Scoggins Dam project to get more money and flexibility

Thanks in part to pressure from Oregon’s Congressional delegation, the newly reauthorized Safety of Dams Act includes provisions for upgrading the seismic safety of Scoggins Dam near Gaston and also for increasing water-storage capacity in the adjacent Hagg Lake reservoir.

The provisions were included in a giant, omnibus spending bill that was passed by the U.S. House and Senate Friday and quickly signed into law by President Barack Obama.

The reauthorization includes new language allowing the U. S. Bureau of Reclamation to work with local agencies that aim to increase water-storage capacity by raising the dam’s height.

It also raises the cap on safety-upgrade funding from about $550 million to $1.1 billion, to be parceled out to dams across 17 western states, including three in Oregon — Scoggins and two smaller dams in southern Oregon, said Mark Jockers, public affairs manager for Clean Water Services, which is heading up the dam-raising project.

Ordinarily, Reclamation isn’t authorized to increase storage capacity when upgrading dam safety, but this bill gives it the freedom to work with Washington County agencies on creating conservation storage and other benefits as necessary.

“This is a major milestone in our ongoing efforts to secure our region’s primary water supply and meet the long-term needs of fish, farms and families,”Jockers said.

“Scoggins Dam and the waters in Hagg Lake form the heart of the water system in the Tualatin Basin, a region with water needs that could soon outgrow the supply,” said U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley’s seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee might have helped push through the dam-upgrade changes.

In the end, Wyden and Merkley voted against the overall bill for unrelated reasons — Wyden because the bill included cybersecurity language he opposes and Merkley because it removed a ban on crude oil exports.

U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici voted for it and noted the urgency of the dam project, given the danger to dam neighbors when the long-forecast earthquake of 9.0 magnitude or higher strikes.

Representatives of Clean Water Services and Reclamation have met with neighbors of the dam and are considering strengthening the dam in its current location, as well as rebuilding it at a narrower gap in the valley, east of Stimson Lumber’s mill, which would flood out about 30 properties in the area — including Stimson’s.

The newly reauthorized act gives them money and authority to both move ahead and work together as they explore the different options.