With Blue River Dam reaching 50 years of age in 2019, the Willamette Valley Dam System's 13 dams reached a milestone of protecting people, infrastructure and a way-of-life for half of a century.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built Blue River Dam and Reservoir in 1969 to manage flood risks from the McKenzie River, a tributary of the Willamette River, east of Eugene, Oregon. It is one 13 dams and reservoirs in the Willamette Valley System and has helped the Corps reduce the severity of floods, which saves the region an estimated one billion dollars per year. Portland District is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the system, this year.
Since their completion, the dams have cumulatively prevented more than $25 billion in flood damages to the Willamette Valley. The Willamette River Basin is bounded by the Cascade Mountains on the east and the Coast Range on the west.
Although Corps dams only regulate about 27 percent of the surface area runoff in the Willamette Basin above its confluence with the Columbia River, our efforts help reduce flood damage in the Willamette River Basin, as well the North and South Santiam, McKenzie, Coast Fork, Long Tom and Middle Fork Willamette river tributary basins.
During the rainy season, potentially disastrous flooding is managed by storing water in the reservoirs behind the dams. During the summer, water levels in the reservoirs are maintained as high as possible to provide for reservoir water-related recreation opportunities. In the drier summer and fall months when rivers are at low levels, stored water is released from the dams to improve water quality and conditions for fish.
Nine of the Willamette Valley dams generate hydroelectricity from the power of water passing through the dams. Eight of these facilities are owned and operated by the Corps of Engineers, and one is a private facility licensed by FERC. These dams can provide enough power to service about 300,000 homes (500 mw).
Federal, state and local agencies and many Willamette Valley stakeholders are united in their commitment to protect native fish populations and their habitat. They have been working together for many years, along with private interests, on improvements essential for the successful protection and recovery of these Northwest treasures. The Corps is a partner in efforts to revitalize our streams and habitats throughout the Willamette Valley.
There are more than 50 developed recreation sites within the Willamette Valley Project. Activities available at each reservoir vary, but may include: camping, picnicking, boating, water skiing, fishing, swimming, hunting, hiking, biking, equestrian use and wildlife viewing.