Agencies present to Oregon Senate Committee regarding Winchester Dam Repair Project
Agencies present to Oregon Senate Committee regarding Winchester Dam Repairs
On Wednesday, September 27, 2023, the Senate Interim Committee On Natural Resources and Wildfire held a hearing on the Winchester Dam Repair Project. Representatives from ODFW, Oregon DEQ, and the Oregon Water Resources Department shared information about the permitting process related to the derelict Winchester Dam Repair project. Agencies had staff onsite during the repair documenting the project. During the hearing, Agencies confirmed they are actively investigating the reported fish kill and water quality violations that occurred during the repair project. Agencies are working with the Oregon Department of Justice on these issues and because of that, could not share more information at this time.
The Senate Committee, Chaired by Senator Jeff Golden from Ashland, started the hearing by explaining the role of the committee is to ensure transparency from the agencies to the public. The Committee requested a full report on the project, asking the agencies to update them throughout the process. Senator Prozanski pushed the agencies to give a timeline on when this report would be available to the public. Agencies declined to give a timeline and were adamant they needed to continue the investigation with the Department of Justice.
This hearing was a direct result of your letters, phone calls, and emails delivered to our elected officials' offices — against the deaths of upwards of hundreds of thousands of Pacific lamprey, against the use of tire mats in the river bed likely containing compounds lethal to salmon and steelhead, the repeated wet cement spills into the North Umpqua River impacting aquatic species and habitat, and against blocking fish passage of imperiled North Umpqua summer steelhead during this repair project.
Thank you for your support! We must keep the pressure on our agencies to investigate the reported violations and if substantiated, enforce them to the fullest extent possible. We will continue to keep folks updated on how they can help.
Background provided by Jim McCarthy at WaterWatch of Oregon.
Background: During the Winchester Dam Repair Project from August 7, 2023 through September 6, 2023, dam owner Winchester Water Control District (WWCD) and repair contractor TerraFirma Foundation Systems demonstrated complete disregard for the fish, wildlife, drinking water supplies, and communities of the North Umpqua River. This dam, and its well-established history of sloppy and inadequate repairs, have had and will continue to have significant negative impacts on the fish, habitats, and water quality of the North Umpqua until it is removed.
The repair process sparked a massive kill of Pacific lamprey and blocked upstream migration of imperiled summer steelhead, and other native fish runs for a month, even as a record heat wave scorched the region and state fisheries managers shut down all angling in the North Umpqua for months to protect summer steelhead. Over the course of the repair, multiple violations by the repair contractor were reported to state and federal agencies responsible for permitting the project.
The public outrage generated by this repair process has been palpable. Within a month's span, the dam site was the focus of multiple news reports, an emergency mobilization of state, federal, and tribal agency staff to stem the mass death of native aquatic life, and three protest demonstrations calling for the dam's removal. Since then, over 800 people have already submitted comments, sent emails, and made calls to the Oregon Governor’s office, state legislators, the state Fish and Wildlife Commission, and state agencies demanding full investigations of the reported violations and, if substantiated, enforcement to the fullest extent possible.
Winchester Dam is a derelict former hydropower facility and one of the state’s highest priorities for fish passage correction. According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the dam blocks or impedes access to 160 miles of high-quality habitat for native fish. River advocates from a coalition of fishing, conservation, and whitewater groups have been working for years to remove the dam while raising alarm bells with government officials over the Winchester Water Control District’s chronic non-compliance with state and federal repair permitting, engineering, water quality, and dam safety requirements as well as their disregard for protections for fish and wildlife despite the essential habitat importance of the North Umpqua for salmon and steelhead.
View previous articles on the Winchester Dam repair project here:
Winchester Dam Repairs Spark Massive Pacific Lamprey Kill - August 10, 2023
River Advocates Petition to ODFW
Public Records/Agency Notes from Past Winchester Dam repairs:
Winchester Dam Repair Permit
ODFW Fish Passage Authorization:
DEQ 401 permit:
NOAA Biological Opinion:
Army Corps permit:
Revised WWCD removal-fill application (last one before Corps and DEQ issued permits):