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

Please ask Governor Kotek and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) to hold Winchester Water Control District (WWCD) accountable for the harm and killing of state sensitive species.

On Aug. 7th, WWCD began repairs on 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 repairs, and formally requesting that agencies use available authorities to require a less impactful method, the high-impact, low-cost plan was permitted by our government agencies — including 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.

Hundreds of thousands of Pacific 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 block 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, at an ideal height for jumping salmon or steelhead to slam their heads into the structure, become 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 Aug. 31st through Sept. 6th. ODFW and other agencies granted this extension with specific terms and conditions, including adult migratory fish passage at Winchester Dam. Nevertheless, river advocates did not observe fish ladder conditions approaching possible fish passage until Sept. 5th. 

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. But fish migration has been blocked for 30 days — an unacceptable timeframe for any river with or without native migratory fish.

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

Please take action by asking the Governor and the ODFW Commission to investigate these reported violations, and if they are substantiated, to bring enforcement action to the fullest extent possible.

Together, we can end the ongoing harm from Winchester Dam. Please encourage the ODFW Commission to support the removal of Winchester Dam and restore a free-flowing North Umpqua River that benefits fish, wildlife, and the Oregon communities that 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 WaterWatch’s Jim McCarthy at to let us know you plan on attending. ***

Form Letter:

Chair Wahl, Commissioners, and Director Melcher,

I’m contacting you today regarding Winchester Dam on the North Umpqua River and the disastrous repairs that were recently completed on Sept. 6th. I am disappointed with Winchester Water Control District (WWCD) and Terra Firma Foundations for showing little concern for the fish, river and communities of the North Umpqua during the repairs which have, and will have, devastating impacts to fish, habitat and water quality.

On Aug. 7th, WWCD began repairs on the 130-year-old Winchester Dam. ODFW has since received multiple complaints regarding the repairs, including:

  1. A massive fish kill of Pacific Lamprey that occurred during the repair process. While ODFW allowed WWCD a take permit for 30,000 lamprey, river advocates documented thousands of lamprey suffering and dying on day one of these repairs. This continued until day three when multiple federal, state and local agencies began an emergency fish salvage operation on the reservoir pool of this sensitive species.
  2. WWCD used mats made from old vehicle tires. These mats, and the dust and debris generated by driving heavy equipment over them, may contain and shed toxic tire additive 6PPD-q, known to be lethal to salmon and steelhead.
  3. WWCD continued to block fish passage for Native Migratory Fish, including imperiled Summer Steelhead, Spring Chinook, and Pacific Lamprey, past ODFW’s deadline. ODFW required WWCD to provide fish passage to Native Migratory Fish starting on Sept. 1st. According to our information, this requirement wasn’t achieved until Sept. 5th.
  4. Materials used to temporarily fill the waters of the state for repair purposes were not removed before Sept. 3rd — a direct violation of the fish passage authorization and the terms and conditions of the final ODFW extension granted to WWCD, which did not remove fill from above the dam face nor below the dam face next to the newly poured footer.
  5. WWCD pumped concrete into the North Umpqua River, likely affecting the PH level of the water and stressing and killing fish downstream. WWCD caused a massive fish kill that was documented in 2018 from pouring green concrete in the moving waters of the state.

ODFW’s mission is “…to protect and enhance Oregon’s fish and wildlife and their habitats for use and enjoyment by present and future generations.” Please live up to your mission by fully investigating the reports of violations at Winchester Dam, and if substantiated, bring enforcement measures to the fullest extent possible.

Please publicly support removing Winchester Dam and restoring fish, wildlife, and clean water in the North Umpqua River. Removing this dam will support the fish, commercial fishing, recreational fishing, clean water, public access to state waters, and increase the region’s resiliency in the face of climate change.

Thank you for your time and kind consideration in this matter.


John Smith

Native Fish Society has put up an easy one-click action alert for anyone short on time.

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