Elk Creek Dam Fact Sheet

Elk Creek Dam drawing 

  • Construction of Elk Creek Dam began in 1986 but was halted the following year by federal courts because it would harm salmon and other fish.  This was the result of a challenge by Oregon Wild. The dam now stands only one-third built.
  • More than $100 million in taxpayer money has been spent so far on Elk Creek Dam. It was estimated several years ago that it will cost at least an additional $70 million to finish the project, if salmon protections and environmental rules were suspended.
  • The US Army Corps of Engineers several years ago estimated Elk Creek Dam's cost-benefit ratio at 5-to-1. That's $5 of cost for every $1 of conceivable economic benefit.
  • The initial purpose of the dam--providing flood control--is no longer needed due to the completion of two other projects in the same river basin: the Applegate and Lost Creek Dams. In addition, more stringent controls on construction in the basin's flood plain and lower- than-projected growth rates in the area have eliminated the need for Elk Creek Dam's flood-control capabilities.
  • Another original purpose of the dam was to provide irrigation water. But as early as 1975, the corps withdrew irrigation as a potential benefit because the federal Bureau of Reclamation found the irrigation plan was not economically feasible.
  • The Corps once suggested Elk Creek will help provide water to the area, but demand for stored water in the Rogue River Basin has been a tiny fraction of the storage capacity of Lost Creek Lake alone. The Corps' own documents say "there is no identified economic justification for water supply storage at Elk Creek."
  • The original authorization for the project also predicted improved recreation opportunities for the area. However, no one has been willing to share in the cost of developing recreation facilities at Elk Creek Lake, as required by federal law.
  • The Elk Creek Dam also was supposed to enhance local fisheries and other wildlife habitat, but no water for fisheries enhancement was authorized at the project site. In addition, in January 1993, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) wrote the Corps of Engineers stating: "We are unaware of any other proven fish passage technique that has promise for effective fish passage at this project." The NMFS further stated that "any operation of the dam to fulfill flood control purposes will damage anadromous fish habitat."
  • Anything short of breaching the existing structure blocking Elk Creek will further threaten the Rogue basin's already dwindling runs of wild coho salmon and steelhead. With southern Oregon coho now listed as threatened, and steelhead similarly proposed, additional dam construction on anadromous fish streams undercuts the credibility of proposed salmon recovery plans, and would only further hasten the listing of other area salmonid species. Any future construction would now also require Section 7 consultation under the Endangered Species Act.
  • The existing trap-and-haul program at Elk Creek Dam is killing salmon; will never help restore these fish and is more expensive than breaching the dam. In a 1999 letter the National Marine Fisheries Service to the Corps of Engineers stated, "The existing trap-and-haul facility below Elk Creek Dam is grossly inadequate for long-term passage of coho and steelhead around the dam…" A take is occurring due to the physical limitations of the instream trapping facility, and "excessive fish handling" is additionally "resulting in stress and potential injury."
  • Above the dam site, the Elk Creek watershed accounts for 10 percent of the area accessible to anadromous salmonids in the upper Rogue River basin. However, the Elk Creek watershed above the damsite provides approximately 44 percent of the suitable spawning and rearing habitat for upper Rogue coho salmon, and 15-20 percent of the spawning habitat for upper Rogue steelhead.
  • The project should have never been undertaken in the first place even if there had been no danger to fish and their habitat. Elk Creek is one of the last federal dams authorized under former policies of full federal funding. It would require state matching money today, and would get none.