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EWEB says it won't remove Leaburg Dam until at least 2032

The Leaburg Dam on the McKenzie River.
Brian Bull
The Leaburg Dam on the McKenzie River.

The Eugene Water and Electric Board is preparing to remove the Leaburg Dam, but doesn’t expect work to begin until at least 2032.

The Leaburg Hydroelectric Project operated along the McKenzie River for nearly a century. But it hasn’t generated power since 2018, when federal regulators ordered that its canal be drained over erosion concerns.

In early 2023, EWEB commissioners resolved to permanently decommission the project. On Jan. 4 of this year, the utility authorized a plan to get federal approval.

EWEB Spokesperson Aaron Orlowski said rather than doing repairs, it’s cheaper and more reliable for the utility to buy power elsewhere.

“When we're making decisions, we have to look at all of the trade offs,” said Orlwoski. “We know there are a lot of customers here in town who are living paycheck to paycheck, and for them, any increase in their electric bill is a challenge.”

Some environmental groups, including Cascadia Wildlands, have endorsed the removal of the dam. According to EWEB, the move will protect endangered salmon.

"The river will go from dammed to free flowing, fully restored to its original state," said Orlowski.

However, Orlowski said getting approved will take years, as EWEB will need to conduct impact studies on how water quality and nearby wildlife would be affected.

The utility will also have to do consultations with local tribal leaders, community members and the State Historic Preservation Office. The dam currently serves as a bridge for nearby residents, and its removal would transform Leaburg Lake.

“Transportation issues are top of mind for them," said Orlowski. "How are they going to be able to continue to access their properties from the highway? And that is something that we're currently in conversations with Lane County about."

In the meantime, Orlowski said there's little risk the now-emptied canal will breach from stormwater. He said neighbors can expect to see maintenance on it later this year.

Nathan Wilk joined the KLCC News Team in 2022. He is a graduate from the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. Born in Portland, Wilk began working in radio at a young age, serving as a DJ and public affairs host across Oregon.