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General Description| Plan| Development| Benefits

General Description

The Grants Pass Project lies within the Rogue River Basin in southwestern Oregon. The project was constructed by private interests beginning in the 1920`s and partially rehabilitated by the Bureau of Reclamation in 1949-1955. The project furnishes irrigation water to over 10,000 acres of land surrounding the town of Grants Pass, Oregon. Principal project features are the Savage Rapids Diversion Dam on the Rogue River, and the associated pipelines, pumping plants, canals, and laterals.

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The Savage Rapids Diversion Dam diverts water from the Rogue River into the South Main Canal to serve the lowlands on the south side of the river. The main pumping plant pumps water from the reservoir to the Tokay Canal to serve lands on the north side of the river, and to the South Highline Canal to irrigate lands above the gravity-type South Main Canal. There are also four lateral relift pumping plants along the canals.

Facility Descriptions

Savage Rapids Diversion Dam

The Savage Rapids Diversion Dam is on the Rogue River 5 miles east of Grants Pass, Oregon. It is about 456 feet long and consists of a 16-bay spillway section and a hydraulic-driven pumping plant section at the right abutment. Maximum height of the spillway section is about 39 feet. The first seven bays at the right end of the dam are multiple arches with buttresses on 25-foot centers; the remaining nine bays have a concrete gravity section below the gates. Spillway control was originally provided by 16 wooden-faced radial gates, each 23 feet wide and 10 feet high. During rehabilitation, the radial gates were replaced with metal stoplogs, and one double-gated river outlet with a capacity of 6,000 cubic feet per second was installed at the center of the dam. During the irrigation season, the stoplogs are used to raise the reservoir elevation 11 feet. Savage Rapids Dam was removed and replaced by a new pumping plant on the Rouge River in 2010. This work was done to aid the recovery of ESA listed anadromous fish.

Pumping Plants

The main pumping plant is at the diversion dam and consists of two hydraucone turbine units that operate under a 29-foot head. One turbine drives a centrifugal pump with a capacity of 75 cubic feet per second against a 90-foot head, and supplies water to the South Highline Canal. The other turbine drives two pumps connected in series, with a capacity of 50 cubic feet per second against a head of 150 feet, and supplies water to the Tokay Canal. In addition to the main pumping plant, there are relift pumping plants to laterals at Allen Creek, with a head of 75.5 feet; at Demaray lateral, with a head of 114 feet; at Dowell Road, with a head of 66 feet; and at Jerome Prairie, with a head of 90 feet. Another small pumping plant, the C-Back, has a 30-foot head.

Canal System

The Main Canal extends from Savage Rapids Dam westward on the south side of the Rogue River for 9.2 miles and has a diversion capacity of 100 cubic feet per second. At about mile 6, the canal divides, with one branch serving an area north of the river through the Northwest Unit pipeline. The South Highline Canal, 14 miles long with a diversion capacity of 70 cubic feet per second, extends from the dam westward on the south side of the valley at a higher elevation than the Main Canal. The Tokay Canal extends from the dam westward on the north side of the river to a few miles beyond Grants Pass. This canal has a total length of 12.5 miles and a diversion capacity of 40 cubic feet per second. Other highline canals, including one on each side of the river eastward to Evans Creek, increase the total canal length to about 67 miles. Laterals deliver the water to project lands.

Anadromous Fish Passage Facilities

Pursuant to a report prepared in 1974, work was authorized and completed on anadromous fish passage facilities at Savage Rapids Dam. Fishways on the south side of the river were repaired and modified. After the 1978 irrigation season, the existing north fish ladder was removed, and a new fishway constructed. This fishway uses turbine discharge for attraction flow, and accommodates a large range of streamflow variations without adjustment.

Operating Agencies

The project is operated and maintained by the Grants Pass Irrigation District.

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The Grants Pass Irrigation District was organized by water users in January 1917. The area of the district was then about 6,000 acres. It originally was planned to irrigate by an extension of the Gravity Canal of the Goldhill Irrigation District, which was further upstream on the Rogue River and was being organized at the same time. That plan was abandoned in 1920 and the present design was adopted to provide for a direct diversion system with permanent pumping units. The original works were constructed with private funds.

The Savage Rapids Diversion Dam was dedicated November 5, 1921, marking the beginning of the operating history of the district. Settlement and clearing of the undeveloped lands, which constituted a high proportion of the district`s area, did not develop to the extent of the expectations upon which the district was founded and financed. As a result, just over one-half of the irrigable area was in production and therefore carried the entire tax burden.

The Savage Rapids Dam and the Northwest Unit pipeline were badly damaged by a flood in 1927. Emergency repairs were made at that time, but lack of sufficient funds prevented satisfactory completion of the work. The cost of maintenance on the pipeline had become almost prohibitive by 1949.


In 1949, the Bureau of Reclamation was requested to replace the old suspension pipeline and siphon with a new buried line under the Rogue River. Several years later Reclamation was asked to rehabilitate Savage Rapids Dam. After thorough investigations, both requests were undertaken and completed. In 1974, the Bureau of Reclamation and Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife investigated and prepared a report on anadromous fish passage improvements at Savage Rapids Dam.

In 1995, the Bureau of Reclamation filed a Final Planning Report/Draft Environmental Statement to enhance the salmon and steelhead populations of the Rogue River by removing Savage Rapids Dam. Two pumping plants, one on the north bank and one on the south bank, would be constructed to lift water into Grants Pass Irrigation District's canal system. This proposed plan is under consideration.


The emergency reconstruction of the Northwest unit pipeline of the Grants Pass Irrigation District was authorized on October 12, 1949, by the Interior Department Appropriation Act, 1950 (63 Stat. 765, Public Law 81-350). Rehabilitation of Savage Rapids Dam was authorized by the Congress on July 9, 1952, in the Department of Interior Appropriation Act, 1953 (66 Stat. 445, Public Law 82-470). Funds were provided by Congress for the construction of fish protective facilities at Savage Rapids Dam on July 2, 1957, by the Public Works Appropriation Act, 1957 (70 Stat. 474, Public Law 84-641). Anadromous fish passage improvements to Savage Rapids Dam were authorized by the Reclamation Development Act of October 27, 1974 (Public Law 93-493, 88 Stat. 1498). The Public Works Appropriation Act, 1976 (89 Stat. 1035, Public Law 94-180) provided for the transfer of funds to the Oregon Fish and Game Commission for work on the south fishway facilities.

The authorized purpose of the Grants Pass Project is irrigation.


Construction of the new buried pipeline under the river to replace the old suspension pipeline was completed during the winter of 1949-50. Savage Rapids Dam was rehabilitated from March 25, 1953, to February 22, 1955. Fishways on both the north and south side of the river were upgraded in the late 1950's. Improvements to the fish passage facilities at the dam were completed in 1978.

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Land ownerships within the project historically have consisted of small acreages. Residential subdivision has been taking place and is expected to continue. Hay and pasture are the principal crops produced on the irrigated areas.

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Last updated: May 16, 2012