Oregon Fines Winchester Dam Owners $134,000 for Water Quality Violations

By Zach Urness  |  Oct. 26, 2023  |  Salem Statesman Journal

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality issued fines totaling over $134,000 against the operators of Winchester Dam on the North Umpqua River outside Roseburg on Thursday for water quality violations.

DEQ fined Winchester Water Control District and TerraFirma Foundation Repair Inc. for discharging concrete into the river, putting down tire mats in the river, and failing to provide passage for migrating native fish during dam repairs, the agency said in a news release.

The fines are the latest in a slew of trouble for the owners of the 133-year-old dam that is 17 feet tall and spans the North Umpqua within view of Interstate 5.

Earlier this month, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife filed a $27 million lawsuit against the two for killing at least 550,000 juvenile Pacific lamprey during the same dam repair project, which took place in August.

“The North Umpqua River’s diverse fish populations are unique within Oregon and are of considerable social, cultural, and economic importance locally and regionally,” ODFW said. “The damages claim seeks reparation for the loss of a valuable public resource.”

What Happened?

Winchester Dam, which is privately owned by the WWCD, similar to a homeowners association, undertook repairs in August that involved draining the reservoir and took weeks longer than anticipated.

The dewatering of the reservoir killed over half a million juvenile Pacific lamprey, which live in muddy river banks along the North Umpqua River, ODFW’s lawsuit said. Pacific lamprey are listed on ODFW’s Sensitive Species list and are culturally significant to Pacific Northwest tribes.

“Such a lackadaisical approach to fish salvage demonstrated the bad faith of defendants in meeting their respective obligations to preserve the state’s property,” the ODFW lawsuit said.

DEQ issued the water quality fines for the same repairs. It found, among other things, that the repairs discharged concrete into the river and placed mats made of heavy truck tires into the river.

Ryan Beckley, president of the water district and owner of TerraFirma, did not immediately return requests for comment. However, he told the Oregon Capital Chronicle in September he disputed the agency’s estimate that hundreds of thousands of fish had been killed.

“I’m incredibly impressed the design and construction teams were able to execute the project as efficiently as they did,” he told the news website.

DEQ said Winchester Water Control District and TerraFirma must either pay the fines or file an appeal within 20 days of receiving notice of the penalty. DEQ added the two would be able to offset a portion of the fines by funding a supplemental environmental project that benefits Oregon’s environment.

This story originally appeared in the Oct. 26, 2023, issue of the Salem Statesman Journal.