On the North Umpqua River, WaterWatch is leading a coalition of over 20 local and statewide fishing, conservation, and whitewater groups working to end the harm caused by Winchester Dam, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's second highest priority for fish passage improvement among all privately owned dams in the state.
160 MILES OF HABITAT
The disintegrating, 17-foot-high, 130-year-old Winchester Dam is maintained solely to create a private waterski 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.
WaterWatch captured this video of migrating salmon jumping repeatedly at false attraction flows gushing from the poorly maintained Winchester Dam. There are many holes through the dam's face and under its foundation. The delayed fish in this video risk injury and death when falling back on areas of eroded concrete, exposed rebar, shallow bedrock ledge, and other hazards. Fish may not survive long enough to reproduce as a result. This video also shows 3 adult fish falling back over the dam from the pool near the ladder exit at approximately 2:35, and striking the rock and concrete ledge lying in shallow water immediately below much of the north half of the dam. This may have happened because the fish became too exhausted after passing the poorly designed and crumbling fish ladder to escape the current flowing over the dam, or these fish could be steelhead trying to return to the ocean. This drop from a height of 15 or 16 feet onto the rock and concrete below likely injured or killed these fish. This ledge is another major source of injury and death for adult and baby salmon and steelhead passing this dam. These are just some of the many ways Winchester Dam harms the North Umpqua.
Bringing the Rule of Law to an Outlaw Dam
Chronic disregard for public safety, fish, and water quality protections must end
Winchester Dam on the North Umpqua
To protect the irreplaceable North Umpqua, our coalition has intervened in a state proceeding to hold Winchester Dam's owners accountable for a botched 2018 repair that killed numerous fish and harmed the primary drinking water source for 37,700 people , worked to ensure that Oregon officials required the owners to meet state dam safety standards for the first time in decades, and filed suit to stop harm the dam causes to protected Coho Salmon—after the dam owners rejected our coalition’s offer to raise the public and private funds necessary to remove the dam at little to no direct cost to the owners.
Fishermen, conservationists go to court as last resort
In November 2020, WaterWatch, Steamboaters, and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermens’ Associations filed litigation in federal court to end harm caused by the Winchester Water Control District’s operation and maintenance of the Winchester Dam. Our challenge deals specifically with the delay, injury, or killing of protected Coho salmon by the dam’s outdated and poorly maintained fish ladder, by the District’s repeated unpermitted dam repair activities, and by the overwhelming number of leaks through the crumbling wood, concrete, and steel structure. The North Umpqua is vital to Oregon’s economy and quality of life but faces serious challenges due to dams, climate change, population growth, and other impacts. This fish-killing, dangerous, and obsolete dam provides no flood control, hydropower, or water supply function except to back up the river for a private waterski lake. It’s long past time to end the needless harm this dam causes to invaluable natural resources.
Plume from botched 2018 repair and pollution spill captured on Oregon Explorer website
Why Dam Removal?
WaterWatch is racing to bolster Oregon’s rivers, salmon, and steelhead against the impacts of climate change. For decades, ending the harm caused by obsolete dams that delay, injure, and kill our prized fish runs runs has been a major part of our work to restore our rivers' natural resiliency. No single river restoration action provides a bigger return on investment than dam removal.
On the North Umpqua, Winchester Dam removal is our preferred outcome and if achieved would be expected to provide a boost to the river's Coho, spring and fall Chinook, summer and winter steelhead, cutthroat, and lamprey. For more detail on our coalition's work, and how Winchester Dam is harming river heath, public drinking water sources, and our region's economy, please check out the following: