Downstream side of the dangerous low head Winchester Dam

In an April 18, 1994, letter from Gary Ball, Watermaster, to Al Cook, Southwest Regional Manager or Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD), the agency determined that Winchester Water Control District (WWCD) was illegally storing 91-acre-feet of river water in excess of their 1910 allotted water rights of 300-acre feet.

Yet in the ensuing three decades, OWRD and WWCD took no action to mitigate this criminal offense. 

In November 2022, a coalition of 17 organizations, including WaterWatch of Oregon, Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman’s Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources, and Steamboaters formally requested OWRD conduct a bathymetric survey to confirm WWCD’s illegal water storage.

Instead of enforcing the laws as is their mandated purpose, in April 2023, OWRD agreed to amend WWCD’s 1910 water storage rights from 300-acre feet to 391-acre feet, thereby accommodating the extra 91-acre-feet of water WWCD had illegally stored for decades. 

This sets a terrible precedent. 

Furthermore, it increases the volume of water – and by extension the enormous pressure – behind the bent, bowed, and long-ago condemned dam face which, according to OWRD, can only be “considered as temporary in nature.” 

Most disturbingly, the WWCD has hired three different independent engineers – the best science money can buy – to conduct flood studies unanimous in their findings that downstream residents will not be impacted if the dam fails. These dubious claims were made, despite OWRD’s condemnation of Winchester Dam half a century ago and their rating it a “high hazard” – meaning “the department expects loss of human life if the dam fails.” 

One wonders if (and when) these engineers will be subpoenaed to appear as experts in a wrongful death lawsuit against the WWCD and the state agencies that failed to remove the condemned Winchester Dam, as was deemed prudent, appropriate, and wise, nearly half a century ago. 

Their evident disregard for human life and public safety is a cause for concern.

Nevertheless, despite these many red flags, the OWRD continues to turn a blind eye to Ryan Beckley and WWCD’s countless transgressions and permit violations, going so far as to literally change state regulations to accommodate Beckley’s ongoing disregard for public safety, fisheries best management practices, and rule of law. 

Why doesn’t the OWRD enforce the laws that exist to profit illegal water storage? Why is the dam OWRD condemned in 1976, and said could only be “considered as temporary in nature” still standing 48 years later?

Bring down the dam. Bring back the fish and the jobs.