Dam removals have been increasing. For recent experience and background,

Calapooia River, Oregon - 3 dams removed, 2011

Shearer Dam, one of three small dams removed on the Calapooia River.
The Calapooia is one of the upper Willamette Rivers without a major hydroelectric dam. But three small dams block fish passage. A video summarizes the project to remove the Brownsville, Sodom, and Shearer Dams.

Source: Calapooia Watershed Council

Condit, 2011 - Little White Salmon River, Washington

Condit was removed by PacifiCorp to enable salmon and steelhead to get upstream. The dam was completed in 1913 and in order to meet relicensing requirements, it was cheaper to remove the dam.

See PacifiCorp, The History of the Condit Hydroelectric Project (2002). This is a 131 page, 31 mb file. Also see the Oregonian videos giving history and the removal. The breaching video (3 minutes) shows technique used.

Stats: 125 feet tall concrete dam.

Elk Creek Dam, 2008 - tributary to Rogue River

Source: WaterWatch Oregon
Construction on the Elk Creek Dam was stopped in 1987 because of litigation about the environmental impacts. The dam was originally part of a three dam mainly flood control project (Lost Creek, 1977 and Applegate, 1980). Elk Creek is estimated to have been the nursery site for as much as a third of the Rogue River's salmon runs. Political leaders prevented dam removal. After more litigation, the US Army Corps of Engineers was authorized to knotch the dam, which was completed in 2008. A stream for passage was established around the dam.

For additional information see Oregon Wild, WaterWatch Oregon, and Neil Kagan in the Pace Environmental Law. Review

Stats: Projected for 240 feet, dam construction reached only one third that height.

Elwha, in process - Elwha River, Washington

Source: American Rivers
Two Elwha River Dams are slated for removal. Their story is told by the National Parks Service. The Elwha (1914) and Glines Canyon (1927) dams were built for power generation. Indigenous rights, being in a national park, endangered species, and water quality are issues lead to removal of these dams.

To follow the removal process see National Parks Service webcams.

Stats: Elwha Dam is 110 feet and Glines Dam is 210 feet tall.

Marmot, 2007 - Sandy River, Oregon

Marmot Dam was removed by Portland General Electric to enable salmon and steelhead to get access to 100 miles of upstream habitat. The dam was completed in 1913 and in order to meet relicensing requirements, it was cheaper to remove the dam. Oregon Field Guide did a 9 minute program segment, "Marmot Dam Removed." The program details the surprising result of the experiment in sediment removal.

For assessment of the dam removal, see the USGS study, "Dam Removal and Sediment Transport in the Sandy River Basin, Oregon."

Stats: The 47 foot dam held 900,000 cubic yards of sediment.

Savage Rapids, 2009 - Rogue River, Oregon

Savage Rapids Dam was removed for a mix of economic and endangered species reasons. Built in 1921, the expense of maintenance and aging were becoming too expensive for the Grant's Pass Irrigation District. Dam passage for endangered salmon was in effective for both up and downstream migrating salmon. The dam was replaced by a pumping plant and the hydoelectric water right was converted to an instream right with a 1918 date.

WaterWatch Oregon presents the story in a 9 minute video. Look for the dinosour metaphor in the removal process at 6 minutes into the video. Check the Bureau of Reclamation videos.

Stats: Savage Rapids Dam was a 39-foot high, 500-foot long diversion dam.

Drivers of Dam Removal

  • age of dams, typically approaching 100 years
  • cost of maintenance, the technology is old and outdated
  • environmental issues, endangered species, environmental preferences, costs to retrofit
  • indigenous rights, treaties and obligations to native peoples


  • long and arduous legal, social, political process
  • dealing with amount of sediment buildup and accumulated contaminants
  • lake versus river uses
  • loss of original purposes, mainly hydroelectrict production and irrigation water
  • other environmental impacts, such as flooding, debris, siltation, water quality

  • contact info

    Updated:Monday, 07-May-2012 22:56:22 PDT
    URL is http://www.orst.edu/instruction/anth481/ws/damremove.html