Coho salmon are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act, and Pacific lamprey are listed as a “sensitive species” by the State of Oregon. Coho populations at the Winchester Dam have plummeted from nearly 20,000 in 2001 to fewer than 1,900 in 2022.

Pacific lamprey populations at the Winchester Dam have diminished from almost 30,000 in 1968 to a fewer than 1,000 in 2021. Pacific lamprey are historical food sources for the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe. 

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.

In 2019, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (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 regulation (ORS 509.585(3)). This regulation 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.

The Winchester Dam’s wooden lip and its height of 17-feet effectively prevents fish from jumping over. Consequently, Winchester Dam and its 78-year-old fish ladder (which is worn down to the exposed rusting rebar) is now the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s second highest priority for fish passage improvement among all privately owned dams in the state.

According to Professor Marc Los Huertos, author of Conservation and Restoration (2020) “Dams are the most important barrier for fish and invertebrate migration. The use of fish ladders had been used since the 1910s. But their failure has been documented by 1925 because of their poor design, intermittent operation, and the lack of a strong, regular flow of “attraction water” that draw fish to the ladder. In general, only 3% of the fish pass through effective ladders.” This means that 97% of the fish to die below the dam, never reaching their destination. 

In direct contradiction of the findings of ODFW’s Fish Passage Task Force, ODFW’s Senior Biologist in the Umpqua District, Greg Huchko is regularly 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 the Winchester Water Control District in their permit applications to repair the Winchester Dam It’s difficult to believe that a qualified senior biologist like Huchko would make such an uninformed, ingenuous, and inaccurate statement. 

The 17-foot Winchester Dam is, in fact, too high for migratory native fish to jump. According to Jeff Dose, a retired biologist with 31 years experience in the North Umpqua basin, steelhead can jump 14-feet but not 17-feet. The dam is an impassible barrier.

Mr. Huchko appears to have conveniently forgotten that his supervisors at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, have repeatedly stated that Winchester Dam impedes access to 160 miles of high-quality cold-water habitat for salmon, trout, and lampreys upstream.

The North Umpqua River is the #1 steelhead stream in North America (and some say, in the world). It’s no secret that dams kill fish. But many people don’t realize that dams also kills jobs.

Once the Winchester Dam is removed, the native migratory fish will return to their spawning grounds upstream. Soon the river will be full of fish and fishing tourism will return, as will the associated service jobs.

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