FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
FOR HEARING CALL-IN INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT:
Jim McCarthy, WaterWatch of Oregon, 541-941-9450, firstname.lastname@example.org
July 13th, 2021
Salem – Today, river advocates were again working to hold a polluter accountable for a botched October 2018 repair at Winchester Dam on the North Umpqua River. An Oregon administrative law judge has scheduled three days of hearings beginning Tuesday July 13 as part of an ongoing state-level contested case over a $53,578 fine issued by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) against Basco Logging, Inc., the longtime primary contractor for repairs at the 450-foot wide, 17-foot tall, 130-year-old Winchester Dam. WaterWatch of Oregon, Steamboaters, Native Fish Society, Umpqua Watersheds, and Oregon Wild intervened in the case on behalf of the river, water quality, fish, and wildlife, and are represented by Crag Law Center.
The hearing is accessible to reporters and the public via call-in.
According to state investigators, pollution from the 2018 repairs at the dam degraded aquatic habitat, killed fish, and harmed the primary drinking water source for the City of Roseburg and the Umpqua Basin Water Association – serving approximately 37,700 people combined. Investigators also found that dam repairs were conducted without following known best management practices, even after authorities provided the dam owners with information in advance on how to protect water quality and fish. Winchester Dam lies entirely within state designated Essential Salmonid Habitat and federally designated critical habitat for Oregon Coast Coho salmon protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The judge has already ruled against some arguments of the district’s former president and current resident and director, who claimed that their dam repairs should be exempt from state water quality laws. In issuing her ruling, the judge noted that “DEQ provided an abundance of evidence” in support of its allegations of unlawful waste discharge into the North Umpqua, as well as “very persuasive photographic evidence showing highly visible sediment discharge originating from the dam repair activities.”
Since the early 1990s, Basco Logging – the company of a former president and current resident and director of the Winchester Water Control District – has served as the primary repair contractor at the District’s dam. Before seeking that the fine be thrown out, Basco Logging admitted in writing to some water quality violations. On average, Winchester Dam repairs have occurred once every three years since the 1960s, but public records show no permits for these repairs.
Unfortunately, 2018 likely wasn’t the first time Winchester Dam repairs polluted drinking water supplies and harmed North Umpqua fish and wildlife. Public records describe “leakage” during one previous repair and a state official complaining to the contractor “about cement in the river and no permits.” State records also show the dam owners have at other times repaired the dam by installing large numbers of pressure treated wood planks. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Human Services recommend that treated wood not be used where it may come in direct or indirect contact with public drinking water. Winchester Dam is just 50 feet upstream from Roseburg’s public drinking water intake.
The river advocates intervening in this case are part of a larger coalition of fishing, conservation, and whitewater groups working to raise alarm bells with government officials over the Winchester Water Control District’s chronic non-compliance with state and federal repair permitting, engineering, water quality, and dam safety requirements as well as their disregard for protections for fish and wildlife despite the essential habitat importance of the North Umpqua for salmon and steelhead. According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Winchester Dam impedes access to 160 miles of high quality habitat for salmon and steelhead. Recently, the coalition forced the owners to finally agree to a schedule for bringing their emergency preparedness into compliance with state law for the first time in decades.
Kirk Blaine, Southern Oregon Regional Coordinator, Native Fish Society:
“With an outdated and crumbling fish ladder, multiple holes in the crib, and exposed tierod, this dam is a complete liability for the native fish and communities of the North Umpqua River. We ask that state and federal agencies continue to ensure that the river, fish, and communities remain unharmed in all future attempts to repair or replace the dam. The best option for fish and people would be to remove this outdated, derelict dam.
Tim Goforth, President, Steamboaters
“The Steamboaters believe that the continued deterioration of this 130-year-old dam not only threatens the upstream and downstream migration of salmon and steelhead, but also threatens the water supply for the city of Roseburg. The continued unpermitted repair efforts by Winchester Water Control District are inadequate to solve the problem.”
Ken Carloni, Vice President, Umpqua Watersheds:
“Beyond our serious concerns for threatened fish runs, our neighbors living downstream are in unacceptable risk from the very real possibility of a catastrophic dam failure. With extreme climate-driven weather events becoming more and more common, this dilapidated wood-crib dam is a ticking bomb.”
Doug Heiken, Conservation and Restoration Coordinator, Oregon Wild:
“This 130-year-old dam just does not make sense anymore. The fish and the community would be better off if we remove this poorly-maintained dam and restore a free-flowing North Umpqua.”