of wildlife and natural beauty made it one of the original rivers designated under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968.
For the size of fish populations, the Rogue is second in Oregon only to the Columbia.
But for decades the Rogue has been more of a roadblock than relief to migrating Chinook and coho salmon (a species listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act). Several dams, built to provide electricity or to capture water for irrigation, hindered and delayed migratory fish.
Biologists and conservationists worried for years that the deteriorating dams threatened the very health of its wild fish--migratory salmon, steelhead and Pacific lamprey, as well as native cutthroat trout, on the Rogue.
The obvious answer was to remove the dams. Doing so took an extensive partnership, with government agencies, municipalities, local community members and conservation groups working together.
In 2008, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB) provided more than $1 million in grants to the City of Gold Hill to help remove the Gold Hill Diversion Dam. The out-of-use dam, which once provided electricity to a cement company, was identified by the Rogue Basin Fish Access Team as the second-worst fish passage problem on the Rogue, after the Savage Rapids Dam. Migrating fish were injured and tired as they tried to clear the dam, while young fish had trouble moving to the cool water they need to survive summer heat. Grants from OWEB also supported restoration of riparian habitat and a wetlands important to migratory water fowl.
A few miles upstream of the City of Grants Pass, the Savage Rapids Dam was the toughest barrier for migrating fish on the Rogue River. Built in 1921 and used solely to divert water for irrigation, the dam was a hurdle many fish simply couldn’t clear.  A $3 million OWEB grant to the Grants Pass Irrigation District helped pay for the removal of the dam and install equipment that improved irrigation efficiency for the district’s clients. These state funds leveraged more than $30 million in federal dollars for the project.
A third dam, Gold Ray, was demolished this year. Removal of the defunct hydropower dam represents one of the largest dam removals in the country, and will provide fish better access to high quality spawning habitat. OWEB granted just over $1 million for dam removal and restoration of the site.
With the removal of these dams, the Rogue River will flow freely for 157 miles from the Cascade Mountain Range to the Pacific Ocean. While opening the length of its wild waters to migratory and resident fish, the projects will also help a growing regional economy based on tourism and outdoor recreation.
“We’ve just taken a huge step forward to protect this jewel,” said Bob Hunter, who has advocated for dam removal for two decades as staff attorney for WaterWatch of Oregon. “We’re making it even better.”
The total cost of removing these three dams was well over $40 million. OWEB’s grants, of just over $5 million, were pivotal in securing other grants, especially from the Federal government.
Besides improving fish habitat, the effort helped the local economy.  Jobs were created as consultants, contractors, and employees were hired to design, implement and monitor the dam removal projects. In addition, field crews rented or purchased equipment, and bought goods and services.
Habitat restoration projects such as these dam removals have similar job creation payoffs as more traditional public infrastructure investments like water and sewer projects.

Gold Hill Dam

Rogue Valley Council of Governments Gold Hill Removal 
Reducing Obstacles to Fish Migrations (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, web page)
Gold Hill Dam Removal (Rogue Valley Council of Governments, web page)

Savage Rapids Dam

USBR Savage Rapids Dam Removal USBR Savage Rapids Dam Removal (U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, web page)  
Monitoring Plan for Savage Rapids Dam (PDF)

Savage Rapids Dam Removal Photos (U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, PDF)

Gold Ray Dam

NOAA Gold Ray Dam RemovalEarthCam Construction Camera (NOAA, web page)
Helicopter seeds old Gold Ray Dam area (Medford Mail Tribune, web page)
Gold Ray Dam removal complete (KDRV New Station, web page)