News Releases

Reservoir drawdowns, dam construction impact McKenzie River recreation

Published July 21, 2017

PORTLAND, Ore. – Increased water releases from Cougar and Blue River dams will limit access to some recreation opportunities in those areas. The McKenzie River will also have higher than normal flows as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reduces reservoir levels behind the dams to support maintenance and rehabilitation of the structures’ spillway gates.

The road over Cougar Dam will be closed July 27 to Nov. 30 while spillway gate repairs are underway. Visitors who are accustomed to driving across the dam to get to Echo day use and boat launch and the East Fork lower trailhead will have a long (approximately 2-3 hour) drive to get to those sites. Access is via the Horse Creek (Forest Service Road 2638), spur road 356 and then onto FSR 1993. See  Using FSR 19-500 past Slide Creek campground to access the Echo day use and boat launch sites is highly discouraged as the road is not suitable for passenger cars.

Boat ramps at Cougar Reservoir may not be accessible by Labor Day weekend due to the lower water levels. Saddle Dam boat ramp at Blue River Reservoir will be accessible, but Lookout boat launch will be inaccessible after Sept. 1.

The water flow on the McKenzie River began rising July 15, and is expected to reach levels up to 3,200 cubic feet per second, creating a stronger current than normal. The Oregon State Marine Board reminds boaters to be aware of potential hazards, such as downed trees and other debris.  Boaters, especially paddlers, are encouraged to plan ahead and visit to learn about reported navigation obstructions. Boaters should always scout the river ahead of time and keep a sharp lookout. Report navigation obstructions to the Lane County Marine Patrol.

Flows will begin to recede after Sept. 1 as water releases slow from each of the dams. Water flow on the river is expected to be about 1, 500 cfs after Sept. 15.

The Corps is increasing daily water releases gradually from Cougar, with a target daily release of 500 cubic feet per second. Another gradual increase begins Aug. 1, with water releases to eventually reach 1,000 cfs. Normal water release for this time of year is about 580 cfs.

Water managers also will increase daily water releases gradually from Blue River reservoir to reach about 500 cfs by Aug. 1. Normal daily release from the dam is about 300 cfs.

For the most up-to-date information, please view the Corps’ “Teacup” diagrams at

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operates 13 dam and reservoir projects in the Willamette River drainage system. Each dam contributes to a water resource management system that provides flood damage reduction, power generation, irrigation, water quality improvement, fish and wildlife habitat and recreation on the Willamette River and many of its tributaries. Since their completion, the dams have cumulatively prevented over $20 billion in flood damages to the Willamette Valley. For more information, visit

Michelle Helms
Jude McHugh
U.S. Forest Service

Release no. 17-023