Butte Creek Mill Partnership Secures Permanent Water Protections

For Immediate Release


Chrysten Rivard, chrysten.rivard@tu.org, (541) 973-4431

Jay (Howard) O’Neil, joneil@ksu.edu, (785) 410‐2303

Bob Russell, rrussell1950@aol.com, (503) 880‐2147

Sharing the Water: Partnership Secures Permanent Water Protections to Benefit Native Fish and Keep a Historic Mill Operating in Oregon’s Rogue River Basin

Eagle Point, Oregon – A long-term collaboration between the Butte Creek Mill Foundation, Trout Unlimited, and the mill’s previous owner has secured a senior water right in Little Butte Creek, an important tributary of the Rogue River, permanently protecting critical flows for the creek. The partners are celebrating the finalization of their forward-looking plan because it simultaneously protects critical fish passage and habitat for key populations of salmon, steelhead, and other species of native fish while guaranteeing the ability of the historic Butte Creek Mill to continue operations and rebuilding efforts following a devasting fire in 2015. It is the largest water right transaction of its kind in Oregon to date.

With generous funding support from the Oregon Water Resources Department, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Restoration and Enhancement Board, and the Medford Water Commission, Trout Unlimited purchased the existing water right from Bob Russell, the mill’s previous owner. According to the partnership’s agreement, a portion of the water right has transferred to the State of Oregon to permanently protect instream flows on Little Butte Creek to support ecosystem function, community benefits, improved water quality, and fish passage requirements.

Because the water right is among the most senior rights within the entire Rogue Basin and in such an important location within the watershed, this new, permanent commitment to instream flow will prevent de-watering of up to twelve miles of Little Butte Creek during the summer and fall or periods of water shortages. In addition, it will also restore flow to an 1800-foot section of the creek between the mill’s intake and outflow, which prior to the instream transfer caused a seasonal barrier to fish migration, especially Fall Chinook.

The remaining portion of the water right will continue to power the Butte Creek Mill’s historic and unique milling operations before being returned to Little Butte Creek instream flows. The mill, originally built in 1872, is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. It is on the National Register of Historic Places as the last water-powered grist mill still commercially operating west of the Mississippi. Through the efforts of the Foundation, the Butte Creek Mill is being rebuilt to restore this important landmark and historic site.

Jay O’Neil, Board Chair of the Butte Creek Mill Foundation: “From the beginning, this collaboration always required a broad range of diverse goals be met to be successful. Working together, we found a solution that will not only preserve the mill’s ability to rebuild and continue historic operations, it will also help protect the long-term health of the Little Butte Creek watershed.

Bob Russell, the mill’s previous owner: “My wife, Debbie, and I purchased the historic Butte Creek Mill and accompanying water right over seventeen years ago. During those years, I was approached many times by parties interested in the water right. Trout Unlimited showed early interest and I have worked with them for years. After the fire, they went out of their way to work out a deal to ensure the Butte Creek Mill Foundation will continue to be the last water-powered commercially operating mill west of the Mississippi River. That was very important to me, and I want to thank Trout Unlimited and the funders for their efforts to make it happen.”

Chrysten Rivard, Trout Unlimited Oregon Director: “In these times of water scarcity, trust and collaboration between stakeholders is critical to establish the durable solutions needed to balance the requirements of struggling populations of native fish and our local communities. We’re looking forward to continuing to work closely with our partners at the Butte Creek Mill Foundation and thank Bob Russell for his commitment to water conservation.”

Dan Van Dyke, Rogue District Fish Biologist, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife: “Our native fish need water to survive. They need quality water to thrive. And they need to be able to migrate freely to find quality water that meets their needs throughout life. Keeping this water in Little Butte Creek while also meeting the needs of the Foundation is truly a win. Our native fish—Chinook and Coho Salmon, wild Steelhead, Cutthroat Trout, Klamath Smallscale Suckers, and Pacific lamprey—will benefit, as will the angling public.”

The Butte Creek Mill Foundation (www.buttecreekmill.com) was formed to rebuild and continue operations at the historic Butte Creek Mill following the fire on Christmas of 2015. Today the Butte Creek Mill is a combination of commercial nonprofit business, tourist location, and educational venue. It is managed and operated by community volunteer support and is dedicated to preserving history, recreating an important community landmark and gathering place, and producing healthy whole grain products for all to enjoy.

Trout Unlimited (www.tu.org) is the nation’s oldest and largest coldwater fisheries conservation organization dedicated to caring for and recovering America’s rivers and streams so our children can experience the joy of wild and native trout and salmon. Across the country, TU brings to bear local, regional, and national grassroots organizing, durable partnerships, science-backed policy muscle, and legal firepower on behalf of trout and salmon fisheries, healthy waters, and vibrant communities.

Little Butte Creek Project: Background Information

Butte Creek Mill

  • The Butte Creek Mill was built in 1872 near the confluence of Little Butte Creek and the Rogue River in Southern Oregon. It is the oldest commercial water-powered grist mill west of the Mississippi River and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is major regional tourist attraction and a foundation of the Eagle Point community and economy. Butte Creek Mill celebrates its 150th anniversary this year.
  • Tragically, a fire destroyed the original mill in 2015. The Butte Creek Mill Foundation was formed soon after and began an ambitious restoration effort. The Foundation now owns the mill. While construction work remains, rebuilding has proceeded to such a degree that the mill is once again producing flour and the Country Store will soon be open on a limited basis for on-site retail sales.
  • The mill’s original buhr stones were quarried outside of Paris, France and assembled into four-foot diameter millstones in Moline, Illinois. They survived the fire and are still being used today. The Butte Creek Mill is currently milling three types of wheat (Hard Red Winter, Hard White, and Soft Red Winter) into flour and producing fifteen different packaged mixes for sale.

Water Right

  • This water right is among the most senior in the entire Rogue River watershed. It is critical to sustaining flow in Little Butte Creek through the city of Eagle Point and downstream to where the creek joins the Rogue River. Bob Russell, the previous mill owner, retained the water when the Butte Creek Mill Foundation was formed.
  • The water right provides a diversion rate that varies seasonally between 22.62 and 24.40 cubic feet per second (cfs). It is a non-consumptive water right originally intended to provide power to drive the grist mill’s operation.
  • The purchase agreement between Trout Unlimited, the Butte Creek Mill Foundation, and Bob Russell divides the water right into two portions. The first portion will permanently transfer 6.62 ‐ 8.4 cfs to instream flow for the benefit of fish and wildlife. The second portion will be held by Trout Unlimited and the contract between organizations ensures the remaining 16 cfs of the water right is available for use by the mill. It is the largest water right transaction of its kind in Oregon to date.

Little Butte Creek

  • Little Butte Creek joins the Rogue River near Eagle Point, Oregon.
  • It is considered one of the most important tributaries in the Upper Rogue Basin for Fall Chinook and Coho Salmon, and both summer and winter Steelhead production. It is also important to populations of Cutthroat Trout, Klamath Smallscale Suckers, and Pacific lamprey. Coho Salmon are listed as threatened on the federal Endangered Species List.
  • Little Butte Creek also provides recreational opportunities to the region and community.