ROGUE RIVER &

If construction on a new pumping station goes smoothly this summer, the 86-year-old Savage Rapids Dam could be removed next year &

a year earlier than expected.




"There's a lot of work to be done," said project manager Bob Hamilton of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which is overseeing the project. "If they can do it, I'll be the first to stand up and cheer."




Federal studies estimate that the dam and its antiquated fish ladders and water intake screens impede salmon and steelhead runs.




Any delays in construction particularly during a critical in-river work window that closes Aug. 31 could push the dam's demolition back to late 2009 as planned.




Crews began work on the pumping plant last fall. From June 15 to Aug. 31 they can work in the river, a period considered least threatening to wild salmon.




"I think everyone would like to see it done as soon as possible," Bob Hunter, an attorney for WaterWatch of Oregon. "But the important thing is that it's going to happen and that it's going to happen in the next two years. One year earlier, though, means one more year that it doesn't harm the fishery."




Dan Shepherd, manager of the Grants Pass Irrigation District, said he would prefer to open the 2008 irrigation season using the new electric pumping station to deliver water to roughly 9,000 district patrons.




"This dam is old and tired," Shepherd said. "We've been limping around with old equipment. This thing could screech to a halt any time. It would be nice to have new equipment."




If the intake and pumping plant are completed in time to use in 2008, crews could then focus on dismantling the dam.




Early completion of the project could mean some juggling of the financing of the project, which Congress has funded on a year-to-year basis.




This fiscal year Congress budgeted $13 million toward the project, and the 2008 fiscal-year budget proposal adds $15 million.




The total federal cost for the project was estimated at $32 million, meaning roughly $4 million was earlier earmarked for the 2009-2010 fiscal budgets.




"If they can do this super, great," Hamilton said. "The challenge would be to find some money sooner."