PORTLAND – A tiny, unnamed stream in the Willamette Valley became the center of Oregon’s long-running battle over salmon and dams on Thursday when the state high court delivered a resounding victory for advocates of wild migratory fish.
The Oregon Supreme Court ruled that the state’s wildlife department has for years incorrectly interpreted its rules concerning the needs of migratory fish through dams. The court ruled that the department must enforce a state law that puts the needs of the fish’s passage ahead of the dams owners’ right to determine the best needs of their water rights.
Charles and Deborah Noble own a property upstream from two small, private dams, and made improvements on the stream to allow for cutthroat trout habitat and migration.
The dams allowed for fish to travel over their tops when the water level was high enough, which the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife found was sufficient to permit fish to migrate.
But the Nobles argued that the fish passages were insufficient, and the department had illogical rules regarding when dam owners needed to allow fish passage through the dams — the department held that owners only need to allow fish passage when water was between 5 percent and 95 percent of its total capacity.
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