Voices from the river

Voices from the River: Turning tragedy into tools for trout

Bob Russell, owner of the Butte Creek Mill and savior of salmon and steelhead.

By Chrysten Lambert

On Christmas Day, 2015 tragedy struck the historic Butte Creek Mill when it burned to the ground. The flour mill, which is located on the banks of Little Butte Creek, was the only remaining hydro-powered mill still in commercial production west of the Mississippi River. The mill was also the centerpiece of the little town of Eagle Point, Oregon.

Little Butte Creek is an important tributary to the famed Rogue River, and provides key spawning and rearing habitat for native steelhead and coho salmon. Trout Unlimited is working here and in other parts of the upper Rogue watershed to protect intact habitat, bolster streamflows and restore degraded in-stream and riparian conditions. One of our most effective tactics is to work with water rights holders to lease or donate a portion of their water for instream flows when fish need it most.

alt=”” title=”” />(L) The former Butte Creek Mill.

The Butte Creek Mill’s owner, Bob Russell, is a valued partner in this effort, and is doing his best to protect the Rogue’s amazing fishery despite his personal tragedy. Recently, Mr. Russell worked with Trout Unlimited to dedicate the mill’s water rights to instream flow in 2017, protecting over 20 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water in this vital tributary.

This instream lease will prevent upstream junior water rights holders from taking the water that normally would have been used to power the mill, assuring steelhead and salmon will have adequate flow and cold water to reach their spawning grounds, and for juvenile fish to rear successfully. This instream lease will also assure that scenic Little Butte Creek will continue to flow through center of Eagle Point—a critical recreational resource for the community.

alt=”” title=”” />TU salutes Bob Russell’s commitment to his community and to the native salmon and steelhead in his back yard. Click here to learn more about the historic mill. To learn more about TU’s conservation efforts in south-central Oregon, contact Chrysten Lambert, TU’s Oregon Water Project Director, at clambert@tu.org.

Chrysten Lambert is Oregon Water Project Director for Trout Unlimited.

Photo credits: Butte Creek Mill – By Byrnstar – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20297321 ; NF Little Butte Creek courtesy US Forest Service