Douglas County, Oregon, is ostensibly owned by the timber industry. It’s one of the poorest county with the lowest wages on the Highway 5 corridor.

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

• Thirteen percent of the population lives below the poverty rate.

• More than 25% rely on public food aid.

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

Conversely, the multimillion-dollar McMansions that overlook the Winchester Dam in the Winchester Water Control District 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. 

The Winchester Dam, condemned in 1976, provides no hydropower, irrigation, or flood control. Its sole purpose is to create a private water ski lake for the 99 wealthy members of Winchester Water Control District.

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.

The 99 Winchester Water Control District members include prominent local lawyers, physicians, fire fighters, police officers, timber barons, golf course owners, the manager of the Huffington National Bank, the vice-president and controller of Douglas County Forest Products, the general manager of Umpqua Dairy, the owners of Roseburg Glass, Allen and Allen Construction, Stoneworks Group, D&D Towing and Storage, Roseburg Towing Service, Yaeger’s Plumbing, and Lauren Young Tire Center. It would be bad for these business if shoppers boycotted them for their refusal to remove them Winchester Dam.

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.

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. But repairs were botched by WWCD board president Ryan Beckley, resulting in a $27.6 million fine for permit violations and the biggest fish kill on an Oregon river this year.

There can be no doubt that the Winchester Dam will be removed. The only question is when.

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