Support Winchester Dam Removal!

Dear ROPnet,

In the years since we first made the Roadmap to a Thriving Rural Oregon together, leaders around the state have continued to demand clean water for all, knowing that healthy people make healthy communities. Today we want to share an update and an opportunity to support the campaign to remove the Winchester Dam by Community Rights Douglas County. You might remember this campaign from our ROPnet this fall about water organizing around the state! Read on to learn how they went from few people thinking about the dam at all to getting 112 people to attend a town hall and express their support for its removal!

Why take out the Winchester Dam?

The Winchester Dam, which is on the North Umpqua River, disrupts local ecosystems and poses incredible danger to the community in multiple ways. Firstly, the dam’s last inspection in 2013, conducted by the Oregon Water Resources Department, stated “urgent dam safety issues – action now” but no prompt action was taken. The dam also interferes with the migration of native, endangered fish, as its fish ladder is expected to be rated among the worst 10 fish ladders in the state in the 2024 report. Not only that, its only use is recreational and the lake it creates is only accessible to about 100 wealthy landowners who own homes just upstream of the dam. Taking the dam out would free the waters of the North Umpqua, opening up fishing, tourism, and other economic opportunities for Douglas County residents as well as benefiting water drinkers, fish, and aquatic life throughout the entire watershed.

What has the organizing involved?

At the beginning of 2023, few people in Roseburg thought about the 134-year-old Winchester Dam, let alone had an opinion about its removal. That’s when a group of community members came together who were fed up with how private property rights were overpowering community needs and they made a plan to change this story. 

First, the group held a series of direct actions in and around Roseburg to increase awareness about the dam and find more people with shared values to support the campaign. They rallied near the dam, downtown, and wrote letters to the editor. Next, the group made a website and used social media to direct people to the page. Statistics from the website show that more than 10% of Roseburg’s population have now visited the site, and the local newspaper rated the dam the #2 story of the year in 2023!

In March of 2024, 112 people attended US Senator Jeff Merkley’s town hall at Umpqua Community College, and by a show of hands, 9 out of 10 residents asked the Senator to remove the dam! 

The group is now in the third phase of the campaign, which is to pressure public officials to support the rights of nature and the community by taking down the dam. If you live in Oregon, you can go to their website and use this tool to quickly send emails to several public officials with a legal duty to remove this dam. Take a moment to support Community Rights Douglas County today! 

Are you working on a campaign that could benefit from rural human dignity leaders across Oregon pitching in? Do you want support making your action plan? Reach out to ROP at emma@rop.org and let us know what you’re up to!

Warmly,
Emma and the ROP Team

P.S. If you’ll be at this year’s Rural Caucus and Strategy Session, keep an eye out for Kevin, a member of  Community Rights Douglas County, who will be attending and would love to chat with you!

English