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Butte Creek Mill risks losing rights to operate water-powered mill, foundation says

The restored Butte Creek Mill could lose its water rights, which have historically powered the millstones.

Posted: Feb 4, 2021 12:22 PM
Updated: Feb 4, 2021 3:05 PM

EAGLE POINT, Ore. — The project to rebuild the Butte Creek Mill faces a major snag, with organizers saying that the mill could lose its rights to use the water that historically powered its millstones.

For 143 years, the non-profit Butte Creek Mill Foundation said in a statement on Thursday, the original mill relied on non-consumptive water rights granted in 1872 to power the millstones. After fire destroyed the mill in 2015, the property was sold to the Foundation for the restoration project, but it was not accompanied by those water rights.

Now the previous owner is considering an offer on the water rights from a third party, the Foundation said, and the potential owner "is not able" to leaseback any of the 1872 water rights.

"The Butte Creek Mill has been promoted as the only commercially operating water-powered grist mill west of the Mississippi River, and it has a valuable historic relevance to our region and state," the Foundation said. "The water the mill briefly borrows from the creek is categorized as 'nonconsumptive' as it is not consumed but rather simply diverted from the creek into the mill to provide power for the turbine, and then released back into the creek."

The Foundation says that losing waterpower to the mill could be devastating without a valid replacement.

To avoid that potential roadblock, the Butte Creek Mill Foundation is asking for help from the community — either through fundraising to buy a portion of the original water rights, or through a donation of alternative water rights to meet the Mill's power needs.

The mill requires an estimated 10 cubic feet per second to power the millstones. The original water rights amounted to between 22 and 23 cubic feet per second. The Foundation estimates that purchasing 10 cfs would cost roughly $257,390.

"If the Foundation is unable to raise these funds, the Butte Creek Mill will likely have to convert to electric power and lose its historic status as a water-powered mill," the Foundation said. "Having access to enough water is vital to the life of the Mill, both now and into the future."

The window of opportunity for purchasing the necessary rights before they are sold is short, the Foundation said. The Butte Creek Mill Foundation's website will have a separate fund set up for the water rights issue.

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