Ninety-two million gallons of water sits in Franzen Reservoir, just above the small town of Turner.
City administrator David Sawyer knows where the water would rush first if the reservoir’s dam failed – into a neighborhood of 40 to 50 homes.
But who would declare an emergency? Who would respond? Who would be in charge?
“I’d love to know what we do,” Sawyer said. “We’re only a town of 2,000 people with a two-person police department.”
Franzen Reservoir is owned by the city of Salem and holds most of the Capital city’s drinking water.
It’s one of a handful of “high hazard potential” state-regulated dams in Oregon that don’t have emergency action plans, documents that lay out everything from inundation maps to notification flowcharts to emergency response duties.
“High hazard potential” means dam failure could result in the loss of at least one human life, and likely would result in property or environmental destruction. Other dams are classified as “significant hazard potential,” “low hazard potential,” or “undetermined.”
In February, following the crisis at Oroville Dam in California, the Statesman Journal reported that 24 high hazard potential dams in Oregon don’t have emergency action plans.
In April, Rep. Rick Lewis, R-Silverton, introduced HB 3427, which requires 17 of those – the ones regulated by the state – to develop emergency action plans by next fall.
The bill, which now is awaiting Gov. Kate Brown’s signature, also requires managers of those dams to conduct periodic emergency response exercises.
And it requires the Oregon Water Resources Department to conduct yearly inspections of high hazard potential dams. The Legislature awarded the department an extra $122,224 per year to add a second permanent inspector position.
Three of the high hazard potential dams that don’t have emergency action plans are among seven the state deems to be in “unsatisfactory” condition. They are Johnson Creek Reservoir in Crook County; Ferry Creek Dam in Curry Count; and Crowley Reservoir in Malheur County.
OWRD inspects those dams more closely and could declare them unsafe if repairs aren’t made, Enright said.
Two dams in Newport also are on the "unsatisfactory" list. Although they do have emergency response plans, residents know that if they fail, flooding could wipe out much of the town and leave residents without a drinking-water source.
Salem has been working to develop an emergency action plan for Franzen Reservoir since the state reclassified it as a high hazard potential dam, city spokesman Mike Gotterba said.
That reclassification happened in February 2015, following a dam breach inundation analysis, Diana Enright, OWRD spokeswoman, said.
Sawyer, the Turner city administrator, said he was not aware of the change in classification.
Salem has not conducted any emergency response exercises at Franzen Reservoir, Gotterba said. But the city has done water-related exercises that show the city’s drinking water system could continue to operate if the reservoir failed.
OWRD inspected Franzen Reservoir in October 2016 and found it to be well maintained with no major issues, Enright said.
But Sawyer worries about the looming 9.0 magnitude-plus Cascadia Subduction Zone Earthquake, which Oregon officials say has a 40 percent chance of happening in the next 50 years.
“If the reservoir failed because of an earthquake, there are some houses that will be inundated with water and be damaged,” Sawyer said. “I don’t know how I’m going to warn those people.”
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High hazard dams
Here are the state-regulated high hazard potential dams that do not have an emergency action plan:
- Franzen Reservoir (Marion County)
- Croft Reservoir (Polk County)
- Baker, ER (Yamhill County)
- Buche Dam (Clackamas County)
- Van Raden (Multnomah County)
- Skookum Lake Reservoir (Tillamook County)
- Johnson Creek Reservoir (Crook County)
- Ferry Creek (Curry County)
- North Canal Diversion Dam (Deschutes County)
- Updegrave (Douglas County)
- Willow Creek Dam (Jackson County)
- Wade Reservoir (Jackson County)
- Yankee Reservoir (Jackson County)
- Strong Reservoir (Josephine County)
- Crowley Reservoir (Malheur County)
- Lonesome Lake (Malheur County)
- Wallowa Lake Dam (Wallowa County)