Dam coming down; Bear River to flow free again
By Mikaylie Kartchner
September 7, 2006 | In Caribou County, Idaho,
about 38 miles north of the Utah border, in a
place engulfed by farmers and fisherman, a construction
team is well into its work on the Cove Dam. But
the workers aren't repairing. This time the dump
trucks, backhoes and hard-hat soldiers are destroying.
This time Cove Dam is coming down.
After 89 years on the Bear River, Cove Dam is
being removed and the river is being restored
to its natural state, or at least as close as
Pacificorp Inc., the owners of the dam, can get
"I think we have pretty high standards as far
as our expectations," said Eve Davies, lead hydro-environmental
analyst for Pacificorp. "The intent is that the
water be in the river."
Cove Dam has been producing power for Pacificorp
since 1917, at least until three years ago, when
the dam was shut down because of aging problems
with the flume, the pipe that carries water to
With Cove out of operation and Pacificorp needing
to renew its operation license, the Federal Energy
Regulatory Commission (FERC) wanted a study done
examining several things including costs of repair,
fish passage and the possibility of removing the
dam. In the end, the company decided removal of
the dam was the best option for everyone.
"The Cove story is a balance story," said Mark
Stenberg, an environmental coordinator at Pacificorp.
"It's a party agreement for all stock holders
and eventually everyone was comfortable."
"The Cove story is a balance story," says Mark
Stenberg of Pacificorp, above. Below, Cove Dam
from the dugway, and at bottom, from the edge
of the dam. / Photos by Mikaylie Kartchner
The news of Cove's decommission was more than comfortable
for many environmentalists, fisherman and canoeers in
the area. Removal of the dam opens up miles of river
that was previously unavailable for recreational activities.
"We should be bringing champagne," said Bryan Dixon,
a Cache Valley resident and member of Audubon, a society
concerned with the conservation and restoration of natural
Deconstruction of the dam will take place in several
stages. It started with the removal of the flume and
the construction of a temporary dam called a cofferdam.
The coffer will dewater the main dam on the top and
the bottom so it can be removed.
After removal, a hole will be cut in the coffer and
the river will be lead back into its natural course
and some of the built-up sediment will be released down
the river. Then the cofferdam will then be removed and
the newly exposed sediment from the reserve area will
be seeded and landscaped with shrubs and naturally occurring
plants to hold it in place.
Once decommission is completed and the area has been
restored, Pacificorp will spend several years monitoring
the area to make sure no problems arise.
The flume has already been taken down and the cofferdam
has been put in place. Removal of the dam is scheduled
to start next week. The whole decommission of Cove Dam
is estimated to take about $3 million.
Along with that $3 million, $465,000 have been set
aside by Pacifcorp for projects to improve the surrounding
land, water quality in the river, and habitats for local
wildlife. Some of these projects include fencing projects
to keep cattle from grazing on the river, which Davies
said can significantly improve the area.
"[Pacificorp] seem to have the belief they should
take as good of care of the environment as they can,"
Dixon said. "Pacificorp projects cause a lot of environmental
damage, but when they decide to do a project with environmental
benefits, they do it right."
Although for many Cove disappearing is a cause for
celebration, there are some who are sad to see it go.
In a dam built with mule teams and steam engines, there
is a lot of history built up, not to mention jobs of
those who have been maintaining and operating the dam.
Pacificorp representatives would not give an exact number,
but they said "there were jobs lost."
Removing Cove is "an emotional thing," Davies
All of the dam and most of the power plant, which
is several miles down river, is being removed. However,
the power plant building itself is being left to preserve
a little bit of Cove's history.