ODFW Official Acknowledges “Hundreds of Thousands” of Fish Deaths in Winchester Dam Disaster

Sept. 29, 2023


For information please contact:
Jim McCarthy, WaterWatch of Oregon, jim@waterwatch.org
Tommy Hough, WaterWatch of Oregon, tommy@waterwatch.org

Wildlife Official Acknowledges “Hundreds of Thousands” of Fish Deaths in 2023 Winchester Dam Disaster
Senate committee probing whether state officials hold dam’s operations and maintenance to appropriate statutory, regulatory standards.

Salem, Oregon  —  This Wednesday, during testimony before state legislators regarding botched repairs at the derelict Winchester Dam on the North Umpqua River near Roseburg, Shaun Clements, the acting deputy director of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), acknowledged that the private dam owners’ repairs this summer resulted in a massive kill of native Pacific lamprey, “on the order of hundreds of thousands of lamprey, and by statute that could result in significant financial damages.”

The statement came during a question-and-answer period following a presentation on the Winchester Dam repairs by ODFW, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) to the Senate Interim Committee on Natural Resources and Wildfire. Committee chair state Senator Jeff Golden (D–Ashland) and committee member Senator Floyd Prozanski (D–Springfield) grilled(DEQ) and the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) to the Senate Interim Committee on Natural Resources and Wildfire. Committee chair state Senator Jeff Golden (D–Ashland) and committee member Senator Floyd Prozanski (D–Springfield) grilled agency brass on the widespread public perception of the agencies’ indifference to reported serial violations of state law and regulation committed at the dam this summer and in previous years.

Members of a statewide grassroots coalition of fishing, conservation, and whitewater groups formed to end the ongoing harm caused by the 133-year-old Winchester Dam, including WaterWatch, Native Fish Society, Umpqua Watersheds, and Steamboaters, have expressed their appreciation to Committee members and welcomed the increased scrutiny of the infamously outlaw Winchester Dam.

Individuals from the coalition previously spent weeks documenting and reporting multiple apparent violations of state and federal laws during the 2023 repair efforts at Winchester Dam, including possible violations of laws intended to protect fish, wildlife, aquatic habitat, drinking water supplies, and worker safety.

Following the hearing Senator Golden’s office issued a letter to the three agencies, reiterating the need for thorough investigative transparency and stating in part:

“Public perception has grown over the years that operation and maintenance of this dam have not been held to statutory and regulatory standards that similar facilities around the state have to meet. I see the attention surrounding this most recent repair project as an opportunity to address and, if possible, to reduce that perception.”

Senator Golden’s letter also invited representatives of the three agencies to come back to the Committee to offer follow-up testimony on the issues surrounding Winchester Dam as early as November 6th.

The disintegrating, 17-foot-high, 133-year-old Winchester Dam is maintained solely to create a private water ski lake for surrounding landowners, but it kills, injures, or delays salmon and steelhead trying to access 160 miles of high-quality habitat upstream. Impacted species include spring Chinook, fall Chinook, summer steelhead, winter steelhead, cutthroat trout, and Pacific Lamprey, as well as threatened Oregon Coast Coho listed under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Read Senator Golden’s letter:


View 2023 Winchester Dam Repair Images:


Read agency notes from the Winchester Dam repair disaster in 2013: