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EWEB leads annual "Spill Drill"

October 12, 2023 Adam Spencer, Communications Specialist

EWEB employees deploy containment boom on the river.

EWEB's Source Water Protection Team led partners in a drill Wednesday simulating our emergency response to an oil spill on the McKenzie River – the sole source of drinking water for 200,000 people in Eugene and Springfield. 

More than 40 volunteers from a dozen local, State, and Federal agencies - who are part of the McKenzie Watershed Emergency Response System - answered the call to join the drill. They broke up into five teams, wading through the river and driving rain to practice the deployment of a series of floating containment booms that direct oil and other floating contaminants to a skimmer that would remove it from the river.

Environmental Specialist David Donahue is the lead coordinator for the Spill Drill. Between organizing the teams, and directing the action, he shared that we've thankfully been spared a major spill on the McKenzie since the MWERS was set up in 2001. The partnership has responded to several incidents, however, including single car accidents up and down Highway 126 and a large spill on the Middle Fork of the Willamette. 

“The whole system is a great opportunity to build relationships with our emergency providers and responders, understand everybody's capabilities and skills, and then also get a better handle on the type of equipment and resources we have in the community where collectively, hopefully we can all be on the same page if that unfortunate event ever happens,” Donahue said.

Yesterday's drill was also an opportunity to share with regional partners, as observers from the water departments of Salem and Medford joined the drill to consider adopting a similar system to protect their watersheds.

“We would obviously totally support that because the more folks we have trained up on this type of deployment procedure, the better we can share resources, share knowledge," Donahue said. “It's been a great opportunity to not only connect with our local emergency responders, but also expand that outreach to some of our other partners across the state. We had a pretty good turnout from the DEQ, who of course, would be responding to spills throughout the state.”

He added: “You know, we do have a resident Mallard here. It's been here for the last couple of weeks. Doesn't leave. It's been keeping a pretty close eye on us. Very friendly. Our primary objective is to keep oil out of the river because we're a sole-source utility, meaning that the city of Eugene has one source of drinking water, and that's McKenzie River. But by developing strategies and techniques to get oil or diesel out of the water, we're also protecting the wildlife that we all value and appreciate, including that very friendly Mallard Duck.”

a Mallard duck oversees the deployment of the containment boom system.

Our great thanks to our partners from Springfield Utility Board, McKenzie Fire & Rescue, Willamette National Forest, City of Springfield, Region 2 HazMat Team, Lane County, Lane County Sheriff, and Eugene-Springfield Fire & EMS for braving the elements to stay sharp.

McKenzie Watershed Emergency Response System (MWERS) member agencies:

  • Army Corps of Engineers
  • Eugene Springfield Fire & EMS
  • Eugene Water & Electric Board
  • Lane Council of Governments
  • Lane County Public Works
  • Lane County Sheriff
  • McKenzie Fire & Rescue
  • Oregon Department of Environmental Quality
  • Oregon Department of Transportation
  • Rainbow Water District
  • Region 2 HazMat Team
  • Springfield Environmental Services
  • Springfield Public Works
  • Springfield Utility Board
  • Upper McKenzie Rural Fire
  • US Forest Service
  • US Bureau of Land Management
  • US Environmental Protection Agency