Rogue River (Oregon) | dams


A large dam rises high above a red-roofed building at its base. A large river flows away from the base of the dam.
Below the William L. Jess Dam and its powerhouse

The William L. Jess Dam, a huge flood-control and hydroelectric structure, blocks the Rogue River 157 miles (253 km) from its mouth.[84] Built by the USACE between 1972 and 1976, it impounds Lost Creek Lake.[85] The dam, which is 345 feet (105 m) high and 3,600 feet (1,100 m) long,[85] prevents salmon migration above this point.[76] When the lake is full, it covers 3,428 acres (1,387 ha) and has an average depth of 136 feet (41 m).[85] Ranked by storage capacity, its reservoir is the seventh-largest in Oregon.[86]

Other dams have impeded fish passage at one time or another between the William L. Jess Dam and Grants Pass. After decades of controversy about water rights, costs, migratory fish, and environmental impacts, removal or modification of remaining middle-reach dams as well as a partly finished dam on Elk Creek, a major tributary of the Rogue, began in 2008. The de-construction projects were all meant to improve salmon runs by allowing more fish to reach suitable spawning grounds.[87]

A large river flows over a dam and into a churning pool below. Green hills line the far shore.
Gold Ray Dam in April 2010, with fish ladder visible on opposite shore

In 1904, brothers C.R. and Frank Ray built the Gold Ray Dam, a log structure, to generate electricity near Gold Hill.[88] They installed a fish ladder.[88] The California-Oregon Power Company, which later became Pacific Power, acquired the dam in 1921.[88] Replacing the log dam in 1941 with a concrete structure 35 feet (11 m) high, it added a new fish ladder and a fish-counting station.[88] The company closed the hydroelectric plant in 1972, although the fish ladder remained, and biologists from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife used the station to count migrating salmon and steelhead.[88] Jackson County, which owned the dam, had it removed with the help of a $5 million federal grant approved in June 2009.[89] The dam was demolished in the summer of 2010.[90]

In 2008, the city of Gold Hill removed the last of the Gold Hill Dam, a diversion dam slightly downstream of the Gold Ray Dam. Originally built to provide power for a cement company, it was 3 to 14 feet (0.91 to 4.27 m) high and 900 feet (270 m) long. The dam and a diversion canal later delivered municipal water to the city until Gold Hill installed a pumping station to supply its water.[91]

A muddy river flows through a gap between the ruins of a dam on either shore. A wooded hill or mountain rises in the background.
Remains of Savage Rapids Dam near Grants Pass

Savage Rapids Dam was 5 miles (8 km) upstream from Grants Pass. Built in 1921 to divert river flows for irrigation, the dam was 39 feet (12 m) tall and created a reservoir that seasonally extended up to 2.5 miles (4.0 km) upstream.[92] Its removal began in April 2009,[93] and was completed in October 2009.[94] Twelve newly installed pumps provide river water to the irrigation canals serving 7,500 acres (3,000 ha) of the Grants Pass Irrigation District (GPID).[93]

In 2008, USACE removed part of the Elk Creek Dam and restored Elk Creek to its original channel.[95] Construction on the dam had been halted by a court injunction in the 1980s after about 80 feet (24 m) of the proposed height of 240 feet (73 m) was reached.[95] Further controversy delayed the notching for two decades.[95] Elk Creek enters the Rogue River 5 miles (8.0 km) downstream from Lost Creek Lake.[96]

Historically, other dams along the river's middle reaches were removed or destroyed during the first half of the 20th century. The Ament Dam, built in 1902 by the Golden Drift Mining Company to provide water for mining equipment, was slightly upriver of Grants Pass. After the company failed to keep promises to provide irrigation and electric power to the vicinity and because the dam was a "massive fish killer", vigilantes destroyed part of the dam with dynamite in 1912. The damaged dam was completely removed before construction of the Savage Rapids Dam in 1921.[97]

In 1890, the Grants Pass Power Supply Company had built a log dam 12 feet (3.7 m) high, across the river near the city. Salmon could pass the dam during high water, but most were blocked: "For half a mile below the dam, the river was crowded with fish throughout the summer."[98] After a flood destroyed this dam in 1905, it was replaced by a 6-foot (1.8 m) dam that, like its predecessor, lacked a fish ladder. By 1940, the dam had deteriorated to the point that it no longer blocked migratory fish.[98]

A dam with a metal superstructure creates a placid pool of water behind it. Trees line the banks of the dam pool, which has a string of round markers floating on its surface.
Diversion dam at Prospect

In addition to the dams on the Rogue main stem, at one time or another "several hundred dams were built on tributaries within the range of salmon migration",[98] most of which supplied water for mining or irrigation. Before 1920, many of these dams made no provision for fish passage; public pressure as well as efforts by turn-of-the-century cannery owner R.D. Hume led to the installation of fish ladders on the most destructive dams.[98] As of 2005, there were about 80 non-hydroelectric dams, mostly small irrigation structures, in the Rogue basin.[99] In addition to Lost Creek Lake on the main stem, large reservoirs in the basin include Applegate Lake, Emigrant Lake, and Fish Lake.[99]

The only artificial barrier on the main stem of the Rogue upstream of Lost Creek Lake is a diversion dam at Prospect at RM 172 (RK 277). The concrete dam, 50 feet (15 m) high and 384 feet (117 m) wide, impounds water from the Rogue and nearby streams and diverts it to power plants, which return the water to the river further downstream. PacifiCorp operates this system, called The Prospect Nos. 1, 2, and 4 Hydroelectric Project. Built in pieces between 1911 and 1944, it includes separate diversion dams on the Middle Fork Rogue River and Red Blanket Creek, and a 9.25-mile (14.89 km) water-transport system of canals, flumes, pipes, and penstocks.[100]

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