Stearns Dam Removal, Crooked River, Oregon

Stearns Dam, Crooked River, OR - photo by River Design Group

Stearns Dam, Crooked River, OR – photo by River Design Group

In October 2013, Stearns Dam joined a list of other note-worthy Pacific Northwest dams: Elwha, Condit, Marmot and Savage Rapids when it was removed from the Crooked River. This project to restore fish passage and river processes to the Crooked River had been in development for 10 years. Implementation was realized with the assistance of funding partners the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, American Rivers, and the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board. Dam removal began October 24, 2013.

Stearns Dam was a six-foot tall, 150 foot wide, rock- and log-filled structure covered with concrete. A pioneering family led by patriarch Sidney Stearns constructed the dam in 1911. The family used the structure to divert water from the Crooked River onto their ranch lands for irrigation. During these early years and prior to the construction of Bowman Dam upstream, raging floodwaters would sweep through the narrow river canyon above the ranch and wash out portions of the dam requiring repairs the following season. In 1934, the damage sustained from the winter season was beyond repair and the dam was rebuilt with a concrete shell placed over the top.

The Crooked River Watershed Council and it funding partners, as well as the site’s landowner, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and the current owners of the structure, Quail Valley Ranch, collaborated on this project. Stearns Dam is being removed to assist in the fish reintroduction program underway in the larger Deschutes Basin. The Crooked River is the Deschutes River’s largest tributary. By providing fish passage at the site, 12 additional miles of the Crooked River’s best fish habitat will be available. Target fish species for this project are Chinook salmon and Middle Columbia steelhead, both anadromous species that historically utilized the Crooked River.