Dam removal begins on Sandy River Delta
Native fish to benefit from free flowing river
Federal and state agencies have begun work to remove a dam, built in the 1930s on the Sandy River Delta, as part of continued restoration efforts for native fish habitat in the area.
A host of government and nonprofit groups have been working for more than a decade to protect the 1,500-acre delta and improve salmon spawning at the mouth of the Sandy River.
The Sandy River Delta Dam is the last dam on the Sandy to be removed, allowing the silt and sediment-filled slough to reclaim its natural flow as a channel into the Columbia River.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and its partners, the Bonneville Power Administration, U.S. Forest Service and Portland Water Bureau, will begin the actual removal of the dam Thursday, Aug. 15.
The Confluence Project the nonprofit group behind world-renowned artist Maya Lins installation of The Bird Blind on the delta five years ago in August will celebrate the dams deconstruction from 5-8 p.m. by hosting an evening of informative hikes for the public. The hikes are easy, about three miles.
Visitors will have the chance to discuss the project with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, hike to the bird blind and enjoy a home-packed picnic, live music and good conversation about land and water restoration at the Sandy River Delta.
Close to its mouth, the Sandy River splits into two channels.
In the 1930s, the Oregon Game Commission diked the rivers main (east) channel, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website, believing (in error) that it would help the smelt run.
A 750-foot-long dam was built on the east channel, diverting water to flow toward the west channel.
The channel that once provided an excellent habitat for young salmon and steelhead filled in with silt and became a slough. The delta became pastureland, and its wetlands were drained.
The system is kind of out of balance, said Diana Fredlund, public affairs specialist for the Portland branch of the Army Corps of Engineers.
As the flow turned to silt, waters warmed and evaporated, stranding fish to die in dried mud.
All of these things are a challenge to young fish trying to grow up and head down to the ocean, Fredlund said.
She said opening the channel back up will allow more water flow and make a more encouraging habitat for young fish.
Contractors began moving equipment onto the delta July 5.
Starting at the mouth near the Columbia River, workers already have begun dredging the channel, digging up and removing sediment until they reach the 8-foot-high dam, which Fredlund said should be removed by Nov. 30.
Three different sites on the delta, each less than an acre in size, have been mapped by the Army Corps of Engineers as disposal areas for sediment.
The cost of the project is $800,000.
The Sandy River, a primary fish-producing river in the region, has a history of dam removal.
As result of Portland General Electics decision to close the Bull Run hydropower plant in 1999, other dams removed include the 47-foot-high Marmot and the 16-foot-high Little Sandy. A 3-mile wooden-box flume, a 22-megawatt powerhouse and Roslyn Lake also were removed.
Learn the land, take a hike
The Forest Service purchased the 1,500-acre delta east of the Sandy River and alongside the Columbia River from a dairy farmer in 1991.
The public land attracted visitors and became a popular destination for off-leash dog walkers, equestrians, birders, hunters and hikers. However, the site was not equipped for its growing number of visitors. For one, it was difficult to get to from Interstate 84. There was no parking and no bathrooms.
Despite what some locals thought could bring more problems to the public land, Lins art installation was a spoke in the wheel to a collective future restoration of the delta.
From grassroots organizations such as the Friends of the Gorge and Friends of the Sandy River Delta to state agencies including the Oregon Department of Transportation, interest groups came together to improve the delta.
Trash was collected, brush was cleared, trails were planned and improved. A parking lot was installed and a safer exit from the interstate was engineered.
Lins elliptical bird blind rests at the end of a 1.2-mile trail from the parking lot off Interstate 84 Exit 18 near Troutdale.
Visitors walk up a curved ramp constructed with black locust wood to a camouflaged platform where they can view birds and wildlife that once thrived during Lewis and Clarks expedition.
The artwork is one of seven artworks Lin has designed at different sites along the Columbia River Basin from near Clarkston, Wash., to the mouth of the Columbia, working with tribal members and local communities to explore and connect with the history and ecology of the land.
Upper Chinook tribes once lived along the Columbia River from the mouth of the Cowlitz River to The Dalles, according to the Confluence Project.
Multnomah (Wappato) and Clackamas bands of the Upper Chinook people were based between the Cowlitz and Sandy River. The Wasco band lived on the other side of the Sandy River Delta.Add a comment