Newsletter

Release: Oregon Announces More Fines Over Botched 2023 Winchester Dam Repairs

FOR MORE INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT:
Jim McCarthy, WaterWatch of Oregon, 541-941-9450, jim@waterwatch.org
Kirk Blaine, Native Fish Society, 307-299-7834, kirk@nativefishsociety.org
Tommy Hough, WaterWatch of Oregon, 206-291-4145, tommy@waterwatch.org

Oregon DEQ Announcement

Oregon Announces More Fines Over Botched 2023 Winchester Dam Repairs
Second Water Quality Enforcement Action in Three Years Against North Umpqua’s Biggest Fish Killer

Winchester, OR – Today, river advocates welcomed the announcement of a total of $134,378 in fines issued by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) against Winchester Water Control District and TerraFirma Foundation Repair, Inc. for water quality violations during repairs this summer to the 133-year-old Winchester Dam on the North Umpqua River near Roseburg.

The announcement marked the second time in just over three years that water quality violations during botched dam repairs attempted by Winchester Dam owner Winchester Water Control District drew state fines. DEQ’s action is seen as another victory for a coalition of local and statewide conservation, fishing, and whitewater advocates who have worked for years to raise alarm bells with government officials over the 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.

Specifically, DEQ fined the District $106,778 for violating at least 10 conditions of its 401 Water Quality Certification for repair work on the dam. The certification required certain conditions be met during the dam repair project to ensure protection of state water quality standards. The violations include discharging concrete into the river, putting down “biologically harmful” tire mats in the river, and failing to provide passage for migrating native fish. In addition, DEQ fined TerraFirma $27,600 for causing pollution to waters of the state by discharging concrete into the North Umpqua and placing tire mats in the river. TerraFirma is a building foundation repair company owned by the president of the District which served as the primary contractor for the 2023 dam repairs.

Previously, in 2020, DEQ issued a $53,578 fine after state investigators found that pollution from the 2018 repairs at the dam degraded aquatic habitat, killed 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. Investigators also found that dam repairs were conducted without following known best management practices, even after authorities provided the dam owners with information in advance on how to protect water quality and fish. The 450-foot wide, 17-foot tall Winchester Dam lies just 50 feet upstream of the City of Roseburg public drinking water intake.

This summer, river advocates organized to monitor the repairs, document and report violations, and urge regulatory agencies to address the situation quickly. River advocates witnessed one ecological disaster after another, and the situation soon garnered intense media scrutiny and public outcry. Following the repairs, the Oregon State Senate Interim Committee on Natural Resources and Wildfire, led by Committee chair state Senator Jeff Golden (D–Ashland) and committee member Senator Floyd Prozanski (D-Springfield), grilled agency leaders during an informational hearing on the widespread public perception of the agencies’ indifference to reported serial violations of state law and regulation committed at the dam this summer and in previous years.

“We are pleased to see DEQ has taken appropriate action to hold the dam owners accountable for the harm they have again caused to the North Umpqua River and the drinking water source for some 38,000 people,” said Jim McCarthy, Southern Oregon Program Director for WaterWatch of Oregon. “Unfortunately we have learned the hard way that Winchester Dam will continue to harm the North Umpqua and its invaluable salmon and steelhead runs until it is removed. WaterWatch’s offer to remove the dam for little to no cost to the dam owners still stands.”

“The fines issued by DEQ today are a wonderful victory for river and fish advocates nationwide who spoke up asking for accountability. Holding them responsible for their harmful actions is essential to restoring the native populations of fish that depend on North Umpqua River,” said Kirk Blaine, Southern Oregon Coordinator for Native Fish Society. “The reality is this project did nothing good to help improve fish passage for native migratory fish, and dam removal is critical if we wish to restore the imperiled salmon and steelhead populations of the North Umpqua River.”

Winchester Dam is ranked as one of the state’s highest priorities for fish passage correction because it impedes access to 160 miles of high quality habitat for salmon and steelhead. Earlier this month, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife issued a $27.6 million fine to Winchester Water Control District, TerraFirma, and engineering firm DOWL for the unlawful killing of 555,000 Pacific lamprey during the same summer repairs at the dam, which is maintained solely to provide a private recreational lake for approximately 110 landowners surrounding its reservoir pool.

Kirk BlaineRelease: Oregon Announces More Fines Over Botched 2023 Winchester Dam Repairs

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 jim@waterwatch.org 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.

Sincerely,

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.

Ask your elected officials to stand up for the North Umpqua River.

Send a letter and/or call your elected officials in the state of Oregon asking them to investigate these reported violations fully and, if substantiated, bring enforcement action to the fullest extent possible. Please encourage your elected leaders to support the removal of Winchester Dam to restore a free-flowing North Umpqua River.

On August 7, 2023, Winchester Water Control District (WWCD) started repairing the derelict Winchester Dam. Despite far more expansive recent claims about these repairs made to the public by WWCD, WWCD representatives previously told state and federal regulators that the repairs would be  “to the minimum extent necessary to eliminate known and reasonably anticipated dam safety deficiencies at the dam.” (DOWL Technical Memo, April 4, 2022, p. 4). On this basis, WWCD received approvals from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, NOAA Fisheries, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to proceed with the repairs. State and federal agencies issued the permits even after river advocates repeatedly raised concerns and pointed out multiple irregularities in the process (read about these irregularities and concerns here). 

WWCD has hired the residential/commercial basement repair company of their own board president, Terra Firma Foundation Systems, as the primary dam repair contractor, despite the fact that his company has no experience in dam repair.

Since the start of construction, river advocates have documented and reported multiple apparent legal and permitting violations to regulatory agencies. These include a massive fish kill of native Pacific lamprey resulting from woefully inadequate salvage efforts by WWCD during the dam reservoir drawdown. River advocates believe that WWCD’s contractor continues to violate regulations and permits intended to protect fish, wildlife, and water quality. 

River advocates have been pressing this issue in part because harm from the previous Winchester Dam repair was devastating and well-documented. According to state investigators, pollution from the 2018 repairs at the dam degraded aquatic habitat, killed 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. Investigators also found that dam repairs were conducted without following known best management practices, even after authorities provided WWCD with information in advance on how to protect water quality and fish. 

This ecological disaster is happening now because government agencies have consistently failed to hold WWCD accountable. Please take action by sending a letter to your state and federal representatives asking them to fully investigate these reported violations, and if substantiated, bring enforcement action to the fullest extent possible. Together, we can end the ongoing harm from Winchester Dam once and for all. Please encourage your elected leaders to support removal of Winchester Dam to restore a free-flowing North Umpqua River benefiting the fish, wildlife, and people who depend on it!

Sample letter:

Dear XXX

I am contacting you today regarding Winchester Dam on the North Umpqua River and the construction repairs underway. I am disappointed with our state and federal agencies for showing such little concern for the fish, river, and communities of the North Umpqua by approving a repair plan with a documented history of devastating impacts to fish, habitat, and water quality when they had the authority to require a repair plan more protective of our natural resources.

On August 7, 2023, Winchester Water Control District (WWCD) started repairs on the 130-year-old Winchester Dam. Regulating agencies have since received multiple complaints regarding the repairs, including:

Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ)

  • Operating heavy machinery in flowing water without containment. In addition, some heavy equipment may not be using lubricants approved for in-water work.
  • Release of uncured concrete into the North Umpqua River.
  • Placement of boulder fill into the few shallow plunge pools available to salmon and steelhead at the base of the dam.
  • Use of large mats made from old vehicle tires as a temporary road and work surface for heavy equipment in flowing water and on dewatered river bed. 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. 

Department of State Lands (DSL) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)

  • Construction of permanent concrete support footers in the river bed for a temporary bridge and access road from the north bank of the North Umpqua River downstream of the dam.This road and bridge were not disclosed in WWCD permit applications.
  • Placement of boulder fill into the few shallow plunge pools available to salmon and steelhead at the base of the dam. 

Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD)

  • Winchester Dam is storing more water than allowed under WWCD’s filed water storage claim. OWRD issued a letter to WWCD in January directing them to either lower their reservoir pool 1.5 feet or apply for a new water right to come into compliance. WWCD has disregarded OWRD’s direction. As a result, when the dam reservoir is refilled to the top at the end of repairs, WWCD will unlawfully injure instream water rights intended to protect salmon and steelhead in the North Umpqua River.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW)

  • ODFW inexplicably granted WWCD permission to kill 30,000 Pacific lamprey during the repairs. However, the repair contractor’s woefully inadequate staffing of their required fish salvage effort contributed to a massive Pacific lamprey kill in the dam’s reservoir pool, despite a later emergency salvage effort by state, federal, and tribal agencies alerted to the kill by river advocates on the scene.

NOAA Fisheries

  • Winchester Dam lies within designated critical habitat for ESA-listed Coho salmon, and adult Coho typically begin arriving at the dam in late summer. NOAA must fully investigate if these repairs have harmed Coho or their designated habitat. 

As my elected representative, please ensure that state and federal agencies fully investigate 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 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 consideration in this matter. 

Sincerely, 

John Smith 

One Click Option through Native Fish Society

Kirk BlaineAsk your elected officials to stand up for the North Umpqua River.

River Advocates Warn of Another Possible Fish Kill Triggered by Winchester Dam Repairs

Some of North Umpqua’s Last Few Summer Steelhead Face Lethal Combination of Closed Access to Upstream Coldwater Habitat, Low Flows, and Record Heat

FOR FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

FOR MORE INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT:
Jim McCarthy, WaterWatch of Oregon, 541-941-9450, jim@waterwatch.org
Kirk Blaine, Steamboaters, 307-299-7834, steamboatersboard@gmail.com

*River advocates are preparing to document another fish kill if it materializes and will be available to reporters for comment and to provide photos and video.*

Winchester, OR – Just days after a sloppy, penny-pinching repair effort at Winchester Dam triggered a massive kill of the North Umpqua River’s Pacific lamprey, river advocates are warning that some of the last few summer steelhead and spring Chinook salmon left in the North Umpqua may become the next aquatic life to die, trapped in the warm water below the dam as a heat wave scorches the region.

On Monday August 7th, the fish ladder at Winchester Dam near Roseburg closed until August 28th to allow reservoir drawdown and structural repairs at the 450-foot wide, 17-foot tall, 130-year-old wood, steel, and concrete structure maintained solely for the private recreational use of approximately 110 landowners surrounding the reservoir. The move also closed off access to migratory fish seeking 160 miles of high quality coldwater salmon and steelhead habitat upstream. Soon after, the National Weather Service issued an Excessive Heat Warning for the region for August 14th through 17th, forecasting “Dangerously hot conditions with temperatures between 102 to 108 degrees expected. A few west side valleys will reach up to 111 degrees.”

The drawdown repair option was chosen by dam owners specifically for its cheapness compared with other common repair options, despite its known high impacts to the North Umpqua’s aquatic life, habitat, and drinking water supplies. State and federal officials chose to approve the owners’ repair proposal, despite having the authority to require lower impact repair methods, despite repeated formal pleas from river advocates to avoid the anticipated mass mortality of aquatic life by requiring a lower impact repair alternative, and despite a well documented history of mass mortality of aquatic life during previous dam repairs using the same drawdown method.

Earlier this year, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) officials declined to answer river advocates’ formal request to use their authority to require a less harmful repair alternative maintaining upstream fish migration ¬– only weeks before collapsing summer steelhead numbers spurred ODFW to shut all angling in the North Umpqua from August through November. The ignored petition (linked below) stated in part: “The North Umpqua in August typically experiences low flows and high temperatures, which cause significant stress and mortality among native fish, as well as angling closures in recent years. In addition, the river reach below Winchester Dam is generally lacking in cold water refugia, so fish stranded below the dam by the project’s interruption period will be even more likely to be highly stressed or die before they can reach the protection of cold water. Migratory fish crowded into refugia downstream by this passage interruption may be more susceptible to predation, poaching, and the spread of disease. The drawdown of the reservoir before repair may draw additional fish towards the dam by temporarily increasing river flows downstream, then strand these fish for three weeks in low, hot water below an impassable dam. Any fish that survive being bottled up against the dam will then face even lower and hotter water when reservoir refill depletes downstream flows.”

Last week, officials from state, federal, and tribal wildlife agencies combed vast stretches of drying reservoir sediments above the dam in an emergency effort to stem losses from a massive lamprey kill sparked by the controversial dam repair effort. This week, the emergency teams have given way to flocks of birds gathered to feast on dead lamprey carpeting the reservoir flats. The death toll for the North Umpqua’s native aquatic life due to the repairs remains to be calculated, but it is expected to be staggering.

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 even when the fish ladder is in operation. River advocates from a coalition of fishing, conservation, and whitewater groups have been working for years to raise 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.MORE INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT:
Jim McCarthy, WaterWatch of Oregon, 541-941-9450, jim@waterwatch.org
Kirk Blaine, Steamboaters, 307-299-7834, steamboatersboard@gmail.com

Winchester, OR – This week, officials from state, federal, and tribal wildlife agencies are combing vast stretches of drying reservoir sediments above Winchester Dam on the North Umpqua River in an effort to stem losses from a massive fish kill sparked by a controversial ongoing dam repair effort. In particular, upwards of hundreds of thousands of young Pacific lamprey are feared lost due to the failure of Winchester Water Control District, the owners of the dam, to meet state and federal requirements for rescuing aquatic life stranded during a reservoir dewatering. This dewatering began around midnight on Monday August 7th in order to provide work crews with three weeks of structural access for repairs. This drawdown repair option was chosen by dam owners specifically for its cheapness compared with other common repair options, despite its known high impacts to the North Umpqua’s aquatic life, habitat, and drinking water supplies. State and federal officials chose to approve the owners’ repair proposal, despite having the authority to require lower impact repair methods, despite repeated formal pleas from river advocates to avoid the anticipated mass mortality of aquatic life by requiring a lower impact repair alternative, and despite a well documented history of mass mortality of aquatic life during previous dam repairs using the same drawdown method.

The death toll for the North Umpqua’s native aquatic life remains to be calculated, but it is expected to be staggering. According to public records, during a 2013 reservoir drawdown and subsequent scramble by wildlife officials and the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians to rescue fish from the carelessness of the Winchester Dam owners, The Cow Creek Tribe “estimated conservatively that for every one live lamprey salvaged there were approximately 10 dead in the same area (about 1ft2).” The dam repair plan calls for the approximately 7,500 foot long reservoir to remain dewatered from August 7th until August 28th.

“This massive fish kill could have been avoided, but wildlife officials chose to put the stinginess of a handful of well-connected private lake owners over their mission to protect our invaluable fish and wildlife.” said Jim McCarthy, Southern Oregon Program Director for WaterWatch of Oregon, and a leader of the coalition of fishing conservation, and whitewater groups to end the harm caused by Winchester Dam. “River advocates knew this would happen and pleaded with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and other agencies in charge to reject the low-cost, high-risk repair proposal of the dam owners, but we were ignored. This latest disaster and the public records from their past dam repair disasters make plain that Winchester Dam’s owners feel free to ignore regulations protecting people, fish, and water quality. It’s one of the many reasons this dam must be torn down, and we are committed to making that happen.”

“This is precisely what happened the last time they worked on the dam in 2013,” said Stan Petrowski, veteran Umpqua River advocate and President/Director of the
South Umpqua Rural Community Partnership. “There was considerable effort to hush hush the entire thing. There were thousands upon thousands of lamprey deaths. This will continue to recur again and again as long as that dam remains in place.”

“I am extremely disappointed in the current situation at Winchester Dam,” said Kirk Blaine, President of the Steamboaters and Southern Oregon Coordinator for Native Fish Society. “ODFW knew this would happen and they said yes for the convenience of the landowners who want to maintain their private water ski lake at the lowest cost possible. Just as ODFW said yes, allowing the landowners to trap our last few summer steelhead and spring Chinook below the dam to bake for three weeks in warm waters. This travesty of fish mortality is unfolding despite an available repair alternative that would have maintained the reservoir pool limiting lamprey mortality and providing continued fish passage during construction, allowing our last few remaining fish the best chance to survive the migration to cold water spawning habitat above the dam.”

Winchester Dam is a derelict former hydropower facility now owned and maintained solely to provide a private water ski lake for approximately 110 landowners surrounding the reservoir pool. River advocates from coalition of fishing, conservation, and whitewater groups have been working for years to raise 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. According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Winchester Dam is one of the state’s highest priorities for fish passage correction, and blocks or impedes access to 160 miles of high quality habitat for salmon and steelhead.

River advocates will be documenting the disaster and available to reporters for comment and to provide photos and video.

River Advocates Petition to ODFW Warning of Mass Lamprey Mortality
https://waterwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/Winchester_Dam_Passage_Petition_02_26_23.pdf

Public Records/Agency Notes from Past Winchester Dam repairs:
https://waterwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/WInchester-Draw-Down-Note-Synthesis-Final.docx
https://waterwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/WInchester-Draw-Down-Note-Synthesis-Final.docx
https://waterwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/Winchester-Dam-2013-Drawdown-Agency-Meeting2-Notes.docx

Winchester Dam Repair Permits

ODFW Fish Passage Authorization:
https://waterwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/ODFW_Fish_Passage_Authorization_Winchester_Dam_Repair_PA-17-0138.pdf

DEQ 401 permit:
https://waterwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/20230718_DEQ_401_WQC_2018_505_1.pdf

NOAA Biological Opinion:
https://waterwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/2023_07-20_WinchesterDam_WCRO-2022-02717.pdf

Army Corps permit:
https://waterwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/20230726-NWP-Verification-Ltr-NWP-2018-505-1.pdf

Revised WWCD removal-fill application (last one before Corps and DEQ issued permits):
https://waterwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/Joint-Permit-Application-DEQ-Submittal_20230707-Updates.pdf

Kirk BlaineRiver Advocates Warn of Another Possible Fish Kill Triggered by Winchester Dam Repairs

Winchester Dam Repairs Spark Massive Pacific Lamprey Kill

Public Officials Launch Emergency Effort After Private Dam Owners Fail to Adequately Rescue Aquatic Life Stranded by Reservoir Dewatering

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

FOR MORE INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT:
Jim McCarthy, WaterWatch of Oregon, 541-941-9450, jim@waterwatch.org
Kirk Blaine, Steamboaters, 307-299-7834, steamboatersboard@gmail.com


Winchester, OR – This week, officials from state, federal, and tribal wildlife agencies are combing vast stretches of drying reservoir sediments above Winchester Dam on the North Umpqua River in an effort to stem losses from a massive fish kill sparked by a controversial ongoing dam repair effort. In particular, upwards of hundreds of thousands of young Pacific lamprey are feared lost due to the failure of Winchester Water Control District, the owners of the dam, to meet state and federal requirements for rescuing aquatic life stranded during a reservoir dewatering. This dewatering began around midnight on Monday August 7th in order to provide work crews with three weeks of structural access for repairs. This drawdown repair option was chosen by dam owners specifically for its cheapness compared with other common repair options, despite its known high impacts to the North Umpqua’s aquatic life, habitat, and drinking water supplies. State and federal officials chose to approve the owners’ repair proposal, despite having the authority to require lower impact repair methods, despite repeated formal pleas from river advocates to avoid the anticipated mass mortality of aquatic life by requiring a lower impact repair alternative, and despite a well documented history of mass mortality of aquatic life during previous dam repairs using the same drawdown method.

The death toll for the North Umpqua’s native aquatic life remains to be calculated, but it is expected to be staggering. According to public records, during a 2013 reservoir drawdown and subsequent scramble by wildlife officials and the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians to rescue fish from the carelessness of the Winchester Dam owners, The Cow Creek Tribe “estimated conservatively that for every one live lamprey salvaged there were approximately 10 dead in the same area (about 1ft2).” The dam repair plan calls for the approximately 7,500 foot long reservoir to remain dewatered from August 7th until August 28th.

“This massive fish kill could have been avoided, but wildlife officials chose to put the stinginess of a handful of well-connected private lake owners over their mission to protect our invaluable fish and wildlife.” said Jim McCarthy, Southern Oregon Program Director for WaterWatch of Oregon, and a leader of the coalition of fishing conservation, and whitewater groups to end the harm caused by Winchester Dam. “River advocates knew this would happen and pleaded with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and other agencies in charge to reject the low-cost, high-risk repair proposal of the dam owners, but we were ignored. This latest disaster and the public records from their past dam repair disasters make plain that Winchester Dam’s owners feel free to ignore regulations protecting people, fish, and water quality. It’s one of the many reasons this dam must be torn down, and we are committed to making that happen.”

“This is precisely what happened the last time they worked on the dam in 2013,” said Stan Petrowski, veteran Umpqua River advocate and President/Director of the
South Umpqua Rural Community Partnership. “There was considerable effort to hush hush the entire thing. There were thousands upon thousands of lamprey deaths. This will continue to recur again and again as long as that dam remains in place.”

“I am extremely disappointed in the current situation at Winchester Dam,” said Kirk Blaine, President of the Steamboaters and Southern Oregon Coordinator for Native Fish Society. “ODFW knew this would happen and they said yes for the convenience of the landowners who want to maintain their private water ski lake at the lowest cost possible. Just as ODFW said yes, allowing the landowners to trap our last few summer steelhead and spring Chinook below the dam to bake for three weeks in warm waters. This travesty of fish mortality is unfolding despite an available repair alternative that would have maintained the reservoir pool limiting lamprey mortality and providing continued fish passage during construction, allowing our last few remaining fish the best chance to survive the migration to cold water spawning habitat above the dam.”

Winchester Dam is a derelict former hydropower facility now owned and maintained solely to provide a private water ski lake for approximately 110 landowners surrounding the reservoir pool. River advocates from coalition of fishing, conservation, and whitewater groups have been working for years to raise 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. According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Winchester Dam is one of the state’s highest priorities for fish passage correction, and blocks or impedes access to 160 miles of high quality habitat for salmon and steelhead.

River advocates will be documenting the disaster and available to reporters for comment and to provide photos and video.

River Advocates Petition to ODFW Warning of Mass Lamprey Mortality
https://waterwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/Winchester_Dam_Passage_Petition_02_26_23.pdf

Public Records/Agency Notes from Past Winchester Dam repairs:
https://waterwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/WInchester-Draw-Down-Note-Synthesis-Final.docx
https://waterwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/WInchester-Draw-Down-Note-Synthesis-Final.docx
https://waterwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/Winchester-Dam-2013-Drawdown-Agency-Meeting2-Notes.docx

Winchester Dam Repair Permits

ODFW Fish Passage Authorization:
https://waterwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/ODFW_Fish_Passage_Authorization_Winchester_Dam_Repair_PA-17-0138.pdf

DEQ 401 permit:
https://waterwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/20230718_DEQ_401_WQC_2018_505_1.pdf

NOAA Biological Opinion:
https://waterwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/2023_07-20_WinchesterDam_WCRO-2022-02717.pdf

Army Corps permit:
https://waterwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/20230726-NWP-Verification-Ltr-NWP-2018-505-1.pdf

Revised WWCD removal-fill application (last one before Corps and DEQ issued permits):
https://waterwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/Joint-Permit-Application-DEQ-Submittal_20230707-Updates.pdf

Kirk BlaineWinchester Dam Repairs Spark Massive Pacific Lamprey Kill

Winchester Dam Repairs Begin Despite Permitting Irregularities, Collapsing Summer Steelhead Run, and Fears of Another Fish Kill

2023 Repair at Dam First Since Botched 2018 Attempt Caused Fish Kill and Polluted Drinking Water Supply for 37,000 People

Winchester, OR ­– On Monday August 7th, the fish ladder at Winchester Dam on the North Umpqua River near Roseburg will close until August 28th to allow reservoir drawdown and structural repairs at the 450-foot wide, 17-foot tall, 130-year-old wood, steel, and concrete structure. This drawdown method, chosen as the cheapest dam repair method by dam owner Winchester Water Control District over other well-established and more fish-friendly dam repair options, will release stored sediment downstream onto state-designated Essential Salmonid Habitat/federally-designated critical Coho salmon habitat while creating an migratory dead-end for imperiled summer steelhead, spring Chinook salmon, and other native species attempting to move upstream to the 160 miles of excellent cold water habitat above the dam. The release of stored water downstream on August 7th will likely attract native migratory fish towards the dam just after the ladder closes, confining them for weeks to the warm water below the dam, with no cold water refugia nearby. Compounding this harm, the reservoir refill occurring around August 28th will temporarily reduce river flows downstream of the dam during the driest and hottest period of the year and likely injure North Umpqua instream water rights intended to protect salmon and steelhead. Adding insult to injury, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) officials declined to answer river advocates’ formal request to use their authority to require a less harmful repair alternative maintaining upstream fish migration ­– only weeks before collapsing summer steelhead numbers spurred ODFW to shut all angling in the North Umpqua from August through November.

Winchester Dam is a derelict former hydropower facility now owned and maintained solely to provide a private water ski lake for approximately 110 landowners surrounding the reservoir pool. River advocates from coalition of fishing, conservation, and whitewater groups have been working for years to raise 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.

Concerns and irregularities that river advocates raised during the permitting process in the lead up to the 2023 repairs include but are not limited to:

  1. The dam owners failed to disclose to regulators that during past unpermitted repairs, the release of stored reservoir water also released stored sediment downstream onto salmon habitat and into public drinking water supplies. State and federal permit approvals for the 2023 repair were given after the dam owners told regulators that the presence of invasive aquatic plants in the reservoir would prevent release of sediment, and additionally, that they would secure a 50’ x 100’ tarp to the reservoir bed with sandbags. The plants and tarp will be subject to the full force and flow of the river flowing through the dam’s two narrow water release gates. (On average, Winchester Dam repairs have occurred once every three years since the 1960s, but public records show no permits for repairs prior to 2023.)
  2. State records show the dam owners have previously repaired the dam by installing large numbers of toxic pressure treated wood planks. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Human Services recommend that treated wood not be used where it may come in direct or indirect contact with public drinking water. Winchester Dam is just 50 feet upstream from Roseburg’s public drinking water intake. Despite this, regulators have not required removal of any pressure treated wood from the structure. The 2023 repair plan calls for drilling large numbers of holes into the dam’s pressure treated wood to secure a steel lattice.
  3. Previous repairs used rock fill to repair the many cavities within the wooden central span of the dam. As a cost-saving method, the 2023 dam cavity repairs will abandon rock fill in favor of injections of chemical intensive polyurethane foam, a known source of microplastic pollution, just 50 feet upstream from Roseburg’s public drinking water intake.
  4. The Winchester Dam owners were notified by state officials in a January 2023 letter that they were storing water in excess of their filed water right claim SW 398. The letter instructed the owners to come into compliance by lowering their reservoir pool by 1.5 feet, or to file for a new water right. The owners have disregarded the state’s instructions, and instead proposed a repair involving a reservoir refill that will likely injure downstream water rights, including certificated instream rights intended to protect the North Umpqua’s invaluable fisheries, including Oregon Coast Coho, which are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. Despite ongoing unlawful storage of water, the dam’s repair proposal has received all necessary state and federal permits.

Harm from the most recent previous Winchester Dam repair is well-documented. According to state investigators, pollution from the 2018 repairs at the dam degraded aquatic habitat, killed 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. Investigators also found that dam repairs were conducted without following known best management practices, even after authorities provided the dam owners with information in advance on how to protect water quality and fish. Winchester Dam lies entirely within state designated Essential Salmonid Habitat and federally designated critical habitat for Oregon Coast Coho salmon protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Unfortunately, 2018 likely wasn’t the first time Winchester Dam repairs polluted drinking water supplies and harmed North Umpqua fish and wildlife. Public records describe “leakage” during one previous repair and a state official complaining to the contractor “about cement in the river and no permits.”

According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Winchester Dam impedes access to 160 miles of high quality habitat for salmon and steelhead. Recently, the coalition forced the owners to finally agree to a schedule for bringing their emergency preparedness into compliance with state law for the first time in decades.

River advocates will be documenting the repairs during the three week fish migration closure and available to reporters for comment.

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Kirk BlaineWinchester Dam Repairs Begin Despite Permitting Irregularities, Collapsing Summer Steelhead Run, and Fears of Another Fish Kill

The Glide Wildflower Show, April 29-30, 2023

The largest showcase of native flora in the Pacific Northwest

Features of the show include:

  • Over 600 species of wildflowers, shrubs, trees, mosses, lichens, and ferns, collected throughout Southwest Oregon, artfully displayed and labeled
  • Special displays of edible and medicinal plants, natural dyes, noxious weeds, beekeeping, and photos of endangered flowers
  • Roving botanists available to answer questions
  • Sales of books and field guides; food, drink and homemade pies (a show tradition); and native plants

Presentations from knowledgeable speakers will include:

  • Tour the Show with a Botanist – Dr. Ken Carloni, retired UCC professor of botany
  • Medicinal and Edible Plant Uses – Steven Yeager, Mountain Rose Herbs in Eugene
  • Vegetation After Wildfire – Richard Helliwell, retired US Forest Service botanist
  • Exploring Oregon’s Botanical Diversity: Tools from Oregon’s Flora – Dr. Stephen Meyers, Oregon Flora Project, OSU
  • Guided Wildflower Walks – GWS collectors

The details:

  • Location: Glide Community Center, Glide, 17 miles east of Roseburg on Highway 13
  • $3 suggested donation
  • 9 am to 5 pm both Saturday and Sunday, with a photographers-only hour from 8 to 9 am
  • Handicapped accessible

 

Visit www.glidewildflowershow.org for more information. If you have questions or would like advice on planning your outing, email info@glidewildflowershow.org.

Kirk BlaineThe Glide Wildflower Show, April 29-30, 2023

A Message from the Steamboaters

By Kirk Blaine – February 6, 2023

As 2022 has come to a close and we have embarked 2023, the Steamboaters have been reflecting upon the work we completed this past year. From working to restore an all wild steelhead North Umpqua to increasing pressure on the owners of Winchester Dam, The Steamboaters are fighting to help conserve and protect the North Umpqua River and those wonderful fish that call it home.

2022 started rough. We experienced a relatively low winter steelhead return over Winchester dam, seeing 5,359 wild fish compared to the outstanding year of 2020 where the North Umpqua saw 10,131 winter steelhead. We received a late push of rain in April of 2022 to help bump the rivers up and get any straggling steelhead up to their native spawning grounds.

The spring continued to see copious amounts of water to help rejuvenate the entire Umpqua basin. Flows remained high through the early summer, worrying folks who were actively monitoring the wild summer steelhead that returned to the “Bend Pool” up Steamboat Creek. It wasn’t until mid to late June that flows dropped and the caretaker, Ed Kukimoto, observed the first fish of the year returning to the basin.

Summer continued with sustained flows of what seemed to be good fishing. Anglers were encountering fish consistently, a welcomed change from a closed river in 2021. Flows remained relatively stable, and the water temperatures did not get excessive until late summer. Only a few days did the temperatures reach dangerously high levels for fish. Unfortunately, we as anglers stand out at how good we are at catching fish, regardless of population size. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife counted a total of 1,346 wild steelhead over Winchester Dam. The second lowest run of wild fish ever on record (factoring in the harvest of wild summer steelhead below Winchester Dam pre 90’s). Through anecdotal observations and personal experience, it is likely we caught most of those 1,300 fish that returned this year. A reminder that we must practice the best catch and release techniques and actively limit our negative impacts. 

Through early 2022 we worked collaboratively with other groups including The North Umpqua Foundation to help restore an all-wild steelhead North Umpqua. We were successful in encouraging the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission to adopt this change for future management within the basin. An encouraging decision that will provide long-term positive effects to wild summer steelhead, maybe not for us, but for future generations who wish to continue to interact with these iconic fish.

Unfortunately, Douglas County and a local fishing guide decided to file a lawsuit against the commission, halting the implementation of the decision. The status quo will continue until the courts make a final decision in the next four months. 

The Steamboatyers continue to work to bring the rule of the law to Winchester Dam. Something new board member and WaterWatch Southern Oregon Program Director Jim McCarthy has been monumental in pushing forward. We are actively involved in litigation with the Winchester Water Control District over the take of ESA Listed coho salmon. There continues to be a massive hole in the south abutment of the dam. An inappropriate piece of conveyor belt covers the connection between the dam face and the fish ladder. Rebar is exposed on the fish ladder stem walls just below this false attraction flow. We have been referring to this as the fish spearing station. Winchester Dam still fails to meet state and federal fish passage regulations. I share this to illustrate the complete neglect dam owners have for our fish.

Owners intend to repair the dam summer of 2023. They have applied for and received a permit to block fish passage from August 1- August 28, the tail end of historic peak summer steelhead migration. Steamboaters are discussing this obsurd decision by ODFW to allow these actions. In 60’s and 70’s owners were allowed to block the dam for almost a month, causing complete outrage among fishermen and the community. We will continue to ask ODFW to reconsider this decision. 

Lastly, late last fall, the Steamboaters partnered with the National Forest Foundation and the United States Forest Service (USFS), Umpqua National Forest, to host a tree planting up Copeland Creek, a tributary of the North Umpqua River. Around 25 volunteers, both Steamboaters and gracious public volunteers, planted around 500 trees on 1.5 miles of a decommissioned road. This work will decrease sediment runoff, keeps summer water temps down, and increases instream flows. All positive improvements for our wild fish.

As an organization we will continue this habitat work in 2023. We met with USFS Biologists before the new year to discuss how our work could benefit the forest. We plan to apply for numerous habitat grants and will continue to help with riparian planting post Archie Creek and Jack Creek fires.

2023 will be big year for the Steamboaters. We have embarked on crafting a three to five year strategic plan outlining projects or areas we will focus our work on. We will continue our advocacy for an all wild steelhead North Umpqua. The pressure will continue on Winchester Dam, and we look forward to continuing to work with our partners to improve habitat in the upper watershed. 

The Steamboaters will continue to host social gatherings to help share our conservation efforts and create a community working to protect and enhance the North Umpqua River. 

All this to say, we couldn’t do this work without your support. To all the new and historic members, we thank you. Your consistent advocacy and willingness to be apart of the Steamboaters is what makes our work possible. We thank you for this and hope you continue to be a positive voice for the North Umpqua and the fish that call it home. In June, we plan to host a celebration of our work and gather with all Steamboaters and interested folks on the banks of the North Umpqua River. We hope to see you there. 

If you have any questions or thoughts about our work, we encourage you to reach out today. Send us and email at Steamboaersboard@gmail.com.

Kirk BlaineA Message from the Steamboaters

Steamboaters Social Roseburg

The Steamboaters invite you to join us on Tuesday, December 6th at North Forty Brewery in downtown Roseburg for an evening gathering! Grab a beer or two and join a community working to conserve and protect the North Umpqua River. The event starts at 5:30 pm, but feel free to join whenever you can make it. We will gather in the upstairs loft, so see you there!

If you plan to attend, please RSVP by sending a message to steamboatersboard@gmail.com.

 

Kirk BlaineSteamboaters Social Roseburg