Winchester Dam Accused of Contributing to Endangerment of Salmon Species

A complaint filed in the Oregon District Court on Friday alleged that Winchester Water Control District, which operates the Winchester Dam, is “causing ‘take’ of Oregon Coast coho salmon.” The salmon species is reportedly listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). 

The Waterwatch of Oregon, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, the Institute for Fisheries Resources, and Steamboaters filed the complaint, and began the “citizen suit.” They alleged that the dam is blocking the migration of adult salmon who can’t swim to their spawning habitat, killing salmon trying to cross the dam and harming juvenile salmon by blocking migration from the spawning area.  

The complaint alleged that the disrepair of the fish ladder and dam are causing the salmon to be “physically battered” and exposed to toxic compounds. The plaintiffs alleged that man-made obstacles, like this one, between the ocean and the salmon’s spawning grounds have been a major factor in the decline of coho salmon populations. 

The Winchester dam is reportedly 450 feet long and 16 feet high, it provides a recreation area, but there is reportedly “no valid water right for water storage for the reservoir.” A fish ladder was added to the dam in 1945, and it was upgraded in the early 1980’s but it has not been updated since that point and does not meet current criteria. 

The plaintiffs alleged that, in addition to an inadequate design of the ladder, the condition of the dam and the ladder is deteriorating. “The dam has consistently, and continues to date, experienced significant leakage through the dam structure itself and in particular in an area of the dam immediately next to the fish ladder,” the complaint stated. “The disrepair contributes to and exacerbates the inadequacy and harmful effects of the fish ladder and Winchester dam on Coast coho salmon.” 

The plaintiffs, represented by Karl G. Anuta and attorneys for Earthjustice, asked the court to declare that the defendant violated the ESA and stop it from continuing to breach the law and failing to provide adequate passage for salmon as well as store water without a permit. They also asked the court to either require the dam to be removed or for the defendants to repair the dam to provide “adequate fish passage” and impose civil penalties on Winchester Water Control District.