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The Saga of Winchester Dam
Environmentalists Weaponize the DEQ

Constructed in 1890, the Winchester Dam fish ladder has been a longtime attraction in Douglas County. The dam no longer produces hydropower, and the structure is now maintained for the surrounding landowners and recreational benefits of the Winchester Water Control District.

Now, due to lack of repairs, the dam has been categorized as “high hazard” by the Oregon Department of Water Resources, and a 2019 inspection requested the owners hire an engineer to inspect the structure, which has yet to be conducted.

In January 2020, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality assessed a $58,378 fine for violations during a repair in 2018 at Winchester Dam. The letter, issued by the DEQ Office of Compliance and enforcement, read, in part:

DEQ issued this penalty because the North Umpqua River is important habitat for threatened Oregon Coast coho salmon and several other sensitive species, and your activities resulted in the discharge of sediment and wet ( or "green") concrete to the river, degrading aquatic habitat and killing numerous fish. These incidents also negatively affected the quality of the primary drinking water source for two community water systems - City of Roseburg and Umpqua Basin Water Association, serving approximately 37,700 people (28,800 and 8,900, respectively).

Your dam repair activities were conducted without following all established in-water work best management practices, despite receiving information in advance from state and federal agencies on how to protect water quality and resident aquatic species.

The. Conservationist organizations are claiming that holes throughout the wooden structure have become false attractions for fish jumping against it and getting injured. Jim McCarthy with WaterWatch Oregon claims the fish reach spawning grounds in bad shape or don’t arrive at all because they died. Lack of repairs has led a number of organizations to sue the Winchester Water Control District for its operation and lack of maintenance of the Winchester Dam.

The organizations allege the 130-year-old dam is harming Coho Salmon. The plaintiffs, represented by Karl G. Anuta and attorneys for Earthjustice, asked the court to declare that the defendant violated the ESA and to provide adequate passage for Coho salmon as well as store water without a permit. They also asked the court to either require the dam to be removed or for the defendants to repair the dam to provide “adequate fish passage” and impose civil penalties on Winchester Water Control District.

The District claims the current 10 year average fish count for Coho is the highest it has ever been since the count record began in the late 1940s, and the suit is aimed at removing the dam. But, can they defend against what appears to be poor management?

The Winchester Water Control District board can’t win. If the suit is denied, they must still answer to the Oregon Department of Water Resources for the poor rating and conduct an inspection. If the suit is upheld the board must still make repairs and conduct an inspection, or remove the dam. If the dam is removed, they can each be held liable for damages to each and every citizen of Roseburg that benefits from this dam. “The board can individually be held liable and sued on a personal basis for the rise in cost of water by each resident as a result of removing the dam,” according to Loma Wharton of Liberators.


--Donna Bleiler

Post Date: 2020-12-03 21:09:34Last Update: 2020-12-03 22:06:35



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