ROSEBURG, Oregon, October 8, 2023 (ENS) – The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife filed a $27.6 million claim for recovery of damages Friday in Douglas County Circuit Court against the Winchester Water Control District and associated contractors for the loss of at least 550,000 juvenile Pacific lamprey during the district’s recent repairs to Winchester Dam.
The number of lamprey killed was a result of an inadequate fish salvage effort that the Department of Fish and Wildlife claims was “significant and preventable.”
The North Umpqua River’s diverse fish populations are unique within Oregon and are of considerable social, cultural, and economic importance locally and regionally. The damages claim seeks reparation for the loss of a valuable public resource.
The claim was filed by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, ODFW, against the Winchester Water Control District and is one of the largest damages claims for illegal killing of wildlife that has ever been filed in the Pacific Northwest state.
Pacific lamprey are listed as a Sensitive Species on ODFW’s Sensitive Species List and are culturally significant to Pacific Northwest tribes for food and medicine and use in ceremonies.
Lampreys are jawless fishes and considered part of an ancient assemblage of Agnathan fishes dating back to the Ordovician Period about 450 million years ago. Of thhis group, only hagfishes and lampreys remain today. Pacific Lamprey Entosphenus tridentatus is one of six species within this genus.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality also issued a pre-enforcement notice to the Winchester Water Control District, WWCD, for water quality violations associated with the Winchester Dam repairs in summer 2023. These violations risk significant environmental harm to the North Umpqua River.
At 133 years old, Winchester Dam on the North Umpqua River is an aging facility that has been experiencing structural decline in the last decade, ODFW, the state fish and wildlife agency, says. “These issues include leaking water through the dam face that present additional false attraction flow for migrating fish,” the agency said in a statement.
Additionally, the dam needs structural integrity testing under the Oregon Water Resources Department requirements, which is a health and human safety issue. The repairs and testing require the owners of the dam, the Winchester Water Control District, to temporarily dewater the area behind the dam, closing the fish ladder.
During this period of dewatering, ODFW is “significantly concerned about fish passage at the dam and other potential impacts to fish and aquatic species.”
After lengthy discussions with the Winchester Water Control District, ODFW issued authorizations for a three-week dewatering period from August 7-28 that has been extended several times by the agency. ODFW conditionally approved a request to have the affected project area and fish ladder fully rewatered by 5 p.m., September. 6. The National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also approved the extensions.
Shortly after dewatering began, ODFW saw that emergency salvage of juvenile Pacific lamprey was needed. ODFW gathered a crew of 50 to 60 staff from the agency, other state and federal agencies, and the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians to salvage lamprey. This emergency crew worked for two days. Salvage counts are not yet finalized at publication time.
DEQ’s Office of Compliance and Enforcement is reviewing all the relevant details of the violations and will issue a final enforcement order in the next few weeks.
Featured image: Pacific lampreys pass through Bonneville Lock & Dam using fish ladders and special ramp-like lamprey passage structures seen here through viewing windows at the Bradford Island Visitor’s Center, July 6, 2023 (Photo courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)