This upcoming Monday, August 7th, The Winchester Water Control District will begin maintenance preparations on Winchester Dam, blocking much of the North Umpqua for migrating salmon and steelhead. The repair work will shutdown the dam’s fish ladder, preventing migration access to some 160 miles of prime cold water habitat, and the reservoir drawdown will “trick” migrating species to move up-river only to have no where to go. This is very bad situation for these already struggling salmonid runs.

Winchester Dam, controversial in its own right, is a 130-year old structure that has not produced electricity for nearly a century and is now categorized as “High Hazard” by Oregon’s Water Resources Department. Today, the dam’s primary purpose is to maintain the reservoir as the private landowners’ personal waterski lake. This dilapidated structure has traditionally undergone repairs every three years since its construction, but “public records show no permits for repairs prior to 2023,” according to a Native Fish Society press release.

The Winchester Water Control District will be doing structure repairs for the dam, which in the past utilized pressure treated lumber, a material the Federal agencies have recommended NOT be used when coming in direct contact with drinking water sources. Well, past botched repairs at Winchester Dam have polluted drinking water for some 37,700 local residents. The repair schedule is even more concerning.


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The reservoir above Winchester Dam is set to begin draw-down on August 7th, which will send cold water down river. This will signal to migrating fish species that it is a good time to move up-river. However, without a functional fish ladder, these fish will be stuck and likely further-harmed by the stagnant river’s increasing temperatures. This year’s North Umpqua summer steelhead run is terrible, already prompting the Oregon Department of Wildlife and Fish to preemptively shut down angling from August through November just a couple of weeks ago.

“ODFW biologists project the run will not meet the 1,200 returning wild fish “critical abundance level” – the point where conserving the population could be in jeopardy if a downward trend continues…Current counts of wild summer steelhead passing Winchester Dam are just under half the amount needed to expect meeting critical abundance for the year. Low water flows and water temperatures approaching 80 degrees in the lower North Umpqua and mainstem Umpqua rivers also play a role in this emergency angling closure.” North Umpqua Summer Steelhead are collapsing.

Additional repairs will include injecting “chemical intensive polyurethane foam, a known source of microplastic pollution, just 50 feet upstream from Roseburg’s public drinking water intake.”

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.

Native Fish Society and other advocacy groups will be monitoring the repair work and providing updates, but this appears to be a terribly ill-conceived project that will have grave impacts to the already struggling fish and wildlife.

For more details, head on over to the Native Fish Society’s breakdown.

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