Merkley, Wyden: Critical Initiatives to Modernize Oregon’s Dams and Flood Control Headed to the President’s Desk

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, today, announced critical projects and policy initiatives for Oregon included in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2022 have passed the Senate as part of a year-end legislative package and will be sent to President Biden’s desk to be signed into law. Their authorization sets the stage to secure funding for essential water infrastructure modernization efforts across the state.

“For much of Oregon, our coast and our rivers are at the center of our communities. It is imperative that we maintain the integrity of our ports, levees, dams, and other water infrastructure,” said Merkley, who is a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which wrote the bill. “I fought hard to make sure this bill delivers for Oregon, and I am pleased these important Oregon priorities are one step closer to becoming reality. This is a huge step forward in making sure Oregon’s water infrastructure is properly maintained and in modernizing flood management – something that our nation will need even more as we continue to fight climate chaos and make our communities more resilient for the future.”

“This Senate commitment to Oregon’s water infrastructure is good news for communities statewide that depend on federal investments for safety, jobs and quality of life,” Wyden said. “I am gratified the pieces of this package have made this significant advance. And I’ll keep battling to get these crucial projects across the finish line because Oregonians living and working along our coast as well as our rivers deserve topnotch levees, dams, ports and more.”

Some of the Oregon projects and policy initiatives in the bill include:

Columbia River Tribal Housing 

The 2018 WRDA required the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to create housing for tribes along the Columbia River whose villages were displaced by the development of The Dalles Dam. The Corps responded to a 2018 congressional authorization by producing replacement village options that were not acceptable to all of the Columbia River treaty tribes. The 2022 WRDA significantly expands the existing construction authority for The Dalles Dam village development plan to also replace Indian villages and housing sites that were destroyed by construction of the Bonneville, John Day, and McNary Dams by the Corps in the Columbia River Basin. It also gives the USACE new tools to enable it to identify and acquire key properties to construct new villages in multiple locations.

WRDA ‘22 continues Merkley’s work to require the federal government to finally fulfill its promise to replace tribal housing that was displaced by the creation of the Columbia River dams in the 1950s.

Portland Metro Levee System – Authorization of Portland Metro Levee System Chief’s Report

Authorization of the Army Corps of Engineers Portland Metro Levee System Chief’s Report, which will reduce flood risk and increase the resiliency and reliability of the 27-mile levee system along the Columbia River in the Portland metro area. The total cost of the project is $110,498,000 and it has a benefit-to-cost ratio of 3.7 to 1.

Ecosystem Restoration General Investigation Feasibility Study for the Mill Creek Levee Project on the Walla Walla River

The Army Corps of Engineers constructed the Milton-Freewater Levee project for flood control purposes in 1951. The project reduced the historic 5-mile floodplain width to approximately 200 feet and has since impacted ecological functions. To address these ecological impacts, WRDA 2022 authorized a feasibility study to improve ecological functions, such as enhancing fish passage.

Nationwide Low-Head Dam Inventory

In the 1800s, low head dams were constructed across rivers and streams nationwide to provide services, such as diverting water for irrigation or municipal and industrial water uses. Others are in place to prevent erosion of embankments or to control flooding impacts. The structures are numerous and widespread. Nicknamed “drowning machines,” low-head dams have proven over time to be extremely hazardous to public safety, as well as having negative impacts on fish populations and ecosystems. The bill would establish a Nationwide Low-Head Dam Inventory and a State Low-Head Dam Inventory and Rehabilitation Program to be administered by the USACE in coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Bureau of Reclamation.

Lane County Environmental Infrastructure (Sec. 219) Authorization

The bill adds Lane County to the list of eligible entities to receive Section 219 (Environmental Infrastructure) funding from the USACE. This authorization will allow Lane County to pursue critical USACE assistance and funding to support water supply and storage, treatment and distribution systems, and wastewater treatment systems.

Port of Toledo/Yaquina River Modification

The bill modifies an outdated statute that limits the ability of the USACE to dredge the federal navigation channel at the Port of Toledo, which provides access to the Port’s boatyard. Years of siltation is affecting the ability of vessels to safely navigate to the Port’s boatyard, which has received significant private, state and federal investment.

Newport, OR Environmental Infrastructure Authorization

The Newport Environmental Infrastructure authorization will, once appropriated, allow for additional research and design work for the Big Creek Dams Improvement Project.