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October 25, 2000

Rogue River dam may be removed

MEDFORD, Ore. (AP) -- A bill has been introduced in Congress to provide $22.2 million to remove Savage Rapids Dam from the Rogue River to help salmon and replace it with pumps to supply the Grants Pass Irrigation District with water.

Though no action on the bill is expected before Congress adjourns this session, backers hope it will move rapidly through next year's session because it is jointly sponsored by Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden and Republican Sen. Gordon Smith.

"The value in introducing it now is to have a bill out there that shows commitment and intent," said Bob Hunter of WaterWatch, a conservation group that has long worked for removal of the dam to protect salmon.

"It's the target we've all been working for," said Don Greenwood, president of the irrigation district's board of directors.

The district had battled to save the 79-year-old irrigation dam in the face of federal and state efforts to remove it to help salmon until the costs of fighting lawsuits began to significantly increase water rates for members.

Though the dam was built to irrigate agricultural lands, most of the water now goes to lawns and hobby farms. Biologists have identified the dam as a major obstacle to upstream migration of adult salmon and steelhead, as well as a killer of young salmon and steelhead migrating downstream.

Greenwood said even if the bill sails through Congress next year, it would be 2004 or 2005 before pumps could be installed and the dam removed.

The bill would provide $13.5 million to remove the dam and install pumps to draw water from the river, as well as $3.7 million for electricity to run the pumps and $5 million to restore riparian habitat and build recreational facilities upstream.

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