ODFW Cites “Significant and Preventable” Fish Kill in $27 Million Complaint Against Winchester Dam

Oct. 6, 2023


Tommy Hough, tommy@waterwatch.org
Jim McCarthy, jim@waterwatch.org

Department of Fish and Wildlife Cites “Significant and Preventable” Fish Kill in $27 Million Complaint Against Winchester Dam
Huge financial penalty among the largest issued by an Oregon state agency.

Salem, Oregon  —  Citing the “significant and preventable” death of at least 550,000 Pacific lamprey during repair work at the privately-owned Winchester Dan on the North Umpqua River this summer, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) levied a substantial claim of $27.6 million for recovery of damages against the Winchester Water Control District (WWCD), which represents dam owners and the community of wealthy homeowners that own and operate the resulting reservoir behind it.

The fine is among the largest of its kind issued as a penalty for violating Oregon environmental law, though advocates of the North Umpqua River cite previous – and unpunished – violations of state and federal environmental law during similar construction projects on Winchester Dam.

According to Jim McCarthy, Southern Oregon Program Director for WaterWatch of Oregon, “This is great news for the North Umpqua and salmon and steelhead, and for the people who love and depend on this incredible river.”

One of the long-time local leaders on the coalition opposed to Winchester Dam in conjunction with the Native Fish Society, Steamboaters, and other organizations, McCarthy was one of dozens of North Umpqua advocates who warned agencies of the pending environmental disaster when Winchester Dam owners announced they were gearing up for repairs earlier this year. Regarding ODFW’s number of 550,000 fish killed, McCarthy said, “We believe this is a conservative estimate for fish mortality, and will hold up in court.”

WaterWatch of Oregon executive director Neil Brandt agreed about the long road to accountability. “With this fine, ODFW is bringing the rule of law to Winchester Dam,” said Brandt. “This is a clear message from the state that outlaw dams will be held accountable.”

During testimony before state legislators regarding the botched repairs at the Winchester Dam at the end of September, Shaun Clements, the acting deputy director of ODFW, acknowledged the repairs were directly responsible for the deaths of so many fish, describing it as, “On the order of hundreds of thousands of lamprey.” He then added, “By statute that could result in significant financial damages.”

Originally built in 1890 to provide hydroelectric power for the city of Roseburg, the dam ceased serving the city in the 1920s and hasn’t produced electricity since the 1960s, and is now maintained solely to provide a private water ski lake for surrounding landowners. The Winchester Dam kills, injures, or delays salmon and steelhead trying to access 160 miles of high-quality habitat upstream, with impacted species including spring Chinook, fall Chinook, summer steelhead, winter steelhead, cutthroat trout, Pacific lamprey, and threatened Oregon Coast Coho listed under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Link to the full ODFW complaint:


Link to ODFW press release:


Link to 2023 Winchester Dam repair images: