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EWEB Leads "Spill Drill" to Practice HazMat Response on McKenzie River

October 20, 2021

EWEB deploys oil containment booms

EWEB led multiple first responder and emergency management organizations in a drill last week simulating an oil spill on the McKenzie River.

Participants of the McKenzie Watershed Emergency Response System (MWERS) practiced containing a fictitious diesel spill using a boom system they deployed across the river at Hendrick's Bridge County Park.

Watch a video of the MWERS Team in action:

EWEB and the McKenzie Fire & Rescue set up MWERS in the early 2000s to be able to minimize the spread of hazardous materials that could contaminate the McKenzie River after vehicle accidents on Highway 126 or other incidents. Once a spill is reported, the GIS-based MWERS program sends an alert to hundreds of responders with geographic information about the location of the spill and suggested containment strategies and locations to implement them.In the case of this simulation, the MWERS team prepared to contain thousands of gallons of diesel that hypothetically spilled at milepost 30 on Highway 126. The team deployed one of four hazardous response trailers that are staged throughout the watershed and would have five to six hours to set up the containment boom before the current would have carried the oil downstream to Hendrick's Bridge Park.

The team stretched the floating containment booms across the river with a rope system. The booms funnel the oil toward the bank, where a skimmer system picks up the oil to be dredged out of the river before it reaches the intake at the Hayden Bridge Drinking Water Treatment Facility.

Treatment Operators at Hayden Bridge also activated an Incident Command System (ICS) and shut down the treatment plant for several hours to practice running the facility during an oil spill. Distribution Operations used a table top exercise to discuss how they could accept the rapid increase of flow prior to the plume reaching Hayden Bridge and then isolate areas of distribution in preparation for curtailment after plant shutdown.

EWEB's Watershed Restoration Program Manager, Karl Morgenstern, said that the increased erosion and landslide risk from the area burned by the Holiday Farm Fire may cause more opportunities for vehicle accidents this winter.

He said the opportunities to practice help ensure that the response is safe, efficient, and effective when a real disaster strikes. 

"What we learned from the Holiday Farm Fire, is the more you do this up front, the easier it is when there's a disaster or a spill. Because you know each other, you know your capabilities, and you can come together as a team and work together efficiently," Morgenstern said. "The more foundation you lay down the better our response is going to be to protect our drinking water."

To report a hazardous material spill, please call the Oregon Emergency Response System (OERS) at 1-800-452-0311. You can also call the Hayden Bridge Water Treatment Plant at 541-341-8500.