Evans Creek Dam Removal
In 2015, after many years of planning, the Fielder and Wimer dams – two of the worst fish impediments in the state of Oregon – were finally removed from Evans Creek, an important salmon and steelhead tributary of the Rogue River. Geos Institute acted as the project manager for both dam removals, technical projects involving a host of players, logistics, and permits. Now that these dams are gone, 16 miles of Chinook habitat, 60 miles of coho habitat, and more than 70 miles of steelhead habitat are once again open and accessible for local fish.
Constructed more than a hundred years ago as irrigation diversions, by the 21st century the Fielder and Wimer dams had become virtually abandoned. They served no active water rights and had no operator, prompting the Department of Fish and Wildlife to list them among the top-10 worst barriers to fish passage in the state.
After securing access agreements with the property owners, the necessary funding, and partner groups, Geos Institute assumed responsibility for project management. Together with River Design Group, we developed a plan to safely remove each dam and reclaim the construction site by eliminating debris, decommissioning site access roads, and seeding riparian areas for erosion control, turning Evans Creek back into a free-flowing river.
Dam removal took place in the summer of 2015. Historically low water levels amplified turbidity issues, resulting in limited working hours to manage downstream water quality. High wildfire activity also impacted the project. Despite these challenges, both dams were removed by mid-September, in time for the fall Chinook run.
Brian Barr, the project manager for Freeways for Fish, describes the feeling of seeing a river flow free after more than a century. “Honestly, where I kind of tear up, or well up, or get really excited…it’s when I have to go back and take repeat photos and I’ll look at the picture I have. ‘Okay, I was standing on this rock and that three was in the middle of the frame and there’s a big piece of concrete.’ And then I set it down, and I frame up that same image. And it’s a creek. That’s where I feel it.”