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No more dam

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It was only a little dam, a couple feet high, but it blocked juvenile salmon from swimming the upper 2 miles of Ashland Creek.

On Tuesday, a powerful excavator tore it out with one bite and soon the stream will be restored to its ancient look, feel and flow.

The $145,000 project has taken several weeks, created a coffer dam and diversion channel (underground pipe) for fish to skirt the work, and it preserved a small irrigation system that taps creek water for seven downstream farms.

“The result will be a natural-looking steam channel re-profiled to the old grade of the stream bed, where young coho salmon, born here or migrating from Bear Creek, can reach the cooler waters of upper Ashland Creek in the low flows of summer, when Bear Creek gets too warm for them,” said Alexis Larsen, manager of Rogue River Watershed, which oversaw the project.

For many days, earth-moving equipment from M&M Services of Central Point moved piles of river rock, dug channels and got ready for the big moment when the excavator jaws smoothly pulled out the dam like it was a twig. Called the Smith-Meyer-Roper dam, it was built early in the 20th century.

Workers whacked out the first part of the irrigation channel and will build a modern headgate there to better regulate flows, said Joey Howard, engineer for Cascade Stream Solutions in Ashland.

These kinds of projects are more and more important now because of climate change, said Howard. “With warmer summers, snowpack melts faster, and that changes flow reliability for fish. It creates a uniform channel that salmon and other aquatic organisms can swim up during lower flows, and it improves connectivity, with a wider range of flows in the watershed.”

A staff report predicts improved spawning success, better survival for juvenile fish and restored spawning gravels. Stream banks will be stabilized by removal of invasive blackberries and planting of native vegetation that provides more shade and results in cooler stream water.

The project is remarkable for not using any tax dollars. Larsen coordinated donations from Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, which uses lottery dollars, the Resource Legacy Fund, which organizes philanthropists to fund conservation projects, Oregon Wildlife Foundation, the Schwemm Family Foundation and Patagonia.

The project should be finished, said Larsen, with water flowing in the main stream by mid-September, when salmon runs begin.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Andy Atkinson / Ashland Tidings Oswaldo Giron DeLeon relocates a salamander found in Ashland Creek during the Smith-Myer-Roper dam removal Tuesday morning.
Andy Atkinson / Ashland Tidings A salamander found in Ashland Creek during the Smith-Myer-Roper dam removal Tuesday morning.