Third Dam Removed, Fish Passage Improved on Evans Creek

By Shaun Hall  |  July 1, 2024  |  Rogue Valley Times

Another small dam has been removed in Southern Oregon to improve fish habitat.

The 150-foot-wide, five-foot-high Williams-Whalen Dam on Evans Creek was demolished last week about 12.7 miles upriver from its confluence with the Rogue River.

“This is great news for salmon and steelhead and the many people who love the Rogue River,” Jim McCarthy, Southern Oregon program director for the nonprofit river conservation organization WaterWatch of Oregon, said in a news release.

Evans Creek is now entirely free-flowing at the former dam site for the first time in 128 years.

Work crews last week finished demolition of the concrete dam, which had no fish ladder and blocked passage to all but adult fish that could manage to propel themselves over it.

The dam, once used for irrigation, was removed at no cost to its owners by a contractor paid with state, federal and local funds.

Its removal marks the third dam on the creek to come out in nine years. The Wimer and Fielder dams were removed previously. At least seven other fish barriers such as dams and culverts remain on the creek.

Evans Creek provides spawning and rearing habitat for Coho salmon, Chinook salmon, cutthroat trout and steelhead, among others. Southern Oregon/Northern California Coast Coho salmon are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

“Removing this obsolete dam which had no fish ladder makes it much easier for these protected Coho to reach 37 miles of prime spawning and nursery habitat, and increases our watershed’s overall resiliency against the harms of climate change,” said Brian Barr, executive director for the Rogue River Watershed Council, according to the news release. “There are just a handful of streams in the Rogue Basin that provide quality spawning and rearing opportunities for Coho salmon, and Evans Creek is in that handful.”

Now that larger dams such as Savage Rapids Dam and Gold Ray Dam on the main stem of the Rogue River have been removed, dams and barriers on smaller creeks and streams are accelerating.

“This project demonstrates the kind of watershed health and landowner benefits that we hope to create more of in the Rogue Basin, and represents a shift in restoration focus to smaller streams now that many of the larger fish passage barriers on the mainstem Rogue River have been addressed,” said John Spence, a project manager for the council. “This project is a strong collaboration between two private landowners, public agencies and non-profit organizations working towards the goal of improving fish passage.”

WaterWatch previously secured dam removal agreements from the two private landowners. Since then, the group partnered with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the Rogue Basin Partnership to secure funding for the project.

Grant funding for the work came from ODFW, $472,000; USFWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, $25,000; and Rogue Basin Partnership, $6,144 from the Resources Legacy Fund. PacifiCorp provided $4,000.

Project partners included Rogue River Watershed Council, River Design Group, Staton Companies, M and M Services, and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The Rogue River Watershed Council oversaw the contracting for removing the dam, blackberry removal and riparian fencing.

This article originally appeared in the July 1st, 2024, issue of the Rogue Valley Times.