Demolition begins to free water for salmon spawning

The Associated Press
Saturday October 07, 2000

ANDERSON – Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt took his dam-busting tour to Northern California on Friday, starting the demolition of a nearly century-old structure to free miles of flowing water for spring-run salmon. 

Saeltzer Dam is a 20-foot high, 90-foot wide barrier across Deer Creek. Authorities said its removal, authorized by the state and federal organization called CalFed, will improve flow along a nine-mile stretch. 

“We are making water conservation history today,” Babbitt said. 

State Resources Secretary Mary Nichols agreed. 

“The dam was useless. It’s silted up, and it’s not fulfilling its purpose,” she said. 

About 12 miles of prime salmon spawning habitat lie behind the dam, which was built in 1903 about 150 miles north of Sacramento. Central Valley spring-run Chinook salmon were listed as a threatened species last year under the federal Endangered Species Act. 

The removal project will cost about $5.8 million. 

Since last year, some two dozen dams have been removed from Idaho to North Carolina, and at least 18 others are scheduled to go this year. 

Moments after Babbitt’s comments, a back hoe began pulling chunks of concrete from the dam face. Some restoration work has already been done. A creek channel was straightened and lined with fresh gravel. 

Environmentalists say hundreds of dams nationwide have outlived their usefulness and are causing environmental damage. 

The issue has fired particular debate in the Pacific Northwest, where environmentalists have called for the removal of four dams from the Snake River to protect salmon spawning grounds.