Crook County

New look for Crooked River as dam is removed

Crews start demolishing century-old Stearns Dam

Crews begin demolition on Stearns Dam

PRINEVILLE, Ore. - The sounds of crashing, banging and the roar of an excavator echoed through the Crooked River Canyon Thursday morning as demolition crews worked to remove the over 100-year-old Stearns Dam.

The project is 10 years in the making, as several agencies came together to restore chinook salmon and steelhead runs in the Crooked River.

"We're going to provide such great habitat for the fish that are being introduced to the basin," said Michelle McSwain, assistant field manager for the Bureau of Land Management in Prineville.

As crews worked to build a temporary road near the dam to bring more equipment in, the water level upstream began to drop.

"It's very satisfying," McSwain said. "You don't get to have some kind of event like this of this magnitude in your career very often."

Volunteers, along with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife, worked to move any fish that were caught in pools left by the decrease in river flow.

"Our volunteers will be slowly combing those area' for fish and moving them back into the main channel," Project Manager Garry Sanders said.

Volunteers were able to move 64 redband rainbow trout, 220 speckled dace and 545 suckers, among other species of fish.

"It's a pretty good milestone, that we are actually doing it," said Sanders. "It's sort of the culmination of my work planning it."

Next week, after the water level has stabilized, crews will go in and remove the rest of the dam. They say it should take about a week for the entire thing to be history.

The dam was built back in 1911 to hold back water for irrigation. It was originally made of logs and would frequently wash out. In the 1930s, a new dam was built out of concrete.

The demolition of the Stearns Dam stems from the fish passage and projects at the Pelton-Round hydroelectric project downstream.

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