Winchester Dam Removal Necessary, Will Create Economic Boom

By John Hunter  |  Dec. 14, 2023  |  Roseburg News-Review Opinion

There can be no doubt that the Winchester Dam will be removed. History will justify that its removal was necessary.

Once the dam is gone and the private water ski lake drained, Douglas County — with wise and proper planning — will experience an economic boom that is much needed for a timber-dependent economy.

Our migratory native fish will naturally repopulate in the North Umpqua River. Eventually, fishing season will open 12 months of the year. This will result in jobs in guiding anglers, renting hotels rooms, boats and cars, goods and services, as well as hospitality — all the makings of a more diversified economy.

There is another option as well — creating a whitewater park just west of where the dam stands in conjunction with Amacher Park. This could generate millions of dollars for Douglas County.

In Columbus, Georgia, the removal of two dams and the installation of a two-and-a-half mile whitewater course on the Chattahoochee River has created an economic boom resulting in increased demand for hotel rooms and related services. The revenue brought in by this project far exceeds the project’s cost. Furthermore, it was a culmination of genuine community effort involving scientists, engineers, bureaucrats, and professional kayakers.

Closer to home, with the removal of the hazardous Colorado Dam and the help of a coalition of community groups, Bend, Oregon, was able to create a whitewater park along a section of the Deschutes River.

As a conclusion of careful planning three distinct channels were created: one for floating and inner tubing, another for whitewater enthusiasts, and the third as a habitat channel for clear fish passage and habitat protection.

Needless to say, the success of this project has enhanced and diversified Bend’s economy and provided meaningful jobs.

We need to transform our economy. A United Way study in May 2023 revealed that 52 percent of the households in Douglas County are economically challenged or live in poverty. Simply stated: we are the second poorest county in western Oregon.

Improved fish runs and recreational whitewater tourism can generate additional dollars to help raise our county out of poverty. And a more diversified economy will enable our children and grandchildren to find jobs in Douglas County.

Today, big timber companies pay exponentially less in taxes than 30 years ago. Automation in the industry has resulted in an average loss of 1,000 jobs per year statewide. Clearly, the future for jobs lies elsewhere.

The times have changed since Winchester Dam was built 120 years ago. Due to an increased awareness of the harm caused by dams there is a serious movement to remove many of our needless and hazardous dams.

They have been removed on the Rogue River and fish have rebounded. One has been removed on the Klamath River and three more are scheduled for removal in 2024 that will result in a 400-mile stretch of free-flowing river. The result of follow-up studies documenting the increase in the Klamath River’s health once these dams are removed is eagerly anticipated.

The Winchester Dam serves only to create a private water ski lake for a select few property owners. Its removal can provide an opportunity to create a more variegated economy for the benefit of all of Douglas County.

The time has arrived. Remove the Winchester Dam!

John Hunter has lived in Douglas County for 50 years and is the president of Community Rights Douglas County.