The Balm Grove Dam. Photo: Chas Hundley

BALM GROVE - A project to remove a near century-old dam spanning Gales Creek at Balm Grove is on hold after funding for the project never materialized. 

The Balm Grove dam removal project was once envisioned as a way to mitigate negative impacts to fish habitat caused by the Tualatin Basin Dam Safety & Water Supply Joint Project at Hagg Lake. 

That project aims to address a projected water supply shortfall in the Tualatin Valley. The project would also address the seismically unsound Scoggins Dam, which, according to United States Bureau of Reclamation engineers would be particularly vulnerable to a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake.

Three options to address the dam are on the table, with cost estimates ranging from $750 million to $1 billion, according to Clean Water Services. 

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The first option would be to modify the existing dam on Scoggins Creek. According to tualatinbasinwatersupply.org, a website maintained by Clean Water Services, this option would address the seismic issues posed by the existing dam, constructed in 1975, but would not increase any water supply.

The second option would be to modify and raise the existing dam, which would ideally allow it to withstand a major earthquake and increase the depth of Hagg Lake by 17.5 feet.

The third option would be to construct an entirely new dam further downstream, below the Stimson Lumber Company mill, creating a new 900-foot long dam that would be seismically sound, and stretch the lake further out without raising the water level. 

For any of those three choices, the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife requires that the agencies involved find a way to mitigate the negative impact on local fish species, and Clean Water Services identified removing the Balm Grove Dam as a potential way to accomplish that.

The property, which lends its name to the surrounding Gales Creek neighborhood of Balm Grove, was once the site of a popular swimming hole, park, and tavern among other uses.

Balm Grove was purchased from a private landowner in 2016 by Clean Water Services with the help of funds from the Portland Metro Regional Government and the Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District.

Clean Water Services had an ambitious goal to remove the dam, reduce damage to the eroding creek bank,and restore stream habitat for fish species including winter steelhead, coho salmon, coastal cutthroat trout and Pacific lamprey, among other species.

And while some work has been done, with rickety outbuildings demolished, the old tavern repainted, native shrubs and trees planted and other restoration projects completed, the main goal of removing the dam has yet to materialize. 

Clean Water Services had planned a tentative dam removal date of summer 2019, but summer came and went without any apparent forward progress on the dam. 

“Removal of the fish barrier in Gales Creek at Balm Grove remains a priority for the partners,” said Shannon Huggins, a spokesperson for Clean Water Services, in an email to the Gales Creek Journal. 

According to Huggins, the agency has run into permitting issues, and as a result, the Balm Grove project is no longer a likely candidate to mitigate impacts for the Tualatin Basin Dam Safety & Water Supply Joint Project. 

“The partners continue to look for other ways to fund the project,” Huggins added. 

Scott McEwen, Executive Director of the Tualatin River Watershed Council, said in an email to Gales Creek residents that the dam will remain in place until at least 2021. 

“We’re hopeful that we can identify a funding source by summer 2021,” McEwen said.