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Waterpower's ups and downs in the Willamette Valley

National Weather Service.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Lookout Point dam

Hot weather lately has increased the demand for power. For people in the south Willamette Valley, hydropower helps the grid operate steadily.

Tom Conning is with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which runs most of Oregon’s hydro-electric dams. He told KLCC a facility east of Lowell can boost power when the need spikes in Eugene. “In the morning when people wake up, or when they come home from work, they turn on lights, they’re dong different things with power, and so the demand at that point peaks," he said. "So Lookout Point, for instance, we turn on generators during those times to help provide that power and then when the demand is less, throughout the middle of the day, then we can turn those generators off.”

Conning said they can ramp up power within minutes or even seconds when it’s needed for things like air conditioning. He said even in a drought year, there’s enough water to provide consistent power. The dams are a good compliment to wind and solar, which may not be active every day. Conning added, if Lookout Point’s runoff surges from power generation, The Dexter Dam below it helps keep the water flow consistent to the lower river, by re-regulating the water output.

Last summer, a federal judge ordered the Corps to act immediately to improve conditions for salmon and steelhead passage at Willamette Valley dams. Solutions may include raising or lowering water levels to allow the fish to migrate.

Four dams are set to be removed on the Klamath River on the Oregon / California border. Other Pacific Northwest dam removals are being debated, such as on the lower Snake River in eastern Washington, the topic at a recent City Club of Eugene.

Karen Richards joined KLCC as a volunteer reporter in 2012, and became a freelance reporter at the station in 2015. In addition to news reporting, she’s contributed to several feature series for the station, earning multiple awards for her reporting.