Fishing, environmental groups sue over Umpqua River dam

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A coalition of environmental and fishing groups are suing a water district in southern Oregon over an aging, privately owned dam that they say hinders the passage of struggling salmon populations in the pristine North Umpqua River.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Eugene, asks a judge to order the Winchester Water Control District to build a new fish ladder and make major repairs to Winchester Dam, which dates to 1890 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The dam is also one of the oldest in Oregon.

The aging fish ladder on the 130-year-old dam blocks the progress of migrating Oregon Coast Coho salmon — a federally protected species — as well as spring and fall chinook, summer and winter steelhead, cutthroat trout and Pacific Lamprey, according to the lawsuit. There’s also no record that the water district has rights to hold and store water behind the dam under state law, the lawsuit said.

Dominic M. Carollo, the water district’s attorney, did not return a call for comment Tuesday.

The North Umpqua River is pristine fish habitat and is cherished by environmentalists and anglers alike, said Jim McCarthy, with WaterWatch of Oregon, one of the plaintiffs.

The 167 miles (268 kilometers) of river above the dam are some of the highest-quality fish habitat in the state, he said, and are a key part of the coastal fishing industry.


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