Winchester Water Control District Fined $100,000 by State DEQ

By Gloria Coleman  |  Oct. 27, 2023  | Roseburg News-Review

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality issued two enforcement orders to pay civil penalties Thursday morning, one against the Winchester Water Control District and one against TerraFirma Foundation Repair Inc. Both of these fines are related to water quality violations during repairs on the Winchester Dam over the summer.

The 133-year-old Winchester Dam underwent repairs in August, during which time the dam’s structural integrity was tested as required by the Oregon Water Resources Department. To complete the work, the area behind the dam needed to be temporarily dewatered, which also closed the fish ladder.

The News-Review reached out to Winchester Water Control District president Ryan Beckley, but did not receive a response. Beckley is also the owner of TerraFirma Foundation Repair.

The Winchester Water Control District owns and operates the Winchester Dam. The state agency is fining the water control district $106,778 for violating 11 conditions of the 401 Water Quality Certification for the repair work on the dam.

The 401 Water Quality Certification was issued to the Winchester Water Control District on July 18, based on a revised joint permit application submitted to DEQ on July 7. According to the DEQ website, the certification evaluates the water quality impacts of projects that require a federal permit to conduct any activity that could result in discharge into water of the state.

Four agencies were involved throughout the entire permitting process for the Winchester Dam Repairs: the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“By being the holder of the certification, the Winchester Water Control District are responsible for finishing the project,” DEQ Western Region Public Affairs Specialist Dylan Darling said. “They could have done so many things to protect the river, but they caused pollution to the North Umpqua River by not doing those things. The fines for the water control district reflects their blatant disregard for the water quality.”

The Department of Environmental Quality is fining TerraFirma $27,600 for additional water quality violations. According to a letter, the two violations were from discharging concrete and placing tire mats in the North Umpqua River.

“DEQ issued this penalty because your failure to follow the conditions set forth in the 401 WQC posed a significant risk of harm to the environment, particularly with respect to the concrete discharges and placement of tire mats in the river,” the letter to the Winchester Water Control District said. “Discharges of uncured concrete can cause rapid increases in the pH level of the surrounding water, which poses a significant risk of harm to aquatic species. Tires leach toxic chemicals, microplastics, and heavy metals that are known to be harmful to aquatic life, particularly coho salmon.”

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 27, 2023, edition of the Roseburg News-Review.