Three Priority Dam Removals Completed in Rogue’s Applegate Subbasin


October 13, 2021

Jim McCarthy, WaterWatch of Oregon, (541) 941-9450
Brian Barr, Rogue River Watershed Council, (541) 621-7226

Harboldt Dam before and after removal images here:
Credit photos to Crystal Nichols, Rogue River Watershed Council

Three Priority Dam Removals Completed in Rogue’s Applegate Subbasin
Collaborative project benefits salmon and steelhead while meeting private land use needs.

Wilderville, Ore.  —  Last week, work crews finished demolition on three obsolete concrete dams as part of a larger collaborative project to restore access to habitat for native salmon and steelhead in Slate Creek, a key spawning tributary of the Rogue Basin’s Applegate River. Harboldt Dam, listed on the 2019 Statewide Fish Passage Barrier Priority List by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), came out, along with two other fish-blocking dams on Slate tributary Welter Creek. The multi-faceted project significantly improved access to approximately 15 miles of spawning and rearing habitat, replaced the dams’ water diversion function with a fish-friendly, solar powered, screened, and metered pump, replaced 1,000 feet of leaky concrete canal with new pipe, removed a relic road abutment from Slate Creek, and decommissioned a section of logging road along Welter Creek.

Slate and Welter creeks are now entirely free-flowing at the former dam sites for the first time in at least 80 years. Salmon and steelhead gained improved access to some 15 miles of quality habitat in the upper reaches of the creek. Prior to drawdown of the Harboldt Dam reservoir and the commencement of structural demolition, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) led fish salvage operations at the site.

“This is great news for salmon and steelhead, and the many people who love the Rogue River,” said Jim McCarthy, Southern Oregon program director for WaterWatch.”This important river restoration project is a great credit to the many partners who came together to get it done, and demonstrates the need to maintain the federal and state programs that made the project’s funding possible.”

State and federal agencies have identified Slate Creek, and improving access to quality fish habitat in its upper reaches, as important to the recovery of Southern Oregon/Northern California Coast Coho salmon, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. ODFW officials ranked Harboldt Dam in Group 4 of the state’s most significant fish barriers. In addition to Coho salmon, Slate Creek provides spawning and rearing habitat for fall Chinook salmon, summer and winter steelhead, cutthroat trout, Klamath smallscale suckers, and Pacific lamprey. The project addressed the highest priority fish barrier in the Rogue since the Gold Hill Irrigation District Diversion Dam Improvement Project in 2016.

“This project is a strong collaboration between a private landowner and water user, agencies, and non-profit organizations working towards the shared goals of improving fish passage and upgrading irrigation infrastructure,” said John Speece, project manager for Rogue River Watershed Council. “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.”

“There are just a handful of streams in the Rogue Basin that provide quality spawning and rearing opportunities for Coho salmon and the upper reaches of Slate Creek are in that handful,” said Brian Barr, executive director for the Rogue River Watershed Council. “Removing these obsolete dams makes it much easier for these protected Coho to reach 15 miles of prime spawning and nursery habitat, and increases our watershed’s overall resiliency against the harms of climate change.”

WaterWatch previously secured the removal agreements for the dams from the private landowner, which ensured removal at no cost to them. Since then, the group partnered with the Rogue Basin Partnership and the Rogue River Watershed Council to secure funding for the project.

Rogue Basin Partnership secured $70,000 in grant funding from NOAA Fisheries Restoration Center. Additional funding partners include ODFW, Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, Resources Legacy Fund, Blue Sky Habitat Fund, PacifiCorp, Oregon Wildlife Foundation, and Rogue Flyfishers. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) donated raw materials for stream restoration. Rogue River Watershed Council oversaw the contracting for removing the dams, with engineering firm Cascade Stream Solutions providing survey, design, and construction oversight services. PacifiCorp, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, BLM, and Rogue River Watershed Council provided permitting services for this complex project. Borst Engineering and Construction provided Certified Water Right Examiner services. Stream restoration contractors Trask Design and Construction performed the dam demolitions, stream restoration, and installation of fish-friendly water diversion infrastructure.