LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The largest dam removal in the Pacific Northwest in 40 years began on Tuesday with blasts of 4,000 pounds of explosives, the dam’s owner, Portland General Electric, said.
Eight feet of the 47-foot-tall Marmot Dam was removed by Tuesday afternoon and over the next two months there will be five more blasts, along with jackhammers working daily, company spokesman Mark Fryburg said.
“Today, this partnership took a great step toward restoring a breathtaking river for fish, wildlife and people,” Portland General Electric CEO and President Peggy Fowler said in a statement.
“We celebrate the future of a watershed that will provide unimpeded salmon and steelhead passage from the slopes of Mt. Hood to the Pacific Ocean.”
The Marmot Dam on the Sandy River about 40 miles east of Portland was built almost 100 years ago along with the nearby 16-foot-high Little Sandy Dam, which will be destroyed next summer, the utility said.
Removing the two dams will allow the Sandy to flow freely from Mt. Hood to the Columbia River.
Portland General Electric, the biggest utility in Oregon, is spending $17 million to remove the two dams in coordination with 23 environmental, governmental and civic organizations.
When the dams were built, they ruined a natural fish run that biologists say the fish will rediscover and repopulate once the dams are removed, Fryburg said.
The river is home to winter steelhead, spring Chinook and coho salmon, all listed on the federal Endangered Species Act, Portland General Electric said.
“Steelhead and salmon need free-flowing rivers to survive,” said Mike Myrick, a member of the Sandy River Chapter of Northwest Steelheaders. “Removal of Marmot Dam is a historic moment in salmon recovery taking place in the backyard of metropolitan Portland.”
The dam removal will take 22 megawatts of power generation capacity from Portland General, leaving it with hydro capacity of 487 megawatts.
The Marmot Dam has a fish ladder but once the dam is destroyed, the fish will be able to pass without a ladder made by humans, Fryburg said.
Reporting by Bernie Woodall