Restoration Update- WINCHESTER DAM UPDATE
By Ken Carloni
Faithful readers of this newsletter will recall that for the past several years, UW has been actively involved with our North Umpqua Coalition (NUC) partners to hold the Winchester Dam owners (the Winchester Water Control District or WWCD) accountable for the ecological harm their dam has caused since they took ownership of the dam in the late 1960s. The time, effort, and funds we have expended on this “slow-motion ecological disaster”1 have begun to pay off:
Because of our vigilance, WWCD was 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 lamprey2. Shortly after, the Oregon Dept. of Environmental Quality (DEQ) fined the WWCD an additional $106,778 for violating at least ten conditions of its Water Quality Certification during their work on the dam3.
Umpqua Watersheds provided many eyes and ears that caught numerous violations for which the WWCD has been fined – including water quality monitoring in the wee hours of the night, drone flights over the dam, and photographic and video documentation of ecological damage. The NUC made calls and provided documentation to state elected officials that led to legislative hearings on the Winchester Dam debacle. We believe this legislative “sunshine” gave the DEQ and ODF&W the support they needed to levy such significant fines.
Not surprisingly, the DEQ recently confirmed that WWCD and TerraFirma (the contractor that conducted the “repairs”) have chosen to contest their water quality fines related to the 2023 violations. The much more consequential ODF&W fine will almost certainly be contested and tried before a Douglas County judge.
Umpqua Watersheds was an intervener in the last DEQ-contested case regarding botched Winchester Dam repairs back in 2019-2020 and will again join WaterWatch of Oregon, the Native Fish Society, the Steamboaters, and other NUC member organizations to intervene in these new cases. WaterWatch is leading in developing an agreement with Crag Law Center4 to represent our coalition again.
Becoming interveners in these cases will allow our coalition to:
- Have a say in any settlement between the WWCD and either the DEQ, ODF&W, or both,
- Bring local environmental experience and expertise to the case,
- Keep the state agencies from buckling under political pressure,
Even though Crag Law has always worked for the NUC at very reasonable rates, UW must shoulder its share of the costs of intervening. We have committed to provide $250 to $300 per quarter to help pay for Crag’s work on the DEQ case. The ODF&W case will present a more significant financial burden if the intervening groups are to be successful. More time will need to be spent by Crag on discovery and other aspects of this complex case – we expect UW’s share to be in the range of several thousand dollars.
Please consider donating to Umpqua Watersheds to help us keep our shoulders to the wheel and put what may be the final nail in the Winchester Dam coffin.