Group removes some of last visible remnants of Marmot Dam, celebrate restoration

Marmot Dam (KATU photo)

Ten years after the Marmot Dam was removed, partially thanks to a big explosion, conservationists returned to that location along the Sandy River Saturday to take some of the last remaining visible parts from the dam’s existence.

Members of the Sandy River Basin Watershed Council cut down two large signs that used to stand along the shoreline of a reservoir behind the Marmot Dam. One read “Danger Ahead. Dam Spillway. 1/4 Mile.” The other said “Dam Spillway, 40 Foot Drop, Exit To The Right.”

Steve Wise, executive director of the council, stood before a small crowd at the river’s edge. He explained, “About 10 years ago on this site, we would have been underwater because there was a dam that had been here since 1913.”

Volunteers cut through solid Iron bars that anchored both signs into the rock. Then, they sent the first one floating a few hundred yards downriver. Wise, and other volunteers, carried out the second sign on foot.

Saturday’s sign removal was a sort of a ceremony, celebrating 10 years since the Marmot Dam was taken down and the subsequent recovery along the Sandy River.

Built in 1913, the Marmot Dam was part of the Bull Run Hydroelectric Project. The Endangered Species Act, signed in 1973, is arguably one reason the dam is no longer standing. Portland General Electric decided it would be cheaper to remove the dam than to pay for offsetting environmental costs.

“They found out that dam removal was the best deal for their customers, and it was a good deal for the public because we get a free-flowing river where endangered salmon can get back and forth and run their natural habitat,” said Wise.

Now, there are no dams anywhere between the Pacific Ocean and the headwaters of the Sandy River, meaning fish can move freely up and down the rivers. Wise says they have already seen improvement in fish counts in the Sandy River.

“It's only been two-and-a-half salmon generations in that 10 years but even in two-and-a-half salmon generations, we're seeing more wild Chinook, more wild steelhead returning to the Sandy,” said Wise. He added that they have seen more juvenile salmon as well.

“It's too early to declare victory, but we can declare really substantial progress and the signs are looking very positive that the river is recovering the way we want it to,” Wise said.

The Marmot Dam removal also proved to be the start of a new era of dam removal, according to Wise. It was one of the first major Dam removal projects in the Pacific Northwest.

“Dam removals works, that rivers recover fairly quickly, and as long as dam removals are planned well and you look at potential consequences of having sediment come through like it did here, there is no downside,” said Wise.

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