Dam removal recommended
Existing bridge would not be replaced
December 8, 2022 | View PDF
EUGENE: In a report sure to dominate the Eugene Water & Electric Board's December 6th meeting, the utility's general manager is calling for a move that would permanently discontinue electricity generation at the Leaburg Hydroelectric Project. While both the Leaburg and Walterville projects are included in the current Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) operating license, Frank Lawson limited his comments to Leaburg and noted that if economic conditions change in the future, EWEB might reexamine that decision.
By taking out Leaburg Dam, the McKenzie River would return to an unobstructed flow in that stretch. Along with that change, "management is not recommending EWEB construct a new bridge to replace the dam's cross-river transport," Lawson wrote, "but rather a utilization of the Goodpasture Bridge and road improvements."
Building a new road between Leashore Drive and Leaburg Dam Road could pose considerable challenges based on a 1984 study by Lane County Public Works. At that time, the Board of Commissioners was looking at five options to reduce log truck traffic loads on the covered bridge. They rejected building a connector route after engineers reported the terrain in that area was too challenging.
Eliminating power production at Leaburg wouldn't affect the utility's ongoing operations since the facility hasn't been operating since 2018. That's when levee seepage and seismic vulnerabilities caused a shutdown until they were addressed. In the interim, EWEB has bought replacement power from the Bonneville Power Administration and could petition the BPA for a long-term agreement.
"Eliminating the human-made Lea-burg Lake behind the dam will have a positive impact on water quality, fish, and wildlife," according to Lawson. "Lakeside recreation facilities will shift to riverside recreation facilities," he noted, and "lakeside residences will become riverside residences."
The report goes on to point out that EWEB's mission is "to enhance our community's vitality by delivering drinking water and electric services consistent with the values of our customer-owners." The utility says its "two primary services are 'vital' to the health and welfare of our community, and that our methods are important to our customer-owners. Examining how the Leaburg Hydroelectric Project supports delivering drinking water and electric services is a logical starting point."
Before developing its recommendations, the utility conducted a series of customer surveys and public outreach activities. Officials reported three decades of surveys, showing the top three customer priorities (ranking above environmental and social preferences) were water quality, reliability of delivery, and cost. In EWEB's 2022 residential customer survey, reliability, and affordability were evenly matched but controlling costs was the top priority for customers.
If EWEB decided to continue generating electricity at Leaburg, FERC would require at least a 54-year commitment, with a likely extension to 94 years upon relicensing in 2076, Lawson noted. "On the other hand, setting the direction towards decommissioning electricity generation likely requires dam removal but provides for future choices and flexibility associated with canal restoration scope and timing (return to pre-project conditions or canal use as stormwater conveyance).
If EWEB decided to partially restore the canal for stormwater conveyance or electricity generation, portions of it could be returned to pre-project conditions, while the remainder of the canal would convey water.