PRINEVILLE — An excavator plucked rocks and logs out of Stearns Dam Thursday morning, and the Crooked River began flowing faster through the created notch. The water level in the pool behind the dam began dropping.
“As the pool drained you started to pretty quickly see the river reforming in its primary channel above the dam," said Chris Gannon, executive director of the Crooked River Watershed Council.
After a decade of negotiations and planning, the Stearns Dam south of Prineville is coming out. The removal, led by the Watershed Council, should be done in a couple of weeks and the river will flow free there for the first time in more than 100 years.
“It will be marvelous," said Mike McCabe, Crook County judge.
McCabe was among a group of local, state and federal officials, as well as members of the public, who visited the dam removal site in a tour put on by the Watershed Council. The tour drew about 20 people.
The dam is about 12 miles downstream from Bowman Dam along state Highway 27. Of those dozen miles, eight are protected under a wild and scenic designation by the Bureau of Land Management, said Michelle McSwain, assistant field manager with the Bureau of Land Management in Prineville.
Not only is the Chimney Rock segment of the Lower Crooked Wild and Scenic River an increasingly popular place for people to visit, it also is prime habitat for trout, salmon and steelhead.
While dams and diversions around Central Oregon have long blocked salmon and steelhead, which migrate to and from the Pacific Ocean, their native runs are being restored.
Removal of the Stearns Dam is the latest project in the effort to bring back Central Oregon salmon and steelhead. Passage around or over the Rice-Baldwin Dam must also be created. The Rice-Baldwin Dam is about a mile downstream of Stearns Dam.