Eastern Oregon dam being removed to improve fish passage

The dam was considered a significant problem for native salmon and steelhead.


PENDLETON, Ore. — Work has started to remove a dam in eastern Oregon that blocks salmon, steelhead and lamprey.

The effort to remove the Dillon Diversion Dam on the Umatilla River outside of Echo started earlier this month, the East Oregonian reported. The dam is 200 feet long.

Bill Duke, district fish biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, said fish ladders on either side of dam don’t always work properly, and the dam was considered a significant problem for native salmon and steelhead.

“Fall chinook and coho, they tend to come up to that obstruction and get delayed there,” Duke said. “They end up spawning there below the dam.”

He said the spot is not conducive for rearing juvenile salmon and steelhead.

The dam built in 1915 served five landowners as part of the Dillon Irrigation Co. with water rights dating to the 1890s. But the landowners say the dam that’s 16 feet deep clogs with gravel and is difficult to maintain.

The landowners will now get their water from the upstream Westland Diversion Dam and a 2-mile pipeline completed in March.

The pipeline is being paid for in part with a $175,000 grant from the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Restoration and Enhancement Board.

The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, a state agency that provides grants to improve streams, rivers and wetlands, added another $300,000. Irrigators contributed $140,000.

The Bonneville Power Administration is paying $600,000 to remove the dam as part of its requirement to support viable fish populations.

“There’s water savings. There’s ecological benefits. There’s economic benefits for the local irrigation districts,” said Michael Ward, executive director of the Umatilla Basin Watershed Council. “This has all hallmarks of a great project.”

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