Downstream side of the dangerous low head Winchester Dam

Condemned in 1976, the 450-foot Winchester Dam on the North Umpqua River is a “low head” dam.

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), “A low head dam is a manufactured structure, built in a river or stream channel, extending fully across the banks. A low head dam is designed and built such that water flows continuously over the crest from bank to bank. If water levels rise downstream, a submerged hydraulic jump can form which produces an upstream directed current that traps any recreationist who might go over the dam.”

Unlike other dams in Oregon, there are no safety rope buoys or signs warning boaters and swimmers upstream to stay away from the imminent danger presented by the 134-year-old Winchester Dam.

Low head dams are known as “drowning machines” due to the extreme hazard they pose to swimmers, kayakers, rafters, and other recreationalists, who may not be aware of the turbulent currents they can cause, which are extremely difficult to escape – especially when the river level is high.

The downstream side of a low head dam like the Winchester Dam can create a “drowning zone” which can prove fatal.

Unlike other dams in Oregon, there are no safety rope buoys or signs warning boaters and swimmers upstream to stay away from the imminent danger presented by the Winchester Dam. In 2022, two women were paddleboarding upstream of the dam. Due to the higher-than-normal water levels, they found themselves clinging to the rim of the dam with their bare hands until they no longer had the strength to fight the current and were swept over the dam’s precipice. Both women were injured in the subsequent 17-foot fall, and one was hospitalized.

It’s seems that it simply a matter of time before the Winchester Water District members, the owners of the derelict dam, find themselves defendants in a wrongful death lawsuit resulting from the most dangerous and toxic private water ski lake in Oregon.