NOAA Helps Small Towns Remove Obsolete Dams

BROWNSVILLE, Oregon, August 28, 2007 (ENS) - An excavator breached a dam on Oregon's Calapooia River Monday at Brownsville, a small town about 20 miles north of Eugene. Soon the dam will be gone and federally listed threatened salmon will be able to swim upstream to their historic spawning grounds once more.

This historic dam removal is the first project to be completed under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's new Open Rivers Initiative, which provides funding and technical expertise for community-driven, small dam and river barrier removals.

Under the initiative, NOAA will work with communities to remove up to 50 obsolete dams and rundown culverts across the nation each year. These projects will begin to repair river systems and also eliminate dangerous conditions that are prevalent at outdated structures.

"The removal of the Brownsville dam is exactly the type of project that the Open Rivers Initiative is designed to assist," said NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher. "It provides community benefits, restores a river ecosystem and demonstrates what can happen when people come together to address shared challenges."

Until Monday, the 10 foot high Brownsville dam created an area for swimming, and has helped maintain a modest flow of water through a canal that winds through the small town. But the mill that the dam used to power is long gone, and the dam blocks salmon from reaching their spawning grounds.

The Calapooia Watershed Council was able to gain community support for removing the dam by ensuring that water would continue to flow through the canal with the installation of a small pump. The canal has been a centerpiece for Brownsville and provides irrigation water to several local citizens.

The Brownsville dam was the last upstream barrier on the Calapooia River. The remaining downstream barrier is slated to be removed as well, and the completion of these two projects will allow winter steelhead salmon and spring chinook salmon - both listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act - access to nearly 40 miles of historic upstream spawning and rearing habitat.

The Calapooia Watershed Council says the dam was originally constructed before fish passage needs of the river were understood. "Since that time, the owners of the dam have come to realize the dam does not provide adequate fish passage, however they have lacked the technical skills and financial resources needed to improve fish passage at the site," the council said.

The project is funded through grants from NOAA, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Bella Vista Foundation.

Today, NOAA says, more than 3,500 large dams in the U.S. are considered unsafe, and thousands of smaller dams are also susceptible to leaking, buckling, and failure, placing nearby communities at risk.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.