Nearly a year after the launch of Open Rivers Fund, a Resources Legacy Fund program that received $50 million seed funding from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, communities in Oregon and Alaska are celebrating major progress toward the removal of two obsolete dams.

In Oregon, workers removed in October the Beeson-Robison Dam on Wagner Creek, a tributary in the Rogue River Basin. This opens up the waterway to salmon and steelhead to complete their annual migrations. The project – a collaboration between private landowners, water users, local water agencies, and conservation advocates – restores three miles of critical fish habitat in an area suffering from declining fish populations. Removing the old dam unblocked the waterway and also allowed a new fish-friendly diversion system.

Todd Marthoski of M&M Construction services, who managed the project, said, “As an avid angler who has been fishing on the Rogue for many years, I’m proud to be a part of this project, which is also supporting the local economy by hiring local people and using local materials.”

Deconstructing the Eklutna Dam in Alaska. (Photo credit: Michael Scott)

In Alaska, the nearly 100-year-old Eklutna Dam came down in October, which opened up the Eklutna River for free-flowing water and fish passage for the first time in decades.

The dam, for decades decommissioned and defunct, was located 25 miles north of the Native Village of Eklutna, once home to a prolific salmon run of five species of Pacific salmon. These wild fish populations have long sustained the native Dena’ina people of Eklutna, but today, salmon struggle to survive at a fraction of the population, and that has taken a toll on the village’s way of life.

The dam once supplied power to Anchorage as a part of Alaska’s first hydroelectric project. The dam was decommissioned in the 1950s. Since then sediment has filled its reservoir, rendering the dam nonfunctioning and burdening the local economy with the cost and responsibility of dam removal.

In 2015, Eklutna Inc. and the Native Village of Eklutna, with the help of The Conservation Fund, a national organization with significant conservation projects and presence in Alaska, began the dam removal project. This project would become one of the most ambitious habitat restoration projects in Alaska’s history.

A major challenge was coming up with funding. The Conservation Fund responded to that challenge, partnered with the native Dena’ina people of Eklutna, and raised most of the $7.5 million in removal and restoration costs. The Open Rivers Fund provided additional money needed to help get the project across the finish line.

Now that the dam is functionally removed, the river will find its course again and the salmon will rebound and support traditional native practices in the village. More work remains to be done in the dam’s deconstruction and in restoring the river.