It’s been just a couple weeks after beginning the ill-conceived repair project for the North Umpqua’s Winchester Dam, and the issues, violations in some cases, are mounting. For several weeks now, concerned advocates have closely monitored the situation and continued the calls to the state of Oregon to step in. Construction now has a hard deadline of August 31st, so hopefully no more harm comes, but it may be time for Oregon and other entities to take a hard look at the future of Winchester Dam. If you are an Oregon resident, you are encouraged to send a message (easy to use link HERE).
If you need a refresher about why this project is so problematic, head over to this blog from earlier in August. The short of it, however, is that the construction activities will completely block up-river migration for extremely depleted summer steelhead and other anadromous species at a crucial time for their migrations. To make matters worse, these fish will be essentially trapped in water that is way too warm, further stressing them, contributing to mortality, and preventing the struggling population from successfully spawning.
The situation is bad. “On Monday, August 21, Winchester Dam repair primary contractor TerraFirma Foundation Systems pumped water polluted with freshly poured concrete from their primary work area by the dam face into a poorly constructed, inadequate holding pond.” This uncured concrete can have harmful effects on aquatic ecosystems. For example, it can raise the pH level, which can be toxic to salmon and steelhead.”
There has already been one documented fish kill at Winchester Dam, involving pacific lamprey. TerrFirma was responding to the visibly dying lamprey poorly, so a rescue team made up of state and federal agencies, local tribes, and concerned individuals took matters into their own hands to try and rescue as many lamprey as possible.
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Before that, river advocates, witnessed TerraFirma using old vehicle tires as a work surface right in the river! The concern here is that the tires will leach chemicals known to kill salmon and steelhead and further harm these fish.
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Fortunately, according to the Steamboaters, the relevant agencies have rejected a longer work extension and mandated that all work must be completed and the fish ladder returned operational by August 31. “After documenting the devastating results of nearly 3 weeks of repair, all while knowing our resource agencies had the power to prevent this but chose not to, the best we can say is we are glad they did not grant a full 1 week extension,” wrote The Steamboaters. For more from The Steamboaters and how to help: Click HERE.
The situation is dire at Winchester Dam, but it continues to raise the question–why even bother repairing this non-power producing dam, whose only purpose is to maintain a lake for private landowners? Why continue to harm these struggling runs of salmon and steelhead with this dam, when it is preventing access to some 160 miles of pristine habitat. Hopefully, this most recent disaster can spur real action to restore this portion of the North Umpqua and give these fish a fighting chance.
Cover picture provided by Native Fish Society and WaterWatch of Oregon.