FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 30, 2021
Jim McCarthy, WaterWatch of Oregon, 541-708-0048, firstname.lastname@example.org
Fishermen, Conservationists Demand Action Against Outlaw Dam
Known Safety Issues Still Unrepaired on High-Hazard Winchester Dam Seventeen Months After Owners Put on Notice
Roseburg – Yesterday, nineteen local and statewide fishing, conservation, and whitewater groups called on Oregon’s state safety officials to take action as soon as possible to protect public safety below Winchester Dam on the North Umpqua River. One of just twenty state-designated high hazard dams evaluated by officials to be in poor or unsatisfactory condition, the 450-foot wide, 17-foot tall, 130-year-old Winchester Dam is owned and maintained by the Winchester Water Control District to impound a private waterski lake. The dam is categorized as “high hazard” by the Oregon Department of Water Resources primarily due to likely loss of life in the case of dam failure among the people who frequent the river, parks, and boat ramps just downstream.
The letter comes after the Winchester Dam’s owners reneged on a verbal commitment to repair known safety issues at the dam in 2021, after already delaying action for seventeen months on a 2019 request from safety officials for a comprehensive inspection and repair of the derelict dam. Previously, Winchester’s owners ignored or delayed action on warnings regarding leakage under the dam’s south abutment contained in state inspection letters in 2016 and 2017. In late 2018, fear of a dam failure due to the growing leakage precipitated a hurried, unpermitted, and ultimately botched repair at the dam. According to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), pollution from this unprofessional repair degraded aquatic habitat, killed numerous 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. According to a basic inspection of the structure by state officials in 2019, leakage continues under the dam’s south abutment.
For the last year and a half, river advocates have raised alarms with Oregon officials over the dam owners’ chronic non-compliance with state dam safety requirements. In late 2020, advocates succeeded in compelling the District to generate a statutorily required emergency action plan for Winchester Dam to reduce the risk of harm or death to people, public infrastructure, and property below the dam. The District now has until October 2021 to fully complete a new emergency plan, after ignoring repeated requests by state officials to do so over many years. There may be an increased risk of a failure at Winchester Dam in the near term due to recent catastrophic fire in the North Umpqua.
“I live, own property, get my drinking water, and recreate with my family and friends in the river below this dam,” said Jeff Dose, Steamboaters Board Member. “This dam’s record of non-compliance with public safety regulations is of great concern to me, and should be of concern to anyone who gets their drinking water from the City of Roseburg or the Umpqua Basin Water Association, anyone who lives or recreates on the river below the dam, and anyone who cares about the emergency personnel and first responders of Douglas County.”
“We hope that it is only for a little while longer that people, property, public infrastructure, and emergency personnel are at unacceptable risk of harm, financial loss, or disruption because landowners on a private waterski lake could not be bothered to follow rules requiring them to show concern for their neighbors, first responders, and public resources.” said Jim McCarthy, Southern Oregon Program Director for WaterWatch.
“From my perspective, this isn’t just about protecting people and property from irresponsible dam owners,” said Kirk Blaine, Southern Oregon Regional Coordinator for Native Fish Society. “This is about doing what’s right to protect a spectacular and irreplaceable river.”