Oregon Announces More Fines Over Botched 2023 Winchester Dam Repairs

Oct. 26, 2023


For more information please contact:
Jim McCarthy, WaterWatch of Oregon, jim@waterwatch.org
Kirk Blaine, Native Fish Society, kirk@nativefishsociety.org
Tommy Hough, WaterWatch of Oregon, tommy@waterwatch.org

Oregon Announces More Fines Over Botched 2023 Winchester Dam Repairs
Second water quality enforcement action in three years against North Umpqua’s biggest fish killer.

Winchester, Oregon  —  Today, river advocates welcomed the announcement of a total of $134,378 in fines issued by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) against Winchester Water Control District and TerraFirma Foundation Repair, Inc. for water quality violations during repairs this summer to the 133-year-old Winchester Dam on the North Umpqua River near Roseburg.

The announcement marked the second time in just over three years that water quality violations during botched dam repairs attempted by Winchester Dam owner Winchester Water Control District (WWCD) drew state fines. DEQ’s action is seen as another victory for a coalition of local and statewide conservation, fishing, and whitewater advocates who have worked for years to raise alarm bells with government officials over the 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.

Specifically, DEQ fined the District $106,778 for violating at least 10 conditions of its 401 Water Quality Certification for repair work on the dam. The certification required certain conditions be met during the dam repair project to ensure protection of state water quality standards. The violations include discharging concrete into the river, putting down “biologically harmful” tire mats in the river, and failing to provide passage for migrating native fish. In addition, Additionally, DEQ fined TerraFirma $27,600 for causing pollution to waters of the state by discharging concrete into the North Umpqua and placing tire mats in the river. TerraFirma is a building foundation repair company owned by the president of the District which served as the primary contractor for the 2023 dam repairs.

Previously, in 2020, DEQ issued a $53,578 fine after state investigators found that 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. The 450-foot wide, 17-foot tall Winchester Dam lies just 50 feet upstream of the City of Roseburg public drinking water intake.

This summer, river advocates organized to monitor the repairs, document and report violations, and urge regulatory agencies to address the situation quickly. River advocates witnessed one ecological disaster after another, and the situation soon garnered intense media scrutiny and public outcry. Following the repairs, the Oregon State Senate Interim Committee on Natural Resources and Wildfire, led by Committee chair state Senator Jeff Golden (D–Ashland) and committee member Senator Floyd Prozanski (D—Springfield), grilled agency leaders during an informational hearing 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.

“We are pleased to see DEQ has taken appropriate action to hold the dam owners accountable for the harm they have again caused to the North Umpqua River and the drinking water source for some 38,000 people,” said Jim McCarthy, Southern Oregon Program Director for WaterWatch of Oregon. “Unfortunately we have learned the hard way that Winchester Dam will continue to harm the North Umpqua and its invaluable salmon and steelhead runs until it is removed. WaterWatch’s offer to remove the dam for little to no cost to the dam owners still stands.”

“The fines issued by DEQ today are a wonderful victory for river and fish advocates nationwide who spoke up asking for accountability. Holding them responsible for their harmful actions is essential to restoring the native populations of fish that depend on North Umpqua River,” said Kirk Blaine, Southern Oregon Coordinator for Native Fish Society. “The reality is this project did nothing good to help improve fish passage for native migratory fish, and dam removal is critical if we wish to restore the imperiled salmon and steelhead populations of the North Umpqua River.”

Winchester Dam is ranked as one of the state’s highest priorities for fish passage correction because it impedes access to 160 miles of high quality habitat for salmon and steelhead. Earlier this month, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife issued a $27.6 million fine to Winchester Water Control District, TerraFirma, and engineering firm DOWL for the unlawful killing of 550,000 Pacific lamprey during the same summer repairs at the dam, which is maintained solely to provide a private recreational lake for approximately 110 landowners surrounding its reservoir pool.

Oregon DEQ Announcement:


Images of concrete spills at Winchester Dam: