For nearly seven decades, the Winchester dam has provided no flood control, no electricity, and no irrigation. For more than half a century, the dam’s only function has been as a private recreational water ski lake for the a few dozen of the 99 home owners in the Winchester Water Control District whose property surrounds the dam site. But the public cannot enjoy this water ski lake – they are prohibited from using it.

Most of the 112,000 people in Douglas County, Oregon are unaware that in 1976, the Oregon Water Resources Department condemned the Winchester Dam.

In 1978, the Winchester Water Control District 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, as ownership of the dam was then considered too great a liability.

In 1984, in an act that only benefitted the 99 Winchester Water Control District (WWCD) property owners, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) enacted 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. This regulation ostensibly privatized the WWCD’s access to their private water ski lake behind the condemned 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.”

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.

Inexplicably, the ODFW went out of their way to create this law – a law that only benefits the 99 wealthy WWCD members and the only law of its kind in Oregon. One wonders why a taxpayer-funded agency would take such an action on behalf of the few and at the exclusion of the many.

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

The WWCD and ODFW were well-aware that such an exclusionary and unprecedented regulation would likely stand little chance of passage by the state legislature. So, they made and end run around the Oregon Congress and ODFW passed the regulation without the consent of the state legislature.

OAR 635-008-127, like the Winchester Dam and the Winchester Water Control District, itself is a relic from a bygone era when the desires of the few outweighed the needs of the many. It will not escape the scrutiny of State Senators Jeff Golden and Floyd Prozanski of the Oregon Senate Interim Committee on Natural Resources and Wildfire.

Soon, the Winchester Dam will be removed, the Winchester Water Control District will be dissolved, and OAR 635-008-127, will be repealed.

Bring down the dam.

Bring back the fish and the jobs.

Private boat ramp at Winchester Dam