In the wake of failed efforts to broker the voluntary removal of the Rogue Basin’s defunct Fielder Dam, Earthjustice, representing WaterWatch of Oregon, filed suit in U.S. District Court, contending that the dam harms threatened coho salmon in violation of the Endangered Species Act.
Another dam upstream, the Winner Dam, was also in line for possible challenge.
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.
Prior to the listing, numerous biologists had concluded that the dam’s outdated fish ladder is inadequate, and blocks or impedes passage of coho salmon, fall chinook salmon, summer and winter steelhead, Pacific lamprey, suckers, and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.
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.