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Scoggins Dam on verge of historic federal assistance

Originally posted in The Oregonian by Dana Tims

 

Help may finally be on the way for Scoggins Dam in western Washington County.

After two prior near-misses, a key legislative proposal to help the 40-year-old dam get needed safety repairs and increased water storage has made it into the omnibus spending bill expected to pass the U.S. Senate and House by week's end.

If President Barack Obama signs the bill, as expected, the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which owns Scoggins Dam, can proceed with planning and design of fixes to brace the dam to withstand a major earthquake, while also raising it to provide Washington County with increased long-term water capacity.

"Scoggins Dam provides vital water resources to Washington County, but it needs seismic improvements to help the dam and the surrounding community withstand an earthquake," said Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore. "Access to water is critical to our families, businesses, and agriculture."

Until now, federal money could be spent to increase dam safety for Bureau of Reclamation-owned dams spread across 17 western states. The bureau's mission, however, did not allow for federal money to be spent to increase local water supplies, even if local governments kicked in that portion of money themselves.

Since its construction in 1975, Washington County has relied heavily on waters impounded behind the 151-foot-high dam. In additional to supplying drinking water, Scoggins Dam provides irrigation serving 17,000 acres of county farmland.

In addition, more than 20 percent of the dam's stored water is released into the slow-moving Tualatin River to maintain water quality. The dam also creates Henry Hagg Lake, which draws nearly 800,000 recreationalists annually.

"This represents the most significant legislative progress we've had on this project since it was first authorized in 2004," said Mark Jockers, a spokesman for Clean Water Services. "We've been seeking this language for the past four years. To finally get it now is really exciting."

Adding the provision to the omnibus spending bill doesn't necessarily mean bulldozers will be moving into place for construction any time soon, he said. "But, at the same time, this is really going to make sure things don't get slowed down any more, either."

Bureau of Reclamation risk-assessment analyses puts the population at risk in case of a catastrophic failure at 4,500. Of those, 100 people would likely be killed.Stimson Lumber Company's Forest Grove complex, for instance, is located immediately east, downstream of the dam. The biggest fear is a major quake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone off the Oregon coast. Historic records predict one big quake every 550 years. The last one occurred 315 years ago.