PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — On Nov. 1, the Oregon Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the Oregon Water Resources Commission’s 2019 decision to deny the building of a 70-foot dam on Drift Creek between Silver Falls State Park and Silverton. The decision ended a 21-year battle to create a 12,000-acre-foot reservoir along Drift Creek, which flows into the Pudding River, to supply more water to farmers in the Mount Angel area.
The dam project was by the East Valley Water District — a collection of roughly 75 farmers settled between the Pudding River and the Cascade foothills affected by groundwater protection laws put in place by the Oregon Water Resources Department. Without a sustainable water supply, the group said that nearly 3 square miles of farmland in the Mount Angel area is at risk of failure.
Those who opposed the dam, like the environmentalist group WaterWatch of Oregon, argued that the project did not include plans for a fish ladder, which would have threatened the creek’s vulnerable populations of steelhead, Pacific lamprey, coho salmon and native coastal cutthroat trout. The East Valley Water District’s plan also aimed to establish a reservoir by forcefully flooding private farmland along the creek.
“The Court agreed that flooding a substantial portion of Drift Creek with a reservoir would conflict with the legally recognized beneficial use of water protected by the instream water right,” WaterWatch Oregon stated following the court’s decision. “The decision is a significant recognition that instream water rights protect streamflows throughout a reach of stream or river rather than just a quantity of water as measured at a point along the stream or river. WaterWatch of Oregon is proud to have played a critical role in preserving the future of Drift Creek and the stability of the habitat and fish that depend on it.”