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Dam Safety is a Top Priority

March 20, 2017

man in hard hat and safety vest inspecting leaburg dam rollgate

The recent crisis at Oroville Dam in California has raised concerns about dam safety across the country.  Just north of Sacramento, the Oroville Dam is the tallest dam in the United States (770 feet high) and is a critical piece of California's water supply system.

In February, after record rainfall filled Oroville Reservoir to more than 100 percent of normal capacity, a gaping hole appeared in the dam's main spillway. As the damage worsened, operators began releasing water over the emergency spillway for the first time in the reservoir's history. Parts of the earthen spillway quickly eroded, threatening to undermine a key concrete slab holding water in the reservoir. Fearing a dam breach, authorities ordered more than 180,000 people downstream to evacuate.

Could this happen to any of EWEB's dams?

Dams are some of the most important infrastructure facilities we manage. EWEB owns and operates six dams on the McKenzie River as part of our hydroelectric power generation system: Carmen Diversion, Smith, Trail Bridge, Leaburg, Leaburg Canal, and Walterville Canal. These dams are an important part of our commitment to delivering reliable, cost-effective and renewable power to local homes and businesses. 

Dam safety is a very high priority at EWEB and events like Oroville are a good reminder that we can't take our dams for granted. Lucky for us, all of EWEB's spillways are constructed on bedrock, so the type of damage seen at Oroville is unlikely to happen here. While our dams are safe and well-maintained, there are risks associated with all dams. We can never eliminate all risks, but we can take proactive steps to identify and minimize risk.

Here's how we keep EWEB dams safe:

Monitoring and compliance

All of our dams meet current engineering standards and are in compliance with state and federal regulations. Federal and state regulators work with our staff to perform annual inspections to ensure safe operating conditions. The Leaburg Dam and Canal will undergo annual inspection and maintenance starting on March 25, followed by similar inspections and maintenance activities at the Walterville project in June.


Operators, engineers and surveyors inspect hydro facilities weekly, monthly, semi-annually and annually. That's over 50 inspections each year.


A good maintenance program will protect a dam against deterioration and prolong its life. Our generation staff and contractors routinely repair concrete, re-seal leaky canals, ensure proper drainage and maintain operating systems at the most highest industry standards.


Our staff receives routine training on dam operations, safety and emergency response.

Emergency planning

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. We coordinate closely with emergency management authorities, such as Central Lane 911, on notification and communication procedures, including pre-planned mass communications in the event of a dam emergency.

How to report a problem

If you notice anything out of the ordinary on any EWEB canal, reservoir or dam, please call our main number 541-685-7000 and ask to speak with EWEB's Generation Engineering Supervisor. After hours, contact the Leaburg Dam Duty Operator at 541-852-1906.