Project Win: Wallowa Lake Dam Design-Build Rehabilitation Project

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The Wallowa Lake Irrigation District (WLID) has chosen McMillen Jacobs Associates to provide engineering, permitting and regulatory, and construction services for the $16 million rehabilitation of the Wallowa Lake Dam, located near Joseph, OR.

Built in 1917 and once described as “firm as the Rock of Ages,” the 35-foot-high (65-foot-high measured from foundation to crest) dam has been designated a high-hazard dam by the State of Oregon and does not meet current dam safety standards. The dam provides a storage reservoir approximately 4 miles long and 1 mile wide with a total active storage volume in excess of 52,000 acre-feet, but as a result of the dam safety issue, the WLID has been under a state-mandated restricted reservoir operating level for many years and has been unable to operate at full-pool levels for an extended period of time.

McMillen Jacobs previously assisted the WLID in developing and implementing a workplan (which started as a feasibility study and led to implementation projects) that identified and incorporated the multi-discipline stakeholder group—the WLID, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR), and the Nez Perce Tribe— and that is dependent on water released from the reservoir.

The main goal of the project moving forward is to rehabilitate the dam to make it fully operational and ultimately restore fish passage to Wallowa Lake. Other goals include enhancing water conservation and fish protection; continued recreational use; improved fish and wildlife habitat while optimizing agricultural production; and the reintroduction of sockeye salmon to the lake, as proposed by ODFW and the Tribes. At a future date, the WLID plans to consider incorporating low impact hydropower production into the water delivery system ensuring cost-effective energy recovery.

Jim Harbeck, the Nez Perce Fisheries Division Director, told the Wallowa County Chieftain that he sees this project as a win-win.  “It’s a win for fish as well as people and it’s a win for farmers and irrigators. It’s going to improve life here for everyone. The community has something to celebrate.”

The Project was planned to be funded through the State of Oregon Economic Development bonds, to be issued in the spring of 2021.  With the ongoing challenges of COVID-19, the funding is currently under review.  WLID is working with the State of Oregon and the stakeholder group to advance the project design and permitting and secure the full project funding.