Day in the Life: Denise Hoffert-Hay, River Restoration Program

Sterns Dam, Crooked River, OR | © Scott Wright, P.E., River Design Group

Sterns Dam, Crooked River, OR | © Scott Wright, P.E., River Design Group

7:00PM A site visit to a dam in Central Oregon starts the night before with packing the field rig, putting together the details that make a difference when a site is more than three hours from the office: camera battery charged, boots packed, engineered drawings and technical specs printed (and reviewed!).

5:30AM As I drive out to the site, I begin to think about this project and the day ahead. Today, the purpose of the site visit is not to conduct measurements or sample sediment, look at options for access, or to determine the best construction sequence. All of those steps are complete and bring us to this point: the pre-bid walk through. This is the day when, after 3 years preparation, at last, we are approaching removal of the Stearns Dam.

Stearns Dam is a 6-ft tall, 150-ft wide dam that spans the Crooked River, just outside of Prineville, Oregon. Now obsolete, the dam was originally constructed to supply irrigation water for local farms. It was built without fish passage, impeding redband trout, salmon and steelhead from spawning and rearing habitat. The dam’s owner, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, has cooperated with a local non-profit, the Crooked River Watershed Council, to design the dam removal and restore fish passage and natural riverine processes to this stretch of the Crooked River. American Rivers joined the partnership in 2010 when we selected this project for grant funding through our AR-NOAA Rivergrants program and have continued to support the project through funding and technical guidance on design development and construction planning.

9:00AM The pre-bid walk through is an opportunity for potential construction firms to view the site and ask questions about the project construction. On this day, more than 15 local and regional contractors arrive to tour the site, take photos, size up the competition, and determine potential partnerships. The river is running cold and green with algae blooms along the channel margins. The dam’s location in a steeply walled canyon means the summer day’s heat is trapped, and we all begin to sweat as the project engineer begins his explanation of the contractor selection process.

11:30AM Few questions get asked during the group meeting. Instead, as the formal presentation wraps up, small clumps of men break away to talk in hushed tones, discussing strategy, what they see as the risks and challenges at the site, and whether we can really expect to have 70 cubic feet per second of flow by October.

12:00PM As I talk with the Crooked River Watershed Council staff about their state and federal permit conditions, our excitement builds as we realize this dam is coming down in 2013. We talk about how this is the first dam to be removed from the Crooked River. And we smile.

One Response to “Day in the Life: Denise Hoffert-Hay, River Restoration Program”

Luise Davis

I’m a freshwater ecologist. This is one of those events that puts a big grin on my face. Thank you!