Fielder Dam. (WaterWatch)
In the wake of failed efforts to broker the voluntary removal of the Rogue Basin’s defunct Fielder Dam, Earthjustice, representing WaterWatch of Oregon, has filed suit in U.S. District Court, contending that the dam harms threatened coho salmon in violation of the Endangered Species Act.
WaterWatch, a river conservation organization, also asserts that the landowners have a duty under state law to provide adequate fish passage at the 25-foot-high dam, or remove it. It is seeking a court order to resolve these issues.
Completely spanning Evans Creek three miles upstream of its confluence with the Rogue River, Fielder Dam made headlines recently after Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife officials ranked the 79-year-old structure among the top ten most significant fish barriers on Oregon’s Statewide Fish Passage Priority List.
Fish kill at the Fielder Dam ladder in 2000. (WaterWatch)
Prior to the listing, numerous biologists had concluded that the dam’s outdated fish ladder is inadequate, and blocks or impedes passage of coho salmon, fall chinook salmon, summer and winter steelhead, Pacific lamprey, suckers, and cutthroat trout. In addition, state and federal agencies have identified Evans Creek, and restoring access to high quality fish habitat in its upper reaches, as important to the recovery of threatened coho.
Government agencies, political leaders, and nonprofit groups have tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a voluntary removal of Fielder Dam over the last ten years. WaterWatch staff in particular made a concerted effort with the dam’s owners over the last year. The conservation group has played a leading role in achieving removal of other Rogue Basin dams listed on previous editions of the Statewide Fish Passage Priority List, including Savage Rapids Dam and Gold Ray Dam.
Originally built solely for irrigation diversion in 1934, Fielder Dam fell into disuse in the 1980s. Today, no one uses the dam to divert water for irrigation, and no storage rights were ever issued to maintain the reservoir created by the dam.