Press Kit

8,700 word press release about the Winchester Dam.

News Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                   CONTACT:   Mike Lee

April 20, 2024                               

The Most Dangerous and Illegal Dam in Oregon

Winchester Dam on Douglas County’s Wild and Scenic North Umpqua River

The seaside community of Gold Beach, Oregon, 30 miles north of the California border, is a fisherman’s paradise and the fishing season is open all year.

At 4:30 a.m. on a weekend morning in August or September, cars are backed up for a mile at the port of Gold Beach, where hundreds of anglers come to fish on the Wild and Scenic Rogue River. In the past three years, four dams were removed in the Rogue Basin – three on the Rogue’s main stem, and another on Elk Creek, a key coho salmon tributary. Consequently, the Rogue River now offers some of the best salmon fishing in the nation.

But things are very different 100 miles away on the North Umpqua River in Douglas County, Oregon. 

On July 31, 2023, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) closed all fishing on the North Umpqua until December 2023 – the second 120-day fishing ban in the last three years.[1]

ODFW requires a prediction or estimate of a season total of 1,200 wild summer steelhead.[2] In 2021, when only 450 were counted, the river was closed to fishing.[3] There are so few fish in the North Umpqua this year, Greg Huchko, ODFW’s Umpqua District Senior Biologist, won’t even reveal the fish count total. 

“Really low,” is all he’ll say.

And it’s all because of the Winchester Dam, the most dangerous and illegal dam in the entire state of Oregon. 

The bowed and crumbling 450-foot-wide wood and steel dam is five miles north of Roseburg, Oregon, just 500 feet from Interstate Highway 5, and plainly visible to every passing motorist.

The 133-year-old derelict dam is privately owned by the Winchester Water Control District whose 99 members are of some of the wealthiest landowners in (and out of) Douglas County. They use the reservoir behind the dam on the North Umpqua River as their private mile-and-a-half long water ski lake, at the exclusion of the public, and they spend as little money as possible on dam maintenance and repair.

*        *        *

The Winchester Water Control District has committed a laundry-list of crimes and misdemeanors including:

• Illegal water storage

• Pollution of the North Umpqua River

• Privatization of publics lands and waterways

• The killing tens of thousands of threatened and sensitive aquatic species
• Repeated failure to comply with state and federal laws and regulations. 

• The use of poisonous and carcinogenic building materials within 50 feet of the intake to    

   the public drinking water source for 37,700 residents.

If it wasn’t situated in Good-Old-Boy-friendly Douglas County, and owned by the county’s wealthiest citizens, the Winchester Dam would have been removed when the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) condemned it back in 1976.

OWRD gave Winchester Dam the highest danger rating, “high hazard,” meaning: “the department expects loss of human life to occur if the dam fails.”[4]

OWRD requires “high hazard” dams to be inspected annually.[5] OWRD told Winchester Water Control District (WWCD) that “consideration must be given to a permanent dam, the existing wooden dam being considered as temporary in nature … either reconstruction or removal of the dam would be necessary.” WWCD was instructed to “inspect the dam on a semiannual basis, once a year with the water drawn down.”

That was half a century ago.

In an ongoing pattern of chronic non-compliance and disregard for public safety, WWCD president Ryan Beckley and its board of directors skirted OWRD’s requirement by hiring contractors to visually examine the dam without even lowering the water spilling over its top, even though (as Beckley is well aware) it’s impossible to inspect a dam until the water level is lowered to expose its leaking structure.

But despite these legal requirements, the condemned Winchester Dam was only drained (and its leaking structure inspected) by the OWRD three times in 47 years – in 1976, 1987, and 2013. Each inspector reported serious deficiencies and reitterated the need for annual inspections.[6] But the dam hasn’t had a comprehensive structural inspection since 1987, when it was determined that 10% of the dam wall was leaking.[7]

After the 2013 inspection, OWRD found the dam’s up slope, crest and downslope were all described as “urgent dam safety issues – action now.”[8] It went on to say that “The dam’s condition rating has been downgraded to poor and may be downgraded further to unsatisfactory if the dam safety issues are not addressed in the very near future.”

And yet, a decade later, neither Phil Ward, Director of the Oregon Water Resources Department nor WWCD has taken any action to protect the downstream residents and the general public.

*        *        *

In August 2023, WWCD president Ryan Beckley told a reporter from the Roseburg News-Review that he personally designed the current dam repair project as a “permanent solution — a fix for 100 years to come.”[9]

“There’s never been a salvage effort anywhere comparable to that whatsoever,” Beckley declared. “I’m not trying to paint a picture that we were callous about it or we disregarded it, but we’re spending almost a quarter of a million dollars on fish salvage.”[10]

But hundreds of photographs of thousands of dead fish at the Winchester Dam tell a different story. 

Beckley’s recent repairs so imperiled the native fish on the downstream side of the Winchester Dam, on August 9, 2023, about 50-60 representatives of state agencies rushed to the dam to rescue stranded and dying fish. These state agency employees are paid with federal and state funds.

In 2021, a majority of Winchester Water Control District’s (WWCD) members voted to approve a $3 million bond levy (perhaps ghost-authored by Beckley) to “finance the repair of Winchester Dam” and to “pay fines, penalties, judgements, legal fees and other costs related to the Winchester Dam” and to “refinance existing indebtedness.” 

The bond was passed in their own private district.[11] So, whether they voted for it or not, all 99 members of the WWCD are footing the bill for Beckley’s negligence and mismanagement of the Winchester Dam. 

*        *        *

Ryan Beckley’s track record speaks for itself.  

“[WWCD]has been trying to run this dam cheap for years and years…” wrote Jim McCarthy of WaterWatch of Oregon, a nonprofit organization that protects and restores Oregon rivers. “These people can’t be trusted to own a dam.”[12]

According to McCarthy, Ryan Beckley has “never repaired a dam before in his life.”[13]

If Beckley really did design the dam repair project, as he claims. this may be a violation of state statutes regarding the practice of engineering intended to protect public safety. 

Jim McCarthy explained:

According to his candidate form filed with the county when he ran for the Winchester Water Control District Board, Mr. Beckley does not have an engineering degree. According to the form, he left high school at the 11th grade and did not receive a diploma.[14]

The dam repair plan was, in fact, designed by engineers at Dickinson, Oswald, Walch, and Lee (DOWL).[15]They told regulators repairs would be much more limited than what Beckley claims. In an April 4, 2023, DOWL technical memo to state dam safety officials the repairs would be “to the minimum extent necessary to eliminate known and reasonably anticipated dam safety deficiencies at the dam.”[16]

In a consistent pattern of avoidance of accountability, spending as little as possible, and maximizing profits, WWCD president Ryan Beckley awarded the contract for repairs of the Winchester Dam to TerraFirma Foundation Systems – a company Beckley himself owns.

Like the proverbial fox guarding the hen house, some would consider it a conflict of interest for WWCD president Beckley to invoice the members of the WWCD for dam repair services his own company does (or does not) provide at the Winchester Dam.

But Ryan Beckley’s non-compliance is not limited to his management of the Winchester Dam. He manages TerraFirma with the same apparent recklessness and disregard for safety. In the past two years alone, TerraFirma’s trucking division, headquartered in Roseburg, Oregon, has racked up forty-two trucking violations, including nine unsafe driver violations – all reported by the state of Washington. Three were driver fitness violations, seven were maintenance violations, and other violations included speeding, uninsured driver, and open container.[17] 

• In 2016, the Oregon Construction Contractors Board was forced to take disciplinary   

   actions against TerraFirma for working without a permit.[18]

• In 2018, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fined 

   TerraFirma $6,000 for the carbon monoxide poisoning of one Beckley’s employees.[19]

• In 2018, Terrafirma was cited and fined $9,620 by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety

   Administration for a motor vehicle safety violation.[20]

• In 2019, OSHA fined Terra Firm $420 for safety violations deemed “serious” during a 

   routine inspection of their Tigard, Oregon, office.[21]

The precarious instability of the Winchester Dam presents an ever-present danger to the health and safety of the downstream residents. 

According to WaterWatch of Oregon “there are many holes through the dam’s face and under its foundation” including “eroded concrete” and “exposed rebar.”[22] During previous repairs to the Winchester Dam, WWCD contractors installed hundreds of pressure-treated 2 x 12” boards[23] 50-feet upstream of the drinking water supply for 37,700 residents – the use of which is prohibited in contact with public drinking water.[24] They also installed creosote-treated wooden railroad ties, a “probable human carcinogen”[25] prohibited “for use in contact with food, feed, or drinking water.”[26] The pressure-treated wooden planks installed during the 2013 repairs to the Winchester Dam immediately began leaking toxins into the downstream drinking water supply.[27]

Due to the likelihood of life-threatening disaster if the dam failed, the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) ordered WWCD to update their Emergency Action Plan (EAP). Oregon statute OAR 690-020-0400(4) requires EAPs to updated annually. 

In what can only be described as wanton disregard for public safety, WWCD hadn’t updated their EAP since 1987. This meant that, in the event of an emergency, all the contact people listed in their EAP were retired or dead, and all the phone numbers had been changed or disconnected. 

In November 2021, under pressure from the OWRD and more than a dozen local organizations – after 34 years of stonewalling, WWCD finally updated their EAP.[28]

But 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.

Last year, 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.[29]

*        *        *

In 1994 the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) 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.[30]

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.[31]

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.”[32] 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. 

There must be a logical explanation for Mr. Beckley’s exceptionalism.

*        *        *

In many American towns and cities, including like Roseburg, Oregon, certain well-connected, privileged, monied, white property owners like Ryan Beckley, are seemingly exempt from state laws that apply to everyone else. 

For some unknown reason, the state agencies are either unable or unwilling enforce state laws at Douglas County’s Winchester Dam – laws they regularly enforce at other dams and on other rivers. It is as if some high-level state or federal government bureaucrat is intervening on behalf of Beckley and WWCD, forcing the agencies to ignore matters pertaining to their private water ski lake on the North Umpqua River.

Beckley, who apparently has never encountered a permitting process he couldn’t evade, doesn’t even live in Douglas County. According to his company’s website, his home is in West Linn, Oregon, 165 miles away.[33] His family has been in Oregon for six generations and has worked in the building trades for more than a century. 

When Beckley recently sold off his residential property overlooking the Winchester Dam, he suddenly found himself without a local address. He apparently persuaded his girlfriend, who owns property in the WWCD, to add his name to her property title, so he could continue to serve as president of the WWCD board of directors.

The derelict and disintegrating Winchester Dam hasn’t produced hydroelectricity for more than half a century. It offers no flood control or irrigation. Its sole purpose is to provide a private water ski lake for the exclusive “recreational” use of the 99 wealthy property owners in the WWCD, at the exclusion of the public.[34]

Because it provides no public purpose, the Winchester Water Control District (WWCD) itself is, in fact, an illegal organization according to Oregon law. Oregon Revised Statute 553.020 specifically requires all water control districts in the State of Oregon to provide a public purpose such as hydroelectricity, irrigation, or flood control.

The same statute makes it perfectly clear that “recreation” is not a public purpose.

Despite WWCD’s clear and ongoing violation of this law, OWRD allowed the WWCD to exist and refuses to enforce ORS 553.020 in this instance.[35]  

Meanwhile, Douglas County real estate brokers continue to advertise multi-million-dollar WWCD properties as having their own private water ski lake. 

And this is made possible through courtesy of the taxpayer funded regulatory agencies of the State of Oregon.

*        *        *

In 1978, WWCD wrote a letter to the Douglas County commissioners asking for the taxpayers to take over financing and maintenance of the condemned Winchester Dam and their private water ski lake. After reading the Oregon Water Resources Department’s 1976 report condemning the dam, the Douglas County head of public works “declined” WWCD’s offer – ownership of the dam was considered too great a liability.[36]

Six years later, WWCD’s illegal privatization of public land and river was compounded by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) 1984 enactment of an unprecedented and novel regulation OAR 635-008-127, which is found nowhere else in Oregon and is only applicable to a solitary public boat ramp at the Winchester Dam. The regulation makes it “unlawful to launch or retrieve power boats from North Umpqua River Ramp area, located approximately one mile upstream from the Winchester Dam and on the south side of the river.”[37]

Ironically, in the 1970s, ownership of this particular boat ramp site was transferred to the state by L&H Lumber for the express purpose of allowing anglers access to the river upstream.

But ODFW went out of their way to create this law – a law that only benefits the 99 wealthy WWCD members – the only law of its kind in Oregon.

Now the area is posted with signs prohibiting the public from using this boat ramp and police enforce the law if one trespasses.

*        *        *

Ryan Beckley and his WWCD predecessors have repeatedly skirted the permitting process for dam repair by deliberately taking no action for years until the problem burgeoned into “an emergency.”

Inexplicably (and conveniently) emergency repairs do not require permits.

Haphazard and careless repairs were made by contractors with no qualifications or previous experience in dam repair. It is now documented that WWCD failed to disclose to regulators that during previous emergency repairs WWCD knowingly released sediment stored behind the dam into endangered salmon habitat and into public drinking water supplies.[38]

So much for the millions of dollars taxpayers have spent on aquatic habitat restoration projects. 

WWCD’s ongoing pattern of willful and deliberate non-compliance of state and federal laws, and ongoing mismanagement of the Winchester Dam, has served to galvanize a bipartisan coalition of neighbors, fishermen, conservationists, and whitewater groups, who now call for the permanent removal of the dam.

*        *        *

In 2019, ODFW ranked Winchester Dam and its fish ladder the 26th worst out of 590 migratory fish passage barriers in Oregon in accordance with a state law (ORS 509.585(3)).[39]

This statute requires ODFW to update the ranking of barriers to migratory fish passage in Oregon’s streams and rivers every five years. Winchester Dam and its fish ladder will move up into the top 10 barriers to migratory fish passage when the new list is released in 2024 – a dubious distinction indeed.[40]

The Winchester Dam’s wooden lip and its height of 17-feet effectively prevent fish from jumping over. Consequently, Winchester Dam is now the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (ODFW) second highest priority for fish passage improvement among all privately owned dams in the state.[41]

But in direct contradiction of ODFW’s Fish Passage Task Force findings, their Senior Biologist Greg Huchko – ODFW’s top official in the Umpqua District – is repeatedly quoted by local media stating that in his professional opinion, the dam is merely “delaying fish migration.” Consequently, Huchko’s professional opinions are repeatedly quoted by WWCD in their permit applications to repair the Winchester Dam.[42]  

It’s difficult to believe that a qualified senior biologist like Huchko would make such an uninformed, ingenuous, and inaccurate statement. He appears to have conveniently forgotten that his employer, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), has repeatedly stated that Winchester Dam impedes access to 160 miles of high-quality cold-water habitat for salmon, trout, and lampreys upstream.[43]

• Coho salmon are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and lamprey  

   are listed as a “sensitive species” by the State of Oregon.[44]

• Coho populations at the Winchester Dam have plummeted from nearly 20,000 in 2001 

   to fewer than 1,900 in 2022.[45]

• Lamprey populations at the Winchester Dam have diminished from almost 30,000 in

  1968 to a fewer than 1,000 in 2021.[46]

• Summer steelhead are also listed as a sensitive species and their populations at the        

  Winchester Dam have dropped from more than 20,000 in 1987 to just 630 in 2021.[47]

These fish are historical food sources for the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe. 

Ironically, in 2018, the same state agencies that continue to allow Ryan Beckley to repair the Winchester Dam without proper permits were forced to slap WWCD’s previous contractor, Basco Logging, Inc.,  – owned by yet another WWCD board member Juan Yraguen – with a $58,378 fine for pouring pollutants and cement into the river that entered the public drinking water system and killed a lot of lampreys, steelhead, and salmon.[48]

On January 27, 2020, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) informed Yraguen:

DEQ issued this penalty, because the North Umpqua River is important habitat for threatened Oregon Coast coho salmon and several other sensitive species, and your activities resulted in the discharge of sediment and wet (or “green”) concrete to the river, degrading aquatic habitat and killing numerous fish. These incidents also negatively affected the quality of the primary drinking water source for two community water systems – City of Roseburg and Umpqua Basin Water Association, serving approximately 37,700 people (28,800 and 8,900, respectively).[49]

Yraguen appealed the fine and inexplicably, DEQ lowered it from $58,378 to $19,517, setting another terrible precedent. Decisions of this kind only serve to encourage and embolden bad actors like Juan Yraguen and Ryan Beckley – both of whom are WWCD board members.[50]

To add insult to injury, in violation of his permit, Beckley constructed a roadbed for his heavy equipment, made out of used automobile tires, right through the riverbed. [51] Tires contain a chemical called 6PPD, an antioxidant and antiozonant that helps prevent the degradation rubber compound which is instantaneously lethal to Coho [salmon].[52] has made numerous attempts to contact OWRD’s Douglas County Watermaster, Susan Douthit, but she has not responded to our many phone messages and emails.

*        *        *

On August 7, 2023, Ryan Beckley drained the private water ski lake behind the Winchester Dam to begin three weeks of repairs as originally ordered by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife back in 2019. 

Beckley’s permit specified that the water level would be lowered at a rate of no more than two inches per hour to minimize disturbance to the aquatic habitat. But witnesses report that Beckley actually drained the lake at midnight (thinking no one would monitor his misdeeds) and did so at two feet per hour, exponentially faster than permitted, devastating downstream fish habitat, impeding fish migration, and making the dam an even more insurmountable barrier for fish.

This resulted in the killing of what Shaun Clements, acting director of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife called “hundreds of thousands” of lampreys in what is now recognized as the largest fish kill on an Oregon river in 2023.[53]

When the private water ski lake behind the dam was drained in 2013, the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe conservatively estimated that for every live lamprey salvaged, there were approximately 10 dead in the same one square foot area. The August 2023 Winchester Dam repairs called for the nearly 7,500-foot-long water ski lake to remain “dewatered” for three weeks.

Earlier this year, on February 27, 2023, the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association petitioned Curt Melcher, Director of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to reconsider his agency’s approval of Beckley’s August 2023 repair plan for the Winchester Dam – specifically citing the irreversible damage to the fishery caused by “dewatering for three weeks” (draining the lake).

Apparently, Mr. Melcher ignored their petition.

Nevertheless, Beckley so ineptly managed the repairs at Winchester Dam, he couldn’t complete the contracted work in the allotted three-weeks and applied for a three-day extension until August 31, 2023, which Melcher obliginglyapproved, guaranteeing further damage to the fishery his agency is charged with protecting.

*        *        *

The highly toxic pressure-treated[54] and the creosote-treated wood used in previous repairs to Winchester Dam was exposed during the August 2023 repairs – but was not removed.

Taxpayers picked up the tab for a specially designed $50,000 lamprey fish ramp installed at the Winchester Dam in 2013. During the August 2023 dam repairs, along with the fish ladder, this ramp was shut down so fish passage was blocked for over four weeks when the private water ski lake above the dam was drained.

Curiously, when the dams were removed on the Rogue River in neighboring Curry County a few years ago, the same Curt Melcher, Director of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife refused to allow the fish ladders to be shut down or fish passage blocked for even one minute

Perhaps Melcher can explain what’s so different about the fish in Douglas County? 

Ryan Beckley chose the apex of a severe wildfire season in the hottest summer on record, to drain WWCD’s private water ski lake. Beckley’s permit required WWCD to implement a comprehensive strategy to salvage fish stranded or isolated fish both upstream, and downstream of the dewatered dam.

But according to Jeffrey Dose, a retired fish biologist with 31 years of experience in the Umpqua River Basin, and the author of Salmon 2021: The Future of Wild Pacific Salmon in the Pacific Northwest, this did not occur. “Tens of thousands of juvenile Pacific lamprey were also dewatered,” said Dose, “and suffered extensive mortality. The WWCD … failed miserably.” He called Ryan Beckley’s and WWCD’s conduct “reprehensible and predictable.”[55]

On August 9, 2023, 48 hours after the draining of the private water ski lake, dozens of state, federal, and tribal entities attempted to rescue juvenile Pacific lamprey that were trapped behind the drained dam wall – even though Beckley’s permit specifically stated that this was WWCD’s responsibility. The efforts of these state and federal officials at the Winchester Dam (paid for by taxpayers) were largely unsuccessful due to Beckley on-the-cheap and inept dam repair plan, and his callous disregard for native fish. 

The 109º temperature of August 14, 2023, sealed the fate of any remaining trapped fish. 

Ryan Beckley had the audacity to misinform the Roseburg News-Review that he had “hired 17 marine biologists who were there the first four days, accompanied by 60-70 volunteers.” 

Beckley’s claim is patently false. 

Apparently, he is unaware that marine biologists’ expertise is in oceanic environments. The biologists to whom Beckley refers were among the volunteers who showed up on August 9, 2023, (also paid for by the taxpayers) to attempt save the fish from certain death imposed upon them by Beckley’s failure to observe “fishery best management practices.”  

Jim McCarthy of WaterWatch of Oregon wrote:

This is like an arsonist lighting the forest on fire, then taking credit for the firefighters who show up after others rush to raise the alarm. River advocates observing the repairs on August 7, 2023, immediately raised concerns with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) regarding the woefully inadequate salvage effort of the [WWCD] District, and soon after notified federal wildlife officials of the mass death of lamprey.[56]

“At the least, the WWCD should reimburse all the costs;” wrote Jeffrey Dose, “including salaries, transportation, equipment, per diem, and any other expenses that were … incurred by civil servants and employees of agencies [who came to rescue stranded fish at Winchester Dam on August 9, 2023] that are taxpayer expenses. We, citizens and taxpayers, should accept nothing less.”[57]

*        *        *

Throughout the repair process, Ryan Beckley has made modifications to the dam repair plan that were not approved in his permit.[58]

Curiously, the ODFW inspectors, who are supposed to be enforcing the permit as written – like they do on all the other rivers and at other dams in Oregon, are simply rubber-stamping their approval to each noncompliant phase of Beckley’s construction – things that should have been included in the ODFW’s permit approval but were not. 

This is precisely the opposite of the self-described mandate posted on ODFW’s website: “Protecting and enhancing Oregon’s fish and wildlife, and the habitats they use, for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations is at the heart of what we do.” 

This is sheer hypocrisy.

And yet, it is as if Ryan Beckley – Svengali-like – is directing Curt Melcher, Director of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s each and every move in matters pertaining to the North Umpqua River and the Winchester Dam – and not the other way round.

Retired biologist Jeffrey Dose wrote:

In my view, the biggest failures were by the various state and federal agencies in, essentially, rubberstamping the well described adverse impacts to the North Umpqua River, its ecosystem, it’s cultural history, and it’s native aquatic resources like salmon, steelhead, and Pacific lamprey have been compromised due to the agency’s failure to meet their responsibilities.[59]

“I am extremely disappointed in the current situation at Winchester Dam,” said Kirk Blaine, president of Steamboaters and Southern Oregon and southern Oregon coordinator for the Native Fish Society. “ODFW knew this would happen and they said yes for the convenience of the landowners who want to maintain their private water ski lake at the lowest cost possible.”[60]

*        *        *

Douglas County, Oregon, is ostensibly owned by the timber industry. 

• More than 50% of Douglas County, Oregon, residents are “income constrained.”[61]

• Thirteen percent of the population lives below the poverty rate,[62]

• More than 25% rely on public food aid,.[63]

• One out of five kids in south county are homeless. 

The multimillion-dollar McMansions that overlook the Winchester Dam in the WWCD are the most expensive residential properties in all of Douglas County:

• One-hundred-and-sixty-two parcels are owned by 99 wealthy individuals. 

• Each year, as many as 10% of these 162 parcels are bought and sold.

• Nearly twenty percent of the WWCD property owners live outside Douglas County.

• Sixty-two of the parcels are lakefront properties with green lawns stretching down to the banks of the private water ski lake. One third of them are summer homes. 

In early August 2023, WWCD president Ryan Beckley told Jefferson Public Radio: 

[M]y family has had a home here for three generations with this reservoir behind it. If it was harming fish, the people that live behind it would be the first ones to pony up… I absolutely know, that if I had any inclination or indication that it was doing damage, that the people that live here have the means and the resources to correct that and that we would.[64]

Beckley ingenuously claims that the Winchester Dam serves as a barrier that keeps out invasive species. 

This is patently false – one of an ever-growing number of make-believe reasons to keep the WWCD’s private water ski lake from being removed.

According to aquatic biologists familiar with the North Umpqua, the cold water upstream of the dam is a natural barrier to invasive plants and fish. If the dam were removed, the river itself would naturally repel invasive species, as it did for tens of thousands of years before the dam was built.

Even Meghan Dugan, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Public Affair Officer admitted in an email dated September 12, 2023, that ODFW staff have, in fact, counted smallmouth passing through the Winchester Dam fish ladder. Dugan confirmed that theWinchester Dam does not stop smallmouth bass from traveling upriver.[65] 

*        *        *

During the August 2023 repairs at the Winchester Dam, Ryan Beckley violated his permit by spilling many yards of wet concrete into the river, 50 feet from the drinking water intake for 37,700 neighbors – not once but twice.

What can possibly explain Oregon State agencies failure to intervene on behalf of the public health and safety of the downstream residents? 

It appears the agencies charged with water quality, public safety, and fisheries best management practices, are literally doing everything they can to imperil the 37,700 downstream residents. These neighbors are likely unaware that the Winchester Dam has been condemned for half a century, it provides no public benefit, it’s a documented source of toxins and carcinogens, and must be removed for the safety and welfare of the community.

Apparently, the people heading these agencies have decided they don’t have to enforce any of these laws until citizens sue them, prevail in court, and a judge forces them to do their jobs.

The agencies that are charged with protecting the fish and their habitat conspire to keep an obsolete, condemned, and derelict dam in place – a dam that actually kills threatened and endangered fish, just so 99 rich people can have their own private water ski lake.

*        *        *

Much to the amusement of those familiar with Beckley’s established pattern of non-compliance and permit-evasion skullduggery, in 2007 announced that Beckley was a “Contractor of the year finalist.” (Perhaps this was satire.) But if it’s true, this singular distinction wasn’t reported by any other website or newspaper. It is worth noting that, in 2018, the following comment was posted below the aforementioned “article:”

How can you be contractor of the year when you let employees work without a permit? Ryan Beckley how is it possible? [C]an you explain to everyone [the] permitting process that takes place when this happens? What can you share about mak[ing] a client disappear after received code violations about poor Workmanship on repair job that your company did? Is this a magic trick [?] are you a magician or to ashamed to take responsibility for something that is public record for all to view the truth?[66]

*        *        *

Beckley’s August 2023 plan to drain the private ski lake at Winchester Dam didn’t include the recovery of any stranded fish. 

Likewise, it ignored repair of the fish ladder which fails to meet federal requirements. 

As ODFW has noted on numerous occasions, erosion has undercut the foundation of the fish ladder’s walls and the ladder itself is so old and out-of-date, it’s worn down to the rusting rebar.

In August 2023, Beckley told a reporter from the News-Review:

If WaterWatch came to me and said, ‘We’ll give you a grant to upgrade this fish ladder to the current federal standard, and we won’t try to take your dam out if you do it,’ I still would fight with them every bit as much as I fight with them right now because I think it would ruin the fishery. It would then allow bass, bluegill, sunfish, every other kind of invasive species that’s in this river to migrate their way right up this river and they would destroy this habitat.

According to Jim McCarthy of WaterWatch, this is utterly false: 

“Mr. Beckley suggests on the one hand that the fish ladder is a complete barrier to non-native fish, but also that ODFW (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife) knows that native fish ‘migrate through with ease.’ Mr. Beckley needs to decide whether the dam is a barrier to fish or not. It can’t be both. In reality, the North Umpqua’s steepness and cold temperatures are the best defense against non-native fish. Winchester Dam defeats the river’s best natural defenses by creating a warm slack water pool, ideal habitat for non-native fish and plants.”

*        *        *

In the face of WWCD’s abysmal track record, their continuous disregard of best fisheries management practices, and the preponderance of evidence of their ongoing mismanagement of the Winchester Dam, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the Army Core of Engineers, and the National Marine Fisheries inexplicably approved Beckley’s permit for August 2023 repairs to the Winchester Dam.[67]

Why was the permit approved when it’s well documented that WWCD’s previous low-budget repairs have repeatedly failed?

Biologist Jeffrey Dose explained:

Those same agencies, charged with the protection and conservation of our natural resources, were thoroughly warned by the conservation community. This included testimony before the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission, letters to and discourse with Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Oregon Department of Water Resources, and a comprehensive assessment of fish passage issues to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service that were never acknowledged or used in the critical Endangered Species Act Biological Opinion.[68]

Apparently, the ongoing efforts of corporate interests to exercise their political influence has succeeded. They have “persuaded” our elected representatives to appoint agency directors more concerned with satisfying the wishes of the 99 wealthy WWCD property owners and their Good-Old-Boy buddies, than protecting our rivers, fisheries, water quality, and public health.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the Army Core of Engineers, and the National Marine Fisheries, as well the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Oregon Water Resource District, have decided that a private water-ski lake for 99 rich people is more important than the survival of endangered migratory fish, the drinking water quality for 37,700 citizens, and the safety of downstream residents.

*        *        *

On April 1, 2020, a letter was sent to the Winchester Water Control Board (WWCD), offering to permanently remove the Winchester Dam “at little or no direct cost to the District [WWCD]” and to “end ongoing harm to fisheries and water quality in the North Umpqua River.”

The letter was signed by the leaders of Steamboaters, North Umpqua Foundation, Umpqua Watersheds, Inc., Umpqua Valley Fly Fishers, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, Northwest Guides and Anglers Association, Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman’s Associations, Oregon Wild, Port Orford Sustainable Seafood, Rogue Flyfishers, Pacific Rivers, Native Fish Society, Cascadia Wildlands, American Whitewater, and McKenzie Flyfishers.[69]

It’s a standing offer that WWCD refuses to acknowledge.

In a graphic example of the pathology of wealth and power, 99 rich property owners in WWCD collectively decided to spend $3 million to repair Winchester Dam in August 2023 to retain control of their private water ski lake, rather than allow river advocate groups remove the dam at no cost to the WWCD.

Ironically, if the dam was removed and the river returned to its normal, lower water level, lakefront property owners in the WWCD would gain additional acreage. Some properties would more than double in size and increase in value.

For reasons previously stated, consensus to remove the Winchester Dam is widespread in the local community. Since the reservoir was drained on August 7, 2023, hundreds of citizens have visited the condemned dam site and examined the damage and deterioration for themselves. 

*        *        *

The large concrete, southern abutment of the Winchester Dam is the location of the old powerhouse from the bygone days when the dam was hydroelectric. Most people don’t know that they never excavated all the way down to the bedrock beneath the southern abutment and so the concrete was poured on top of sediment and mud. 

Consequently, for decades, the forceful river current has been excavating beneath the concrete, creating huge holes beneath the dam that have been leaking for decades.[70] Fearing for their own safety, scuba divers hired to inspect the damage refused to go anywhere near the leak for fear they’d be sucked into the hole.[71]

These holes beneath the dam’s foundation created a whirlpool in the private water ski lake behind the dam. So, WWCD haphazardly dropped sandbags onto the suspected upstream leak in an attempt to plug the hole.

When this didn’t stop the leak, WWCD (and the agencies that approve its permits) were conveniently forced into yet another “emergency” situation. Despite the obvious conflict of interests, in 2018, Basco Logging, Inc. owned by WWCD board member Juan Yraguen, was hired to drain the lake and repair the leak. 

Predictably, Yraguen, a contractor with no dam repair qualifications, botched the job and polluted the North Umpqua resulting in a fish kill recorded by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. 

In an October 19, 2019, letter to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality Yraguen claimed that “the repair of the hydraulic leak under the gate/south powerhouse structure has been permanently resolved.” 

But this statement was false.

According to state dam safety officials, “…we observed a whirlpool near the old powerhouse. The location of the whirlpool was a few feet upstream from where the sink hole was observed during the 2018 inspection that led to the October 2018 repair work.”[72]

*        *        *

On August 17, 2023, Beckley proclaimed WWCD’s original $3 million expenditure for both Phase I and Phase II of the 2023 Winchester Dam repairs would be the “permanent solution — a fix for 100 years to come.”

As per WWCD’s permit, Beckley had three weeks, from August 7 -28, 2023, to complete both Phase I and Phase II of the $3 million repair project.

Phase II of the August 2023 Winchester Dam repair project involved driving drive steel piles across the aforementioned sink hole area around the southern abutment and use them to form cofferdams, so the water can be pumped out of the chamber, the dirt and sediment removed, and fresh concrete poured in on top of metal anchors driven into the bedrock. This requires bringing a large impact hammer mounted on a 40-60’ barge to the dam face, to drive the piles. 

Penny wise and pound foolish, Beckley hired too few workers and skimped on equipment and vehicles costs. This abundance of frugality put the August 2023 Winchester Dam repair project significantly behind schedule. 

Beckley received a three-day extension until August 31, but missed that deadline, as well. In the end, he couldn’t bring the job in on time or on budget.

It’s now evident that an exponentially larger crew working around the clock would be required to complete both Phase I and II of the project in the 21 days allotted. Since Beckley has never built a dam before, this is alarming but not surprising.

Now, Beckley is reportedly out of money and Phase I of the repair project isn’t even half completed.

During the last week of August 2023, Beckley notified OWRD and the members of the WWCD that Phase II of the dam repair is cancelled. 

Now WWCD members have to fork over another $3 million to pay for Phase II of the dam repairs. Meaning the total cost of the August 2023 Winchester Dam repairs will be at least $6 million – twice Beckley’s contracted price.

If some WWCD members feel like they’re being hustled, who can blame them? 

*        *        *

Beckley’s permit extension expired on August 31. Apparently unwilling to pay overtime, Beckley retained a five-man skeleton crew to work over the Labor Day weekend to complete Phase I of the dam repair project. This entailed removing the supersacks and rubber-tire pads from the riverbed before the private water ski lake behind the dam is refilled and the fish ladders are back in service. 

On Sunday night, September 3, 2023, Beckley refilled the private water ski lake behind the Winchester Dam.

One wonders if the permitting agencies will fine him for missing the August 31st deadline.

In his permit application, Beckley claimed one of the reasons for draining the lake and taking the fish ladder out of service for a month was the need to repair the leaks in the dam to eliminate fish false flow attractions.  

Nevertheless, during the August 2023 Phase I repairs at Winchester Dam, Beckley’s crew drilled over 100 six-inch diameter brand new holes through the dam face to install tie-rods into the bedrock on the upstream side. 

Curiously, Beckley’s the crew did not plug these holes.[73]

Once the private water ski lake is refilled, each of these 100 unplugged holes will leak copiously, causing many new false flow fish attractions.

After spending $3 million to stop the leaks in the dam face, the leaks are now exponentially worse than they’ve ever been.[74] Not one of these 100 large holes in the dam face were there when Beckley began repairs on August 7, 2023.

Witnesses photographed Oregon Department Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) inspectors, working overtime (at taxpayers’ expense) over the Labor Day holiday weekend, repeatedly walking by the obviously leaking six-inch holes in the face of the Winchester Dam and simply ignoring as if they were not there.

And the foundation of the dam is still now leaking[75] worse than ever before.[76]

It is indeed ironic – one of the primary reasons ODFW granted the Beckley a permit to repair Winchester Dam was to stop the leaks in the dam. 

*        *        *

Repeat offenders like the Winchester Water Control District (WWCD) and its Portland-based president Ryan Beckley constitute a public menace to the health of the community, its natural resources, and its future. 

One hesitates to speculate how much the economy of Douglas County would benefit from the removal of the dam and the restoration of the fisheries on the wild and scenic North Umpqua River – considerably more revenue than the county derives from the property taxes of the 99 WWCD property owners.

The public’s access to our local Wild and Scenic North Umpqua River has been hijacked and privatized by a few rich and powerful white men of privilege who have captured the state and federal agencies upon whom the less rich and powerful citizens of Douglas County rely upon to render unbiased decisions for the benefit of the many and not the few. 

There can be no doubt that the Winchester Dam will be permanently removed. The only question is when – and will it be too late? 

But even with the current repairs, the condemned dam remains a ticking timebomb waiting to explode upon the unsuspecting downstream residents of Roseburg. 

One wonders why the F.B.I. isn’t investigating the Winchester Water Control Board and the state agencies that blindly support the 99 wealthy landowners and their private water ski lake.

*        *        *


[1] All Angling on North Umpqua River and Tributaries Closed July 31 – Nov. 30, July 28, 2023,

[2] North Umpqua Steelhead, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, July 1, 2022,

[3] Summer Steelhead at Winchester DamMay 1 – Nov. 30,

[4] ORS 540-443,

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Winchester Dam Scheduled for Repairs,” Jeff Mize, News-Review, July 16, 1991,

[7] 1987 engineer’s report on Winchester Dam,

[8] OWRD Inspection Report, October 16, 2019,

[9] Hannah Seibold, Winchester Dam: Attempts to Salvage Fish, News Review, Aug 17, 2023,

[10] Ibid.

[11] Carisa Cegavske, “Bond levy for Winchester Dam approved by voters in Tuesday’s special districts election,” News-Review, November 2, 2021,

[12] Hannah Seibold, Winchester Dam: Attempts to Salvage Fish, News Review, Aug 17, 2023,

[13] Jim McCarthy, The River Rambler, Episode Three, The Winchester Dam, August 22, 2023,

[14] Hannah Seibold, Winchester Dam: Attempts to Salvage Fish, News Review, Aug 17, 2023,

[15] Dickinson, Oswald, Walch, and Lee’s Biological Assessment of Winchester Dam,

[16] Hannah Seibold, Winchester Dam: Attempts to Salvage Fish, News Review, Aug 17, 2023,

[17] Transportation Breakdown Service Directory, TerraFirma Foundations Systems,

[18] Oregon Construction Contractor’s Board, CCB Disciplinary Actions History, TerraFirma Foundations Repair, Inc.,

[19] Inspection: 1269492.015 – 317718524 – TerraFirma Foundation Repair Inc.,

[20] Violation Tracker Individual Record,

[21] Inspection: 1397403.015 – 317724128 – Terrafirma Foundation Repair Inc.,

[22] Ongoing Harm,

[23] Pressure-treated wood in face of Winchester Dam,

[24] Environmental Protection Agency, Overview of Wood Preservative Chemicals,

[25] Possible Carcinogenic Risk associated with Production and use of Creosote-Treated Wood, National Library of Medicine,

[26] Environmental Protection Agency, Overview of Wood Preservative Chemicals,

[27] Dam Safety Program Coordinator Tony Janicek’s October 16, 2019, letter to Ryan Beckley,

[28] Water Resources Department, Chapter 690, Division 20, Dam Safety, 690-020-0400, Emergency Action Plans (EAP),

[29] KQEN New Radio 1240, “Two Go Over Winchester Dam on Paddleboard,” June 7, 2022,

[30] April 18, 1994, letter from Gary Ball, Watermaster, to Al Cook, Southwest Regional Manager or Oregon Water Resources Department.

[31] Oregon case #3:20-cv-01927-IM, pertaining to Oregon laws ORS 537.130, and ORS 537.400-407.

[32] Winchester Dam fact Sheet, WaterWatch of Oregon,

[33] Ryan Beckley, TerraFirma, Owner/President,

[34] Oregon Water Resources Department Water Rights Information Query

[35] Oregon law ORS 533.020 states:
I.   Water control districts may be created as provided in this chapter for the purpose of acquiring, purchasing, constructing, improving, operating and maintaining drainage, irrigation, and flood and surface water control in order to prevent damage and destruction of life and property by floods, to improve the agricultural and other uses of the land, and to improve the public health, welfare, and safety.
II. A water control district, organized for one or more of the purposes provided by subsection (1) of this section, may also acquire, purchase, construct, improve, operate and maintain works and facilities for the secondary purposes of domestic, municipal and industrial water, recreation, wildlife, fish life and water quality enhancement. However, a water control district may not be created solely for one or more of the purposes provided by this subsection.

[36] 1976 engineer’s report on Winchester Dam,

[37] OAR 635-008-0127, North Umpqua River, Winchester Ramp (Douglas County),

[38] Jeff Mize, Winchester Dam Scheduled for Repairs, News-Review, July 16, 1991,

[39] ORS 509.585, Fish Passage Required for Artificial Obstructions, #3,,needs%20of%20native%20migratory%20fish.

[40] Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife Fish Screening and Passage Program 2019 Statewide Fish Passage Priority List April 19, 2019,

[41] WaterWatch of Or. v. Winchester Water Control Dist., September 22, 2021,

[42] Erik Neumann, “Dam Repairs on North Umpqua River Cause Emergency Lamprey Salvage, Concerns about Steelhead,” Jefferson Public Radio,

[43] Kirk Blaine, Native Fish Society, August 10, 2023,

[44] Rare, Threatened, and Endangered Species of Oregon, Oregon Biodiversity Information Center, August 2016,

[45] Coho at Winchester Dam (September 1 to January 30),

[46] Winchester Dam Lamprey Count:

[47] Summer Steelhead at Winchester Dam, (May 1 to November 30),

[48] Kerian O’Donnell, Manager, Department of Environmental Quality, January 27, 2020 letter to Basco Logging,

[49] Ibid.

[50] Erik Neumann, “Dam Repairs on North Umpqua River Cause Emergency Lamprey Salvage, Concerns about Steelhead,” Jefferson Public Radio,

[51] The River Rambler Podcast, Episode 103 – The Winchester Dam, August 22, 2023,

[52] Ellie M. Dalsky, Justin B. Greer, John D. Hansen, and Rachael F. Lane, “Tire-Derived Transformation Product 6PPD-Quinone Induces Mortality and Transcriptionally Disrupts Vascular Permeability Pathways in Developing Coho Salmon,” July 19, 2023,

[53] Email from Shaun Clements, Acting Deputy Director, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, September 29, 2023,

[54] Pressure treated wood in face of Winchester Dam,

[55] Jeffery Dose, Guest Column: Loss of Lamprey was Reprehensible, Predictable,” News Review, August 17, 2023, “

[56] Hannah Seibold, Winchester Dam: Attempts to Salvage Fish, News Review, Aug 17, 2023,

[57] Jeffery Dose, Guest Column: Loss of Lamprey was Reprehensible, Predictable,” News Review, August 17, 2023, “


[59] Jeffery Dose, Guest Column: Loss of Lamprey was Reprehensible, Predictable,” News Review, August 17, 2023, “

[60] Kirk Blaine, Native Fish Society, August 10, 2023,

[61] “Wealth, Income and Oregon’s Rural Communities,” Coast Range Association 2023, p. 11,

[62] DataUSA, Douglas County, Oregon,

[63] Oregon counties mapped by food stamp usage, unemployment and poverty, September 13, 2013,

[64] Erik Neumann, “Dam Repairs on North Umpqua River Cause Emergency Lamprey Salvage, Concerns about Steelhead,” Jefferson Public Radio,

[65] Email from Meghan Dugan, ODFW Public Affair Officer, September 12, 2023,

[66] Jack Roberts, Equipment World, “Contractor of the Year Finalist: Ryan Beckley,” Feb 28, 2007,


[68] Jeffrey Dose, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission Testimony, February 18, 2022,


[70] Jim McCarthy, The River Rambler, Episode Three, The Winchester Dam, August 22, 2023,

[71] Inspection of Winchester Dam, September 24, 1985,

[72] OWRD Inspection Report, October 16, 2019,

[73] Douglas County Report, September 2, 2023,

[74] Douglas County Report, September 4, 2023,

[75] Douglas County Report, September 2, 2023,

[76] Douglas County Report, September 4, 2023,