Hold Winchester Dam Owners Accountable Now

We need your help asking Governor Kotek and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) to hold Winchester Water Control District (WWCD) accountable for the harm and killing of state sensitive species on the North Umpqua River in Douglas County. Click here to submit your letter.

On Aug. 7th, WWCD began repairs on the dilapidated Winchester Dam on the North Umpqua River to the minimum extent necessary to address public safety issues. Despite river advocates raising concerns about the high-impact method of the proposed repairs, and formally requesting that agencies use available authorities to require a less impactful method, the high-impact, low-cost plan was permitted by our government agencies — including ODFW.

Specifically, ODFW allowed the repairs to drain the reservoir pool and block upstream fish migration for three weeks, instead of requiring a common dam repair method which would not have drained the pool nor stopped upstream migration. As a result, repairs have been nothing short of disastrous.

Hundreds of thousands of Pacific lamprey have been killed, water polluted with wet concrete was spilled into the river, fill materials such as boulders forming a roadbed upstream of the dam have been left in designated essential salmonid habitat, mats for heavy machinery made from old tires likely containing chemicals toxic to salmon were used in the river and river bed during repairs, and agencies granted extensions to block migration for Summer Steelhead, Spring Chinook, Lamprey, and ESA-listed Coho salmon.

To top it all off, WWCD and the repair contractor, Terra Firma Foundation Systems, installed large horizontal I-beams to reinforce the dam’s structure. These I-beams sit just behind the water curtain, or false attraction flow, at an ideal height for jumping salmon or steelhead to slam their heads into the structure, become caught in the trough of the I-beam, or fall between the I-beam and the old, disintegrating wall of the dam. The contractor also installed large steel attachment struts with sharp edges that project like fish spears or bludgeons from the dam face at typical jump heights.

More recently, WWCD applied for an extension from Aug. 31st through Sept. 6th. ODFW and other agencies granted this extension with specific terms and conditions, including adult migratory fish passage at Winchester Dam. Nevertheless, river advocates did not observe fish ladder conditions approaching possible fish passage until Sept. 5th.

Thankfully, this ecological disaster is coming to an end. Fish passage is being restored and native migratory fish will once again be able to access the 160 miles of habitat upstream. But fish migration has been blocked for 30 days — an unacceptable timeframe for any river with or without native migratory fish.

It’s now time for us to demand that ODFW hold dam owners accountable. We know from previous experience in 2013 that during similarly disastrous repairs at the very same dam ODFW will do nothing to hold dam owners accountable unless the public demands it. You have the power to make ODFW act.

Please take action today by asking the Governor and the ODFW Commission to investigate these reported violations, and if they are substantiated, to bring enforcement action to the fullest extent possible.

Together, we can end the ongoing harm from Winchester Dam. Please encourage the ODFW Commission to support the removal of Winchester Dam and restore a free-flowing North Umpqua River that benefits fish, wildlife, and the Oregon communities that depend on it.

If you would like to testify to the ODFW Commission in person at their next meeting in Bend on Friday, Sept. 15th, at Seventh Mountain Resort, click here for information and to sign up for a slot, and please contact WaterWatch’s Jim McCarthy at jim@waterwatch.org to let us know you plan on attending.