ODFW sues Winchester Dam owners for unlawful killing of fish

DOUGLAS COUNTY, Ore. – The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is now suing the Winchester Water Control District for damages done by the Winchester Dam’s repair project in August.

The $27.6 million lawsuit was filed Friday afternoon against Winchester Water Control District and its partners.

It claims the repair work done on the dam caused the negligent killing of hundreds of thousands of pacific lamprey in the North Umpqua River.

“There was a significant fish kill,” said ODFW’s Shaun Clements at a meeting addressing the dam last month. “It was on the order of hundreds of thousands of lamprey and by statute that could result in significant financial damages.”

According to court documents, ODFW informed dam owners during the start of repairs that salvage efforts were inadequate.  In the Fish Passage Authorization awarded to the dam owners in December, ODFW said WWCD should be prepared for “a significant salvage effort in the entire dewatered area” for the entire drawdown period from August 7 to August 28.

The lawsuit goes on to say that TerraFirm, the company contracted to complete the dam work, began the drawdown around midnight on August 7.  By around 8:30 a.m. that day, ODFW employees took note of ten people involved in fish salvage efforts.  ODFW says it informed the people involved that the current salvage efforts were inadequate by noon.

The following day, more volunteers had participated in the salvage, though ODFW says there were still large portions of the dewatered area that weren’t being salvaged.  ODFW says it demanded a response by WWCD and its partners at 11:30 a.m. August 8.  At that point, thousands of fish were already dead.

By August 9, ODFW says it recruited staff from across the region to help with an emergency fish salvage because the current efforts “had resulted in an unacceptably high fish mortality rate.”

The Winchester Water Control District, TerraFirm, and DOWL LLC are facing complaints of unlawful killing of fish, negligence, public nuisance, conversion, and trespass to chattel.

You can view the entire lawsuit here.

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Taylar Ansures is a producer and reporter for NBC5 News. Taylar is from Redding, California and went to California State University, Chico. After graduating, she joined KRCR News Channel 7 in Redding as a morning producer. She moved to Southern Oregon in 2022 to be closer to family and became KTVL News 10’s digital producer. Taylar is currently finishing her Master's Degree in Professional Creative Writing through the University of Denver. In her free time, Taylar frequents independent bookstores and explores hiking trails across Southern Oregon and Northern California.
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