EWEB unveils decommissioning plan

Unanimous board vote calls for dismantling Leaburg Dam by 2032


January 18, 2024 | View PDF

EUGENE: The Eugene Water & Electric Board (EWEB) Board of Commissioners is moving forward with plans to begin dismantling Leaburg Dam by 2032 An action plan was unanimously approved by the board at their regular meeting Tuesday.

The Leaburg Decommissioning Action Plan (LDAP) outlines actions, activities, and regulatory processes required for the decommissioning of the Leaburg project. The work would involve the removal of the Leaburg Dam and the restoration of the McKenzie River to a free-flowing state within the hydroelectric project area.

In October 2018, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), ordered the utility to cease generation at the project when extensive seepage and internal erosion was observed in the Leaburg Canal, raising safety concerns. Originally built in 1928, EWEB says the project no longer meets modern safety standards.

The decision to remove the facility came after years of studies ranging from analysis of the financial, social, and environmental costs of either rehabilitating the canal to make it safe or decommissioning the project. The EWEB commissioners determined that project upgrades to keep the project in service would cost far more than purchasing electricity from other sources.

In January 2023, the board unanimously decided to decommission the Leaburg project.

In the interim, the utility is implementing risk-reduction measures to mitigate safety concerns with the Leaburg Canal. As part of the process, the utility plans to permanently modify portions of the Leaburg Canal to safely convey water from tributary creeks over to the McKenzie River.

FERC oversees hydropower licenses and EWEB is mapping out how it will navigate FERC processes to retire the project. Consultations with Indian Tribes, public agencies that manage natural resources and public health, as well as community members are all required to be involved.

Studies on the effects of decommissioning, both positive and negative, will be designed to address how the hydrology of the river will change, the effects on water quality, and the effects on endangered species, to develop strategies for enhancing positive effects and mitigating potential negative ones, according to EWEB spokesmen.

Components of the project are also parts of a Historic District, so the utility will need to consult with the State Historic Preservation Office to determine appropriate mitigation strategies.

The Leaburg Dam structure currently serves as a bridge connecting Hwy. 126 to several south bank residences, the Leaburg Fish Hatchery, a commercial blueberry farm, and timber plantations. EWEB and Lane County are already in contact regarding the effects decommissioning would have on access to Leaburg Dam Road.

EWEB says it estimates it will take at least five years to assemble all the information required to apply to modify its license with FERC.

The full LDAP report is available online at: tinyurl.com/v6eyadr9.


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