The environmental group Willamette Riverkeeper has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for not providing information about the structural integrity of Willamette River dams.
The lawsuit grew out of a plan the Corps released in January calling for restrictions on water levels behind Hills Creek and Lookout Point dams near Oakridge, Springfield and Eugene.
The plan says higher water levels could create too much risk of dam failure in an earthquake and refers to related reports on the structural integrity of those dams.
In March, Willamette Riverkeeper filed a Freedom of Information Act request for those reports and other safety and risk assessments of the dams in the Willamette River Basin.
“I think it begged the question for us at the very least to say, ‘What does the Corps know about the structural integrity of these 13 large dams in the Willamette River system?’” Travis Williams, executive director of Willamette Riverkeeper, said. “The dams in the Willamette system have a design lifetime, and most of them have exceeded that design lifetime.”
Williams said nine months later his group hasn’t gotten the information it requested or a timeline for when it will be delivered.
“There’s a lot that we should be able to know about all those dams, most of which have significant reservoirs behind them,” he said. “Whether it’s Cascadia Subduction Zone or simply the age and growing antiquity of some of these projects, what is the plan looking forward? It makes a lot of sense to start considering that now.”
Williams said if the dams need repairs, that work could open the door to adding fish passage for salmon and steelhead or even dam removal.
His group has also sued the Corps over its failure to protect threatened and endangered species of salmon and steelhead in its management of Willamette River dams.
The dams were built for flood control, irrigation and hydropower, and none of them have fish ladders to help salmon and steelhead swim around them. Instead, wildlife managers funnel the fish into trucks and drive them around the dams.
“There could be opportunities if we’re looking 10, 15 years down the road to both improve the condition of a project if it has issues and make it have less of an impact on our river system,” Williams said. “The general public should be able to look at those reports and not have it be a matter of national security.”