A few miles north of Roseburg, Oregon, the 133-year-old bowed and condemned Winchester Dam on the North Umpqua River is just 500 feet from Interstate Highway 5, and plainly visible to every passing motorist. 

During the August 2023 repairs at the Winchester Dam, Ryan Beckley, president of the Winchester Water Control District (WWCD) and owner WWCD’s contractor TerraFirma Foundation Systems, violated his permit by spilling dozens of yards of wet concrete into the river, 50 feet from the drinking water intake for 37,700 neighbors – not once but twice.

During previous repairs to the Winchester Dam, WWCD contractors installed hundreds of pressure-treated 2 x 12” boards 50-feet upstream of the drinking water intake for 37,700 residents (one third of the residents of Douglas County) 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.”

Creosote treated lumber visible when the Winchester Dam was drained on August 7, 2023

These 37,700 downstream neighbors are likely unaware that the Winchester Dam has been condemned for half a century, it provides no public benefit, it’s a documented source of toxins and carcinogens, and must be removed for their safety and welfare.

Pressure treated lumber used in face of Winchester Dam

What could possibly explain Oregon State agencies failure to intervene on behalf of the public health and safety of the downstream residents? 

It appears the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the Oregon, Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Oregon Water Resource Department – agencies charged with water quality, public safety, and fisheries best management practices – are literally doing everything they can to further imperil the 37,700 downstream residents.

Apparently, the people heading these state agencies have decided they don’t have to enforce any of these laws until citizens sue them, prevail in court, and a judge forces them to do their jobs.

The agencies are, in fact, charged with protecting the fish and their habitat, and protecting water quality. Yet they conspire to keep an obsolete, condemned, and derelict dam in place – a dam that actually kills threatened and endangered fish, just so 99 rich people can have their own private water ski lake at the exclusion of the public.

Three-thousand years ago, Torah, the primary source for the Old Testament in the Bible, was emphatic and specific about water quality and the dangers of drinking polluted water. Few offenses were considered as base as the contamination of a public drinking water source. Few things are as vitally important to a community as a clean, safe, reliable source of drinking water.

Instead of preventing disaster, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ) issued a $106,778 fine on October 26, 2023, to Winchester Water Control District for “at least ten” pollution violations and violations of their dam repair permit. In addition, ODEQ issued a $27,600 fine to Ryan Beckley on October 26, 2023, for multiple pollution violations by his construction company Terrafirma during the August and September Winchester Dam repairs. Ryan Beckley, who lives in Portland, is also the president of the Winchester Water Control District. 

ODEQ once again let Winchester Water Control District off the hook cheap by fining them a paltry $134,378 for ten permit violations. During the Winchester Dam repair in 2021, ODEQ fined Winchester Water Control District $53,578 for just one violation – releasing wet concrete into the river. This time, Winchester Water Control District repeated the same 2021 violation twice and then failed to self-report it as required by law, not to mention the other 9 violations.

The only thing standing between 37,700 residents of the City of Roseburg and the Umpqua Basin Water Association – and a clean, safe, reliable source of drinking water – is the Winchester Dam.

Bring down the dam.

Bring back the fish and the jobs.