Groups seek to remove old dams on Evans Creek

Groups seek to remove old dams on Evans Creek
Two old dams still block prime spawning habitat on the Rogue River tributary; groups hope to get them removed next year

March 2, 2014

By Mark Freeman
Medford Mail Tribune

Wimer DamTwo of Oregon’s worst wild fish barriers could be removed from Evans Creek as early as the summer of 2015 under a plan to open as much as 70 miles of prime spawning habitat for the Rogue River Basin’s wild salmon and steelhead.

WaterWatch of Oregon has teamed with local conservation groups, angling clubs and state and federal agencies to get the creek’s two unused and abandoned dams — Fielder and Wimer — and their antiquated fish ladders out of the way of migrating salmon, including threatened wild coho.

The dams, which date back more than 100 years, are on the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Top 10 list for worst wild fish impediments in Oregon.

Fielder Dam’s location and design regularly keeps wild salmon from venturing past its base, which is three miles from Evans Creek’s confluence with the Rogue. Wild fish that get above Fielder Dam then must deal with Wimer Dam six miles farther upstream before reaching prime spawning habitat, which rarely happens, biologists say.

Removing them would create regular access to 16 miles of spawning habitat for wild chinook, 60 miles of spawning habitat for wild coho and more than 70 miles of wild steelhead spawning grounds.

“Here is an opportunity to get two of the Top 10 out in a single restoration project,” said WaterWatch attorney Bob Hunter, who is spearheading the project.

“Doing them together maximizes the benefits,” Hunter said. “We can really open up the Evans Creek watershed by removing both of them.”

The consortium has two major grant requests pending to cover the estimated $237,328 needed for the studies, design and permits needed for removal.

ODFW’s Restoration and Enhancement Board is set to consider a $75,000 grant proposal when it meets Thursday in Salem. The board metes out money that comes in part from a $4 surcharge on Oregon sport-fishing licenses.

If that board approves it, the grant would have to pass muster with the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission when it meets in early April.

The group also has a $100,000 grant pending before the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, which likely will consider it later this month.

The remaining costs are expected to be covered by in-kind donations or cash from a large net of angling and conservation groups and ODFW.

The study phase is expected to be completed by June 2015, allowing the group immediately to seek bids for the demolition and restoration work for later that summer.

“That’s providing that we’re not going to find any glitches or problems in that analysis,” Hunter said.

WaterWatch has hired River Design Group to oversee the studies and permitting. That group shepherded the 2009 removal of Savage Rapids Dam from the Rogue near the Jackson/Josephine county border and 2010’s removal of Gold Ray Dam from the Rogue near Gold Hill.

The two dams are on private property. WaterWatch has secured agreements with the landowners to remove the dams at no cost to them.

State and federal agencies have identified restoration of access to high-quality fish habitat in the upper reaches of the Evans Creek Basin as important to the recovery of wild coho, which are listed as threatened throughout Southern Oregon and Northern California — including the Rogue.

The two irrigation diversion dams were abandoned in the 1970s, and no active water rights are associated with them or the small reservoirs they impound.

Fielder Dam stands 19 feet tall, and its poor fish ladder begins with a 2-foot drop that often blocks passage in low-flow periods.

At 11 feet tall, Wimer Dam is smaller, but its fish ladder is even worse than Fielder’s. Both ladders face away from the creek’s regular flow over their tops, making the ladders difficult for fish to find, said Dan VanDyke, ODFW’s Rogue District fish biologist.

“Both ladders aren’t good,” said VanDyke, who will join Hunter in Thursday’s funding pitch to the R&E Board. “You get out there and think, ‘How are fish going to find these?’ I’d love to see things improve there.”