Future of the Leaburg Canal

The Leaburg Canal helped power the development of the McKenzie Valley and Eugene, serving our community with clean and reliable hydropower for nearly 100 years. Built by our ancestors in the late 1920's with teams of horses and mules, the canal today unfortunately has structural deficiencies that must be addressed. Therefore, EWEB’s elected Commissioners have directed the utility to determine the most appropriate future for the facility while ensuring the canal’s safe and reliable operation.

EWEB does not believe there is an imminent danger of a canal breach.

EWEB staff will continue to carefully monitor the performance of the Leaburg Canal throughout the evaluation process, particularly in wet weather season and during storm events when tributary creek flows rise. EWEB staff are poised to identify and respond to any unexpected developments along the full length of the canal and will inform canal neighbors of any changes of concern.

Frequently Asked Questions


Triple Bottom Line Assessment

EWEB Commissioners and the Leaburg Canal Team are aware that their decision could impact the community of Leaburg and all of our electricity customers. We are committed to making the best decision based on a Triple Bottom Line Assessment that considers the financial costs and environmental impacts, as well how the Board’s decision will affect our customers. We will share updates on the Board’s decision-making process here, and we will reach out to our community members for feedback on how we can mitigate potential impacts.

Please continue to look out for project updates here, as well as opportunities to provide feedback as we determine the most responsible future for the Leaburg Canal, EWEB customers, the McKenzie Valley community, and EWEB’s power generation portfolio.

How the Leaburg Hydroelectric Project Works:


Update: August 3, 2021

Update: April 11, 2022

Update: May 17, 2022

Provide Public Comment


The Leaburg Canal has been operating as a stormwater conveyance facility since October 2018, following observations of increased seepage and internal erosion of the canal embankments that prompted EWEB to dewater the canal and cease power generation. In response to new information on earthquake safety risks, EWEB initiated a comprehensive assessment of the entire canal in late 2019 to better understand the level of investment that would be required to ensure long term safe and reliable operation.

EWEB staff is administering a Triple Bottom Line Assessment to evaluate the financial, environmental, and social implications of making these repairs. The team is evaluating multiple scenarios to make sure the financial costs of repairing the canal to full functionality will pay off for our customers. The team is also considering the environmental and social impacts of each scenario and the costs of mitigating them.

August 2021: Findings of the preliminary Triple Bottom Line Assessment

EWEB staff prepared a preliminary TBL assessment (presented to the Board on August 3, 2021) so the Board could better understand the environmental, social, and economic impacts of two near-term (current license term) options:

- Option 1: Storm Water Conveyance (SWC) - indefinitely cease power generation and repair the canal’s ability to function as a tributary of the McKenzie River and carry water from run-off and creeks to the river.

- Option 2: Return to Service (RTS) - restore the Leaburg Canal’s ability to provide hydropower generation in both the near (current FERC license term) and long term (future relicensing).

The preliminary TBL suggests that the Storm Water Conveyance option is favorable for financial, public safety, and some environmental reasons in the near term. It is the lower cost option, significantly reduces the likelihood and effect of a structural failure and restores a more natural flow regime in the McKenzie River, which generally benefits fish and improves mainstem water quality. 

Based on 2019 forward wholesale prices, the net present value (NPV) for returning to service for safe and reliable power generation for the remainder of the license period (2040) was an $80 million loss.

The analysis predicted the stormwater conveyance option would result in a $50 million loss.

While both options demand substantial canal safety improvements, the NPV results clearly indicated that the required investment to return to service will likely substantially exceed the expected returns from power generation. For context, in order to recover the cost of investing to return to service for the remainder of the license period, market power prices would need to increase from the current forecast value of about $40 per MWh to at least $105 per MWh for low-cost repair scenarios and up to $180 per MWh for high-cost repair scenarios. Should Leaburg ultimately not return to service, the source and expense of replacement power will be further defined as part of the Integrated Resource Plan due at the end of 2022. 

The Return To Service option has favorable aspects from a local community/social impact perspective because it preserves a locally owned, low-carbon electric generation facility, and prolongs neighbors’ ability to access water from the canal for irrigation.

Pursuit of either scenario has implications for the long-term decision to either decommission or relicense the project. In order to provide the Board with enough information to make an informed decision on the near-term path forward by the fourth quarter of 2022, EWEB staff will expand the TBL with more detailed analyses of the social, environmental, and financial impacts of the decision, including an evaluation of decommissioning relative to relicensing.

Download the August 3, 2021 Board Memo: Leaburg Canal Water Rights Summary

Update: April 11, 2022: Four Canal Alternatives for Further Assessment

Guided by complex evaluations of multiple potential solutions to address these structural issues with the canal, the Leaburg Canal Strategic Evaluation Team has identified four alternatives to study in further detail.

Each alternative places the safety of EWEB employees and the community as its highest priority. 

The alternatives will help EWEB Commissioners decide the ultimate fate of the Leaburg Project, whether it is “returned-to-service” or decommissioned and used solely for “stormwater conveyance.” 

Of the four alternatives, two are on opposite ends of the “stormwater conveyance” vs. “return-to-service” spectrum.

Alternative 1 represents the full removal of all facilities to pre-project conditions – as if the Leaburg Project were never built.

Leaburg Canal Alternative 1: Full decommission

Alternative 2 would entail a full renovation of all facilities back to peak performance configuration.

Leaburg Canal Alternative 2: Full restoration

These bookended scenarios would be the most expensive due to the extensive construction and repairs required throughout the entire project and facilities.

Alternative 3 includes a mix of a “return-to-service” and “stormwater conveyance” strategies. This alternative proposes adding a new power generation facility higher up the canal at the Luffman Spillway (about 1 mile from the dam), with repairs and alterations to the canal downstream of the new powerhouse to transition it to a stormwater conveyance facility. This alternative compares the costs of repairs and alterations to the potential power and revenue generation that EWEB would be able to recoup. It also preserves EWEB water rights for power generation. 

Leaburg Canal Alternative 3: Luffman Spillway Powerhouse

Alternative 4 would decommission the canal, combining “stormwater conveyance” alterations to sections of the canal with the restoration of other parts of the Leaburg Project to pre-project conditions, including a new spillway at Johnson Creek and modification to the Luffman spillway. This alternative is a flexible option that converts short-term risk reduction measures that are under consideration into a long-term solution.

Leaburg Canal Alternative 4: Stormwater Conveyance conversion

The Project Team will continue to work with our consultants and EWEB employees from multiple departments to study the financial, social and environmental impacts to the utility, our customers, and the upriver community.

Meanwhile, the Project Team will carry on with the prioritization of near-term risk reduction alternatives. Risk reduction measures will include reversible canal configuration changes, such as isolating portions of the canal from the high flow creeks, and canal-wide efforts, such as proactive removal of unhealthy trees that could fall into the canal during a storm and obstruct water flow.

On April 5, the Board of Commissioners approved the purchase of two properties along the canal that recently became available on the real estate market. Both properties are adjacent to the canal near to where EWEB expects to be constructing risk reduction improvements in the future. Purchasing these properties will ease construction access to work on the canal, whether that work involves canal restoration or decommissioning.

Download the April 5, 2022 Board Memo: Leaburg Canal Triple Bottom Line (TBL) & Strategic Assessment Update

Update: May 17, 2022: Community Members' questions at the 2022 Upriver Board Meeting

EWEB Commissioners and staff held a public meeting at the McKenzie Fire & Rescue Training Center in Leaburg on April 19. EWEB staff presented about several subjects, including watershed recovery efforts and EWEB’s developing wildfire mitigation plan.  

EWEB Generation Manager Lisa Krentz and Generation Engineering Supervisor Mark Zinniker presented an update about the Leaburg Canal, including the near-term risk mitigation work EWEB is implementing, as well as the four long-term alternatives EWEB and its consultants are evaluating for the future of the Leaburg Project. 

After the brief presentations, Board President John Brown moderated a question and answer session that lasted over an hour and fifteen minutes. Questions were primarily about the future of the Leaburg Project.  

We have summarized the Q & A session below. Although there were many questions and concerns, and each person brought their own perspectives to the meeting, the questions generally fell into the categories of:  

  1. Clarifying the four alternatives EWEB and our consultants are studying further, 
  2. EWEB’s two recent property acquisitions, 
  3. Concerns about accessing water from the Leaburg Canal, and 
  4. If the project were to be decommissioned, what would happen to Leaburg Lake.

Questions and concerns shared at the April 19 public meeting have been documented for consideration as part of EWEB’s Triple Bottom Line (TBL) Analysis. The analysis, which considers financial, environmental and social impacts, will help the Board compare and evaluate solutions to this complex problem. Other opportunities for public input include participating in an upcoming community survey and contacting EWEB Commissioners directly.   

You can watch the entire Upriver Board Meeting here.

To read the summary of the Q&A, starting on Question 11 of the Leaburg Canal FAQ.

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