Denial of Permit to Build Dam on Drift Creek Marks Major Legal Victory for Instream Water Rights

Court upholds Oregon Water Resources Commission determination that the dam would harm fish and habitat.

Good news: WaterWatch of Oregon has won the latest round in its fight to stop construction of a 70-foot-high dam on Drift Creek, a tributary of the Pudding River in Marion County. On Wednesday, the Oregon Court of Appeals upheld the state Water Resource Commission’s denial of a permit for the proposed project, which would block fish passage and bury about three miles of the stream under a 350-acre reservoir.

With no dams from the Willamette River to its headwaters, Drift Creek provides important habitat for fish including cutthroat trout, coho salmon and threatened Willamette Basin winter steelhead. In 1996, the state provided protection for the stream by giving it an instream water right – in other words, a right to keep water in the stream.

In upholding the denial of a permit for the reservoir project, the Court of Appeals agreed with the Oregon Water Resources Commission that the proposed dam and reservoir would defeat the purpose of the instream water right by harming the fish it was meant to protect. It’s a big deal – and a big win.

Crafted in large part by WaterWatch of Oregon during its first years of advocacy, the state’s landmark 1987 Instream Water Rights Act enables a process by which regulatory agencies can apply to protect stretches of waterways for instream water flows to preserve the integrity of water naturally flowing in the channel of a stream, river, or other designated waterway from being siphoned away.

WaterWatch of Oregon is proud to have played a critical role in preserving the future of Drift Creek and the integrity of its instream water right. Special thanks to outside counsel Tom Christ, who argued the case for WaterWatch on appeal. With your help, we can continue to protect our state’s rivers, creek, native fish and wildlife, and the communities that rely upon them.

Thank you for your ongoing support! Visit our press release for more.

Support our work! Contribute and become a WaterWatch member today.