The precarious instability of the Winchester Dam on the North Umpqua River presents an ever-present danger to the health and safety of the downstream residents. The dam was condemned by the Oregon Water Resource Department in 1976 and is rated a “high hazard” – meaning loss of life is expected when the dam fails.

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

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 Emergency Action Plan.

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.

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

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

Carcinogenic creosote treated lumber visible in the Winchester Dam