Ask ODFW Commission to hold Winchester Water Control District accountable for the harm and killing of state sensitive species.

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On August 7, 2023, Winchester Water Control District (WWCD) started repairs to the dilapidated Winchester Dam on the North Umpqua River to the minimum extent necessary to address public safety issues. Despite river advocates raising concerns about the high impact method of the proposed repair method and formally requesting that agencies use available authorities to require a less harmful method, the high-impact, low-cost plan was permitted by our government agencies, including the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). Specifically, ODFW allowed the repairs to drain the reservoir pool and block upstream fish migration for three weeks instead of requiring a common dam repair method, which would not have drained the pool nor stopped upstream migration. 

As a result, repairs have been nothing short of disastrous. Upwards of hundreds of thousands of lamprey have been killed, water polluted with wet concrete was spilled into the river, fill materials such as boulders forming a roadbed upstream of the dam have been left in designated essential salmonid habitat, mats for heavy machinery made from old tires likely containing chemicals toxic to salmon were used in the river and river bed during repairs, and agencies granted extensions to the block of migration for Summer Steelhead, Spring Chinook, Lamprey, and ESA-listed Coho salmon. To top it all off, WWCD and the repair contractor Terra Firma Foundation Systems installed large horizontal I-beams to reinforce the dam's structure. These I-beams sit just behind the water curtain or false attraction flow to fish, at an ideal height for jumping salmon or steelhead to slam their head, get caught in the trough of the I-beam, or fall between the I-beam and the old disintegrating wall of the dam. The contractor also installed large steel attachment struts with sharp edges that project like fish spears or bludgeons from the dam face at typical jump heights.  

More recently, WWCD applied for an extension from August 31 through September 6. ODFW and other agencies granted this extension with specific terms and conditions, including adult migratory fish passage at Winchester Dam. River advocates did not observe fish ladder conditions approaching possible fish passage until September 5. 

Thankfully, this ecological disaster is coming to an end. Fish passage is being restored, and native migratory fish will once again be able to access the 160 miles of habitat upstream. Fish migration has been blocked for 30 days, an unacceptable timeframe for any river with or without native migratory fish. 

It is now time for us to demand that ODFW hold the dam owners accountable for this disaster. We know from past experience during disastrous repairs at the same dam that ODFW will do nothing to hold the dam owners accountable unless the public demands it. You have the power to make ODFW act.

Please take action by testifying to the ODFW Commission, asking them to investigate these reported violations and, if substantiated, bring enforcement action to the fullest extent possible. Please consider sending a formal letter or doing the one-click action alert located below.

Together, we can end the ongoing harm from Winchester Dam once and for all. Please encourage the ODFW Commission to support the removal of Winchester Dam to restore a free-flowing North Umpqua River benefiting the fish, wildlife, and people who depend on it!

*** If you would like to testify to the ODFW Commission in person at their next meeting in Bend on Friday, Sept. 15th, at Seventh Mountain Resort, click here for information and to sign up for a slot, and please contact Kirk Blaine at kirk@nativefishsociety.org to let us know you plan on attending. ***

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