Plan calls for removing small dam on Umatilla river in Oregon

ECHO, Ore. — A project costing nearly $1 million is expected to remove a small diversion dam on the Umatilla River in northeastern Oregon, helping restore fish runs once wiped out.

The Dillon Dam is an 8-foot-high concrete structure that serves 1,821 acres, mainly at one ranch, the East Oregonian reported. Its fish ladders are often inaccessible early in the season because high flows leave gravel bars, and again late in the summer when the river is low.

Recent flooding has left an island of rocks that blocks salmon and steelhead, and plugs irrigation works.

“When there’s a problem at a dam, we’ll at least see a delayed migration,” said Gary James, fisheries manager for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. “Obviously, when it takes them a lot longer, the wear-and-tear takes its toll.”

The Umatilla Basin Watershed Council has been working on the plan since 2011 and is awaiting approval from the Oregon Water Resources Department for a water rights transfer.

State, federal and tribal money is expected to pay for the project, which could be finished in 2015.

The plan calls for rerouting the irrigators’ water from the Westland Irrigation Dam two miles upstream.

The agricultural producers will benefit, as well, because they now have to bring in heavy equipment for the 10 to 12 hours of work it takes to clear blockages, said Mike Taylor, owner and operator of the Double M Ranch.

A third-generation rancher, Taylor depends on irrigation water from the Dillon Dam to grow hay, corn and barley for his cattle operation of 1,300 cows.

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