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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Alternative 2 would entail a full renovation of all facilities back to peak performance configuration.
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.
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.
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
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:
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.
The Leaburg Canal serves our community in many ways. Its key functions are:
- Power Generation – in optimal conditions, the 5-mile-long Leaburg Canal transports up to 2,500cfs of water diverted from the McKenzie River at the Leaburg Dam to drop into the Leaburg Powerhouse and can provide up to 15.9MW of electricity to EWEB customers, representing about 2.5% of EWEB’s electricity supply.
- Storm Water Conveyance (SWC) – The canal intercepts multiple creeks on the north side of the McKenzie Valley that used to be direct tributaries of the McKenzie River. Since the canal was built in the 1920's, those creeks became tributaries of the Leaburg Canal, and the canal carries their waters to the McKenzie as part of its “drop” into the Leaburg Powerhouse. This important role helps prevent flooding during storms and keeps the watershed connected. Commissioners may decide to repair the canal to preserve this current function, or the TBL Assessment may suggest solutions that include decommissioning parts of the canal and restoring these tributaries’ historic hydrologic pathways.
- Irrigation – The community of Leaburg has grown up around the canal in the last 100 years, including many farms and properties that draw water from the canal. Since de-watering the canal in October 2018, EWEB has worked with farmers to build check-dams in the canal so they are able to continue to draw water. EWEB staff will continue to communicate with the canal’s irrigators as we consider long-term solutions.
- Fish Hatcheries – The Leaburg Project serves as an unofficial demarcation between the lower and upper portions of the McKenzie River. Both the McKenzie Hatchery and the Leaburg Hatchery get their water from the Leaburg Canal. Both hatcheries would need to procure alternate water supplies should a decision affect the operation of the Leaburg Lake and the canal.
- Recreation – People from across Oregon visit Leaburg Lake to fish, boat, or picnic at Lloyd Knox Park. The Leaburg Canal is also a walking trail for people to hike, walk their dogs, or go birding. EWEB Commissioners will consider the community’s recreation opportunities when deciding the future of the canal.
- Transportation – The Leaburg Dam is also a bridge that connects the Leaburg Hatchery and a number of properties to Highway 126.
The Leaburg Project was built in the 1920s, with the completion of Leaburg Dam in 1929 creating the Leaburg Lake.
The lake still offers fishing, boating and picnicking today. EWEB's Lloyd Knox Park located along the shores of Leaburg Lake, 20 miles east of Springfield offers recreational opportunities for people of all interests — and it's free.
The Leaburg Power Plant was designed in 1929 by noted Oregon architect Ellis F. Lawrence in the Art Deco style and includes motifs from Greek mythology. According to the University of Oregon's Oregon Digital Library, "The powerhouse is the finest example of Art Deco architecture used in an industrial setting in Oregon."
The Leaburg development is the Project's upstream facility and includes a dam, canal, forebay, penstocks, powerhouse, tailrace, and substation. Leaburg Dam is a reinforced concrete and steel structure that impounds run-of-the river flows on the McKenzie River. The dam was constructed in the 1920’s to divert water into the Leaburg Canal where it is used to produce power approximately 4.5 miles downstream.
The dam is approximately 400-feet long and 22 feet high. It has three 100-foot-long by 9-foot high roll gates that control the reservoir level and allow passage of flood flows over the dam. Leaburg Dam is also equipped with a sluiceway, left- and right-bank fish ladders, and intake gates that divert the water from the McKenzie River. During extreme flows, the canal headgates are closed, and all of the river flow passes over the dam. A 14-foot-wide single-lane bridge, located on top of the dam, provides access to the Leaburg Fish Hatchery, Lloyd Knox Park, and several private residences on the river's left bank.
Leaburg Lake is a 57 acre, 345 acre-foot backwater formed by Leaburg Dam and extends about 1.5 miles upstream. Rollgate hoists automatically modulate to maintain Leaburg Lake's water surface at 742.5 feet. During high flow, the gates can be opened to pass inflows of up to 90,000 cfs without overtopping the dam.
Up to 2,500cfs of water diverted at the Leaburg Dam for power generation passes through a downstream migrant fish screening system and enters the 5-mile-long, 15-foot-deep, cut-and-fill unlined Leaburg Canal leading to the power plant forebay. The fish screening system and a trash rack prevent fish and debris from entering the canal. The forebay includes a penstock intake, automatic siphon bypass spillway, trash rack, and ice-trash sluiceway.
From the forebay, water flows into the Leaburg Plant through two reinforced concrete pipe penstocks 12 feet in diameter and 260 feet long, which creates a maximum hydraulic head of 89 feet. The Leaburg Plant contains two Francis turbines connected to generating units with nameplate ratings of 8.4 MW (Unit 1) and 7.5 MW (Unit 2). The total installed capacity at the Leaburg powerhouse is 15.9 MW. Water is returned to the McKenzie River from the Leaburg Plant through a 1,100-foot-long tailrace. An automatic siphon spillway bypasses canal flows to protect the canal, forebay, and powerhouse in case of an emergency turbine shutdown.
Managing peak electricity demand is a critical component of achieving climate recovery goals and keeping energy affordable for all customers.
As a public utility, we share our customers' values around environmental stewardship.
Here are some of the ways we work proactively to keep the lights on and the tap water flowing.