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Walterville Canal Updates

Date and Time: 03/15/2024

3/15/2024 - Walterville Canal Outage: 

What happened? 

  • The Walterville Canal is formed by an earthen-embankment wall built in 1910. EWEB has monitored the canal for leaks for several years, as water finds a way to seep through the earthworks of the canal. The seepage primarily occurs at the downstream (western) end of the canal at the canal forebay.  
  • When a seepage monitoring device observed an unexpected increase in seepage flow on February 27, it triggered a dam safety process to dewater the canal to prevent a further increase in flow. EWEB investigated the dewatered canal but could not clearly identify the cause of the increase in seepage flow. 

Is the Walterville Canal safe? 

  • Yes, the canal is safe and EWEB believes there is not a public safety risk at this time. 
  • If you notice anything out of the ordinary on or near any EWEB canal, reservoir or dam, call our main number 541-685-7000 and ask to speak with EWEB's Generation Engineering Supervisor. After hours, contact the Leaburg-Walterville Duty Operator at 541-852-1906. 

What has EWEB done in response?   

  • EWEB Generation staff have inspected the canal and determined that more information is needed to identify the cause of the spike in seepage flow.  
  • Working with a geotechnical engineering consultant, EWEB is developing plans for further investigation.  
  • The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) must approve any plans to investigate and repair the canal. EWEB is following FERC orders and continues to accommodate FERC dam safety requirements while developing a plan to investigate and/or repair the Walterville Canal. 

When will the Walterville Project be back in service? 

  • At this point, EWEB anticipates the canal will be dewatered into the summer as we work with FERC to get our plans approved, perform the investigations, analyze the results, and contract to implement repairs. 

For Irrigators: 

Can EWEB open the canal to let some water in for irrigation? 

  • EWEB must prioritize its dam safety obligations and cannot accommodate requests to open the canal intake to provide water to neighbors, as project operation is under strict FERC supervision while addressing the dam safety concerns.  
  • While providing an opportunity for a handful of irrigators to draw water is an added community benefit, the primary purpose of the canal is to generate electricity. 

I have an agreement to draw water from the Walterville Canal. How will EWEB continue to support my needs?  

  • EWEB has allowed several neighboring farms to draw water from the Walterville Canal. These agreements are interruptible, meaning EWEB is not obligated to provide the water or a replacement if providing water conflicts with the canal’s primary function of conveying water for hydropower generation.  
  • Please contact Generation Planner Jeremy Somogye at 541-685-7439 or to learn more. 

If my well goes dry, is EWEB going to compensate me to dig a deeper well? 

  • EWEB has consulted with the Oregon Water Resources Department, in particular, the Region 2 Water Master about this issue. The Water Master has assured EWEB that it has no obligation or responsibility, legal or otherwise, to support the recharge of the local groundwater table through the operation of EWEB canals.  
  • In addition, the Water Master indicated that it is not safe for residents living near the canal to depend on shallow wells that are influenced by EWEB’s canal for drinking water.   
  • Although EWEB empathizes with property owners along the Walterville Canal that may experience an impact due to shallow wells, EWEB’s water rights for the Walterville Canal are solely for power production. While the proximity to the canal may have provided a benefit to property owners who rely on groundwater wells in the past, it has never been EWEB’s intention to either directly or indirectly provide a source of water for nearby property owners from the canal. 
  • EWEB does not have a plan or program in place to assist property owners with this issue, but it might be worthwhile to contact your local State Representative and County Commissioner to let them know of the issue so they are aware in the event that well assistance programs become available and they can lobby to get assistance for Lane County residents. 

Water Quality 

  • EWEB’s Drinking Water Source Protection Team monitors several water bodies throughout the McKenzie Watershed for water quality. The team tests for Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) throughout the warm weather season (usually May through October) and have already begun preliminary HAB (algae/cyanotoxins) sampling in the reservoirs. 
  • The team has been testing the Leaburg Canal for water quality issues and plans to add the Walterville tailrace to the routine HAB sampling run (every 2 weeks) until the canal is back in operation.   

Does the Walterville Canal outage have anything to do with decommissioning the Leaburg Hydroelectric Project? 

  • No – this outage was unplanned and in response to an unexpected increase in seepage flow. EWEB dewatered the Walterville Canal in accordance with dam safety protocols.  
  • The FERC license for the Walterville Hydroelectric Project expires in 2040. As part of decommissioning the Leaburg Project, EWEB is planning a Walterville Strategic Evaluation to determine whether to pursue a new license after 2040 or to begin planning to decommission the Walterville Project. EWEB plans to conduct the Walterville Strategic Evaluation over the next few years.  
  • EWEB’s priority is to resolve the current issue with the Walterville Canal and get back to generation to make the most of the time remaining on the license.  
  • With the canal dewatered, however, there may be opportunities to begin some of the investigations that would contribute to the Walterville Strategic Evaluation. 

Are there any updates on decommissioning the Leaburg Hydroelectric Project? 

  • EWEB Commissioners voted to decommission the Leaburg Hydroelectric Project last year because it would be extraordinarily expensive to repair the Leaburg Canal and beneficial to protect EWEB from future liability and risks.  
  • A Triple Bottom Line Assessment including dam safety and cost engineering analyses, public comments, and environmental consultations concluded the level of investment to continue generation at Leaburg would burden customers with unreasonably high costs. EWEB would be able to purchase electricity from other sources at a much lower cost. Uncertainties due to varying water flows and fisheries regulations also challenge the project’s financial and environmental viability. 
  • EWEB conducted over twenty public meetings between 2019-2022 discussing the future of the Leaburg Project. 
  • EWEB created a Leaburg Decommissioning Action Plan to understand the regulatory steps required to surrender the FERC license, and will report quarterly updates to the public, including opportunities for feedback. 
  • To satisfy FERC license surrender requirements, and to eliminate long-term risks and obligations, EWEB will need to remove Leaburg Dam and restore Leaburg Lake to river form. 
  • EWEB is working with Lane County and Oregon Department of Transportation to explore options for impacts to the transportation system resulting from the decommissioning effort. 
  • EWEB will modify Leaburg Canal for safe stormwater conveyance, pursuing opportunities to support obligated water rights holders. 
  • EWEB aims to begin on-the-ground decommissioning construction work by 2033. 

Dam safety  

  • Dam safety is a very high priority at EWEB.  
  • All of EWEB's spillways are constructed on bedrock, so the type of damage seen at places like Oroville, CA is unlikely to happen here.  
  • All of our dams are monitored and evaluated in accordance with state and federal regulations. Any identified deficiencies are proactively managed.   
  • Portions of the Leaburg Canal embankment have potential structural issues, however, the de-watering of the canal in 2018 and risk reduction measures that EWEB has already implemented greatly reduce the risk to nearby residents and properties. 
  • Unlike the Leaburg Canal, the seepage issue with the Walterville Canal is localized to the forebay, simplifying potential long-term repairs compared to the Leaburg Canal.       
  • We perform daily observations of all our hydro facilities as part of our routine operations, and we do more thorough inspections of the hydro facilities on a weekly, monthly, semi-annually and annually basis – over 50 inspections each year. The facilities are inspected at least annually by our dam safety regulator and at least every five years by an independent dam safety engineering consultant. 
  • We maintain Emergency Action Plans to protect the residents and property in the McKenzie River Valley in the unlikely event of a dam or canal breach. Every five years, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission requires EWEB to test emergency action plans for the Carmen-Smith and Leaburg-Walterville Hydroelectric Projects.  
  • If you notice anything out of the ordinary on or near any EWEB canal, reservoir or dam, call our main number 541-685-7000 and ask to speak with EWEB's Generation Engineering Supervisor. After hours, contact the Leaburg-Walterville Dam Duty Operator at 541-852-1906.