Winchester, Oregon - The North Umpqua River and its wild fish are invaluable public treasures for our community and our state. For decades, these treasures have been diminished by Winchester Dam, a structure that’s only remaining purpose is to provide recreation for a few private homeowners. Owners of the dam, Winchester Water Control District, have failed to maintain the dam structure for the past 30 years resulting in major infrastructure problems that are a danger to our fish, our water quality, and the safety of our community. On November 6th, Steamboaters, WaterWatch of Oregon, 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 in the North Umpqua River.
The National Marine Fisheries Service and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife have both indicated that the old fish ladder is not constructed to current fish passage regulations. False attraction flows are causing injury to fish and the poor attraction flows at the entrance to the ladder are causing migratory delay to fish. Constant water flow over the top of the dam makes it extremely difficult for fish to find the entrance to the ladder on their down migration resulting in juvenile and adult steelhead falling over the dam onto the bedrock below.
Native Fish Society has been supporting the efforts of Waterwatch, the Steamboaters and Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen for well over two years as they have worked to see these problems resolved. As a coalition, our conservation groups have made monumental strides requiring Winchester Water Control district to abide by the rule of law.
In January 2020, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) levied a $58,378 fine for violations stemming from a late 2018 repair at Winchester Dam. According to DEQ, pollution from this repair degraded aquatic habitat, killed numerous fish, and harmed the primary drinking water source for the City of Roseburg and the Umpqua Basin Water Association – serving approximately 37,700 people combined. DEQ found that dam repairs were conducted without following established best management practices, even after state and federal agencies provided information in advance on how to protect water quality and fish.
Native Fish Society has joined this fight. We currently hold party status in the case between Basco logging (Owner of Basco Logging is Winchester Water Control District Board member) and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
Native Fish Society has also reported Basco Logging to the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying for failing to obtain the required stamped (aka approved) engineering plans from a licensed engineer before performing repairs to the dam in 2018.
It is our hope that the iconic North Umpqua is restored to a free-flowing river. It would provide extensive opportunities for wild native fish to return to their homewaters and spawn. We encourage homeowners to work with conservation organizations to find a solution to better support everyone in Douglas County and the state of Oregon.
For more information on Winchester Dam or to learn how you can help out, please contact Southern Oregon Regional Coordinator Kirk Blaine at firstname.lastname@example.org.