Fish ladder at Winchester Dam.

Winchester Water Control District president Ryan Beckley’s August 2023 plan to drain the private ski lake behind Roseburg’s 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 the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (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numerous occasions, erosion has undercut the foundation of the fish ladder’s walls and the ladder itself is so old and out-of-date, it’s worn down to the rusting rebar.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 Roseburg News-Review: “If WaterWatch [of Oregon] 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 of Oregon, 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 WWCD’s permit for August 2023 repairs to the Winchester Dam.

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

Retired North Umpqua River 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.”

Apparently, the ongoing efforts of corporate interests to exercise their political influence is working. 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, 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.

And your taxes are paying for it.