The City of Portland and Portland General Electric (PGE) are considering the removal of PGE’s 92-year-old dam on the Little Sandy river, US, to improve habitat for threatened steelhead salmon.

The National Marine Fisheries Service declared steelhead a threatened species in the lower Columbia river area in March 1998, forcing the city to improve fish habitats throughout the Sandy river watershed, the source of the city’s water.

The Little Sandy dam on the tributary of the Sandy river could be the second dam to be demolished in the northwest to restore salmon and other fish runs: in July 1998, demolition of an irrigation dam on Bear Creek near Medford, in southern Oregon, was undertaken to improve fish habitat. Removing the Little Sandy dam would need approval from FERC and from state agencies. The City Comm- issioner expects dam removal to be completed in 18 months. Demolition of the dam would open the basin for salmon and steelhead, allowing water to flow into a 13-mile stretch, now virtually dry.

The Little Sandy River dam is considered a primary contributor to the depletion of the steelhead run, because it blocks all of the water flowing down the lower stretch of the Bull Run river behind its main dams during summer.

PGE acquired the Little Sandy dam, which was built in 1906, from its predecessor, the Mount Hood Railway and Power Company. The dam produces enough energy to power about 9000 homes. Estimates of the removal cost range from US$2M to US$6M. Both the city and PGE would consider paying part of the cost, possibly seeking help from the state and federal governments.

Meanwhile, Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne says he does not want to hear talk about breaching dams on the Snake river to save salmon and steelhead. The governor has not joined a northwest salmon protection panel that includes representatives from Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Mon-tana, eleven Indian tribes and half a dozen federal agencies. Kempthorne says he is still studying the matter but will not join the panel if Idaho’s interests have to be put second to those of the coalition.