Umpqua Watersheds Blog


Restoration Update.

Published June 9th, 2024 in Restoration Ken Carloni


As another summer begins to bloom and our thoughts turn to the great outdoors, we’d like to share the projects and progress that the Restoration Committee has been busy with over the last several months. In particular, we will update you on the legal state of play concerning the Winchester Dam and the Rock Creek Hatchery and our progress with a few other on-the-ground activities on the Umpqua.


We are fortunate to have an amazing suite of public and private partners and collaborators in ecosystem restoration throughout the region. With respect to the dam and hatchery, we are particularly impressed with the local knowledge and professionalism of our North Umpqua Coalition partners: The Conservation Angler, Native Fish Society, The North Umpqua Foundation, Oregon Wild, Pacific Rivers, Steamboaters and WaterWatch of Oregon. Many thanks to them for their unwavering advocacy in the Umpqua Watershed.


Readers of our 100 Valleys newsletter and our Restoration Blog will have a sense of the many decades of Winchester Dam problems, both structural and biological. A botched repair attempt by the dam owners in late summer of 2023 didn’t solve most of the problems and, in some cases, made it worse. Flows coming from under the dam were not repaired, the crumbling fish ladder was not touched, and an exposed steel girder just under the water curtain poses a new risk of injury or death to both out-migrating smolts falling from the crest of the dam, and to spawners jumping at the dam face.


Because of our nearly ‘round-the-clock vigilance during the repair attempt, the dam owners were documented to have committed at least 10 violations of conditions specified in its Water Quality Certification from the Oregon Dept. of Environmental Quality (DEQ). This negligence resulting in a fine of $106,778. And because of their poor planning for fish salvage, the owners were hit with a whopping $27.6 million fine by the Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife (ODF&W) in late October for negligently causing the deaths of over a half million Pacific lamprey. Also, because of our pressure on the Dept. of Water Resources, a bathymetric survey showed that the owners were holding back 30% more water than their water right allows. This is water that should be going to downstream users but instead is watering lawns and evaporating.

The simple solution to these and other problems caused by this antiquated dam is to take it out. This wouldn’t cost owners a dime — money has already been pledged to pay for removal. And because the reservoir has been drained several times over the decades, problems with mud and fish kills that are currently challenges for the Klamath dam removals, would be minimal.


The Rock Creek fish hatchery burned down in the 2020 Archie Creek fire. Our coalition is also actively working to see that this vestige of 19th-century “technology” not be rebuilt. Our reasoning is based on years of research documenting hatcheries’ negative impacts on wild fish runs.


A new study was just published that synthesized the results of over 200 peer-reviewed papers on the effects of hatcheries on wild fish stocks published in the last 50 years. Its findings revealed that large-scale salmon hatchery programs weaken wild salmon diversity and lead to wild population declines. Hatchery smolts, typically released in the hundreds of thousands, compete with wild smolts for food and other resources as they head to the ocean and compete for spawning habitat when they return as adults. Hatcheries severely degrade water quality downstream as massive amounts of fish wastes, antibiotics, and other chemicals used in the raceways are released.


Changes in gene expression (“epigenetic changes”) from being reared in concrete tanks and fed artificial diets change the physiology and behavior of hatchery fish, making them poorer survivors in the wild. And when hatchery fish cross with wild spawners, these changes can be passed on to their offspring for at least two generations. Add to this the diseases that many hatchery fish carry, climate change, commercial ocean fishing, habitat degradation from a century of logging and road building, and dams (like Winchester), and it’s no surprise so many runs are in decline.


Even though the Rock Creek hatchery buildings burned down, fertilized eggs from the North Umpqua have been reared in a hatchery on the Rogue River and released back into the river at Rock Creek. Two years ago, our coalition convinced the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission (the governor-appointed Commission that oversees the Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife) to discontinue the hatchery program for summer steelhead – the North Umpqua’s most endangered salmonid run. Along with the studies noted above, we showed them that when the winter steelhead program was discontinued at Rock Creek in the early 1990s, species rebounded dramatically and are now a robust, completely wild run.

Unfortunately, the Douglas County Commissioners and the Douglas Timber Operators sued to overturn the Commission’s ruling. That case is currently pending at the Oregon Supreme Court, and in the meantime, the ODF&W is still releasing tens of thousands of summer steelhead hatchery smolts into the North Umpqua. In 2023, just over a thousand wild and hatchery spawners crossed the Winchester Dam. Poor river conditions in the last two years will undoubtedly push those numbers lower in the future.



As ecosystem engineers, we know that beavers are a keystone species in western watersheds. Their dams create spawning areas for fish and habitat for many wetland plants and animals. Trapped for fur since the 1700s, their numbers plummeted. Even after the fur trade declined, they continued to be killed as “nuisance” animals because of their “predation” on tree seedlings planted in clearcuts. Fortunately, last October, House Bill 3464 was signed into law by Oregon’s governor, removing their “predator” designation and providing them with a much higher level of protection. Scientists agree that there are few things we could do to improve the ecology of our landscape than protecting and restoring beaver.


Cindy Haws and the UW grant team applied for and won a $97K grant from the Drinking Water Provider Partnership to survey 125 miles of tributaries to the South Umpqua for beavers. We will also provide public education opportunities to spread the word on the importance of beaver restoration and recovery. UW will partner with the Umpqua Natural Leadership Science Hub for the survey work and with the ODF&W, BLM, and U.S. Forest Service for technical assistance.



Umpqua Oak Partnership: As a “foundation species,” oaks are another keystone species in decline in western Oregon. UW continues as a founding member of UOP, a collaborative regional partnership of landowners, tribes, agencies, and organizations working together to preserve and promote healthy oak habitats in Douglas County.

Umpqua Native Plant Partnership: Restoration work relies heavily on the availability of appropriate native plants to recover ecosystem functions. Reliable sources of native seeds and starts are often difficult to find, may not have local genetics stocks, and are often very expensive. UW is also a founding member of this new US Fish and Wildlife Service-funded organization. The goals of the UNPP are to:

  1. Facilitate a sustainable and reliable supply of native plant materials to federal and state agencies as well as local non-governmental organizations and the public,
  2. Streamline the native plant materials procurement process by centralizing seed collection
  3. Efforts and seed production contracting among partner organizations
  4. Increase diversity and genetic appropriateness of locally available native plant materials and
  5. Provide technical and financial support to local native plant producers.


Blachly Mountain Forest Coast Divide Restoration Project: This initiative, spearheaded by the Many Rivers Chapter of the Sierra Club and the BLM, aims to apply ecological forestry methods to the Blachly Mt. Study Site west of Junction City. I will be advising on harvest methods and the potential for biochar production from management slash.

Biochar: This important soil amendment is created by heating wood at high temperatures (450-550o C) in a low oxygen environment. The resulting char holds more water and nutrients in the soil, provides habitat for beneficial microbes, and sequesters its carbon for centuries. The char can be returned directly to forest soils or used to improve farmland, remediate contaminated soils, prevent harmful algal blooms in water bodies, and treat wastewater.


UW members have partnered with the Yew Creek Land Alliance to successfully complete two federally funded projects: restoring 37 acres of oak habitat and producing biochar from 17 acres of slash from thinning competing conifers.


I am also doing demonstrations and consulting work on Martha’s Vineyard and Guam. I am in discussions with nonprofits on St. John, US Virgin Islands, to introduce biochar production to those islands to reduce their abundance of waste wood and invasive species, restore degraded soils and water bodies, and reduce the amount of nutrients from waste treatment systems in groundwater.


If any of these projects sound like something you would like to get involved in, please contact me at to get involved!






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