PENDLETON, Ore. — The Umatilla Basin Watershed Council has proposed removing the Dillon Dam by 2016 while maintaining irrigation rights established more than a century ago.
The 8-foot-high diversion dam blocks the passage of fish up the Umatilla River between Echo and Stanfield. Fish ladders are often inaccessible because of low flows in the summertime or gravel bars deposited by high, sweeping flows earlier in the season, The East Oregonian newspaper reported.
Besides removing the concrete barrier for salmon and steelhead, the project would reroute water for irrigation from another existing dam about two miles upstream.
Dillon Dam serves three water rights in the area, primarily at Double M Ranch. The plan is to divert their water instead from the Westland Irrigation Dam and install an 11,000-foot pipeline out of Westland Canal feeding back into the Dillon Canal.
Once that’s done, crews can remove Dillon Dam and restore the fish habitat.
The watershed council started work on the dam-removal plan three years ago. The group is waiting for the Oregon Water Resources Department to approve transfer of the Dillon water rights to Westland before moving forward with final pipeline design.
The Double M Ranch depends on irrigation water from the Dillon Dam to grow hay, corn and barley for its cattle operation just outside Echo.
Owner and operator Mike Taylor, a third-generation rancher who likes to fish, said he supports the project. Westland has the capacity to serve Double M’s water rights, so that’s not an issue, he said.
“Most people here understand the fish-passage issue, and it will only help to get that dam out of there,” Taylor said.
The project is expected to cost nearly $1 million. Funding is expected to be raised through the Oregon Department of Fish &Wildlife, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and federal entities.
Gary James, fisheries program manager with the tribes, said the project would further restore salmon runs that were once wiped out.
“It’s certainly in our interest if we can consolidate canals and reduce the diversion dams to accommodate irrigation and fish,” James said. “When there’s a problem at a dam, we’ll at least see a delayed (fish) migration. Obviously, when it takes them a lot longer, the wear-and-tear takes its toll.”