McKenzie Watershed Protective is a conservation organization dedicated to the preservation of the McKenzie River water, native fish and forests. The McKenzie Watershed is a living breathing natural phenomena in which the water, the fish and the forests are all interdependent.
Once recognized as one of the top cleanest rivers in America, the McKenzie River on the verge of some very negative changes. To address these problems, we use a grassroots approach to collaborations and initiatives engaging in preservation, restoration, legal enforcement, and lobbying through community alliance. We strongly support holding government agencies accountable for enforcing existing laws.
Major issues are occurring on the river and in the watershed which will have catastrophic impacts on the river for generations. The Holiday Farm Wildfire of 2020 has burned approx. 25 miles - on both sides of the riverfront. The State of Oregon passed legislation in 2021 which suspends state riparian (wetlands) regulations. Virtually any residential development can now be performed by property owners in the river, on the riverbank or in the flood plain without state inspection or approval. While this action was reportedly done to help fire victims rebuild their homes, we now have two story rental condo's being built at a fevered pace. The natural impressive views of this once beautiful river and being defaced with condo's, fine trimmed lawns and decks hanging over the river. The destruction of the riparian areas on the shoreline is extreme and the worst ever seen.
Lane County has followed the State of Oregon's lead in suspending all restrictions in the county riparian zone (50' from the high-water line) for residential construction. Many of the new fire rebuilds allowed by Lane County are rental houses and condo's - not personal residences - which was the reason for suspending riparian laws. Prior to the fire, it was estimated that only 40% of the native riparian zone remains. With the current acceleration of building in the riparian zone, the ability of the river to sustain water quality is limited. Over 36 formal complaints placed with the State of Oregon and Lane County have had no effect. Water quality is at risk.
Leaburg Dam & Walterville Dam: FREE THE MCKENZIE
Leaburg Dam is a water diversion dam on the McKenzie River built in 1929 along with two canals with power generating capabilities. Leaburg Dam/canal has been closed for three years due to leaks and a report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) listing three areas of the energy projects as "High Hazard Potential". It is the position of our organization that the McKenzie River should be free of all dams on the main river. The power projects on the river are aging out and will require increased maintenance every year making power generation not cost effective. Leaburg Dam has become a bridge for local homeowners - a 100-year-old bridge which will need significant upgrades to remain as a bridge. Fish migration is impaired both upstream and downstream. Salmon and Steelhead runs are at record lows. Current EWEB operation of the dam and canals removes up to 75% of the water from the river which effects all biological aspects of the river. Water temperatures exceed the level at which Salmon and Native Trout can survive. Navigation in the de-watered areas is extreme and sometimes impossible. Removal of Leaburg Dam will allow the river to return to its natural streambed and expose a huge area that is now Leaburg Lake. This is an opportunity to expand Lloyd Knox Park into one of the largest parks on the McKenzie River and to connect this park to the Old Fish Hatchery/Discovery Center and existing fish hatchery. EWEB has recently estimated rate increases of up to 15% to resolve the Leaburg Dam issue. Resolution of the Walterville Canal project could see another round of increases of up to 15% or up to 30% total. See our position paper below.
Update: As of January 2023 a decision was made by EWEB to decommission Leaburg Dam/Canal and Walterville Dam/Canal. While this is a positive change for the River, EWEB states decommissioning (demolition) will likely be 10 years before starting. It is our position that both Leaburg Dam and Walterville Dam must be opened immediately for fish passage and navigation. This action will allow Leaburg Dam to continue to be used as a bridge and allow endangered Salmon and Trout to migrate unimpeded both upstream and downstream. A recent letter from EWEB casts doubt on the viability of fish passage and navigation with the Dam gates open. The picture at the top of this page with the Dam Gates open demonstrates the truth of the matter: Fish passage and navigation are enhanced when the gates are opened. The gates of Leaburg Dam can be opened at no cost! For a hydro dam which has not generated electrical power in 3 years, is scheduled to be demolished and is killing native fish - it's an easy decision for federal oversight agencies. It's up to the public to demand the gates be opened.
Contact: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)
888 First Street, N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20426
Division of Dam Safety and Inspection
David E. Capka. P.E., Director
FERC Docket #P-2496
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
5275 Leesburg Pike
Falls Church, VA 22041-3803
National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
1401 Constitution Avenue NW, Room 5128
Washington, DC 20230
UPDATE: Salmon Fishing Closed on the Oregon Coast until further notice! Due to record low numbers of Chinook Salmon, the Fed's have closed all Chinook fishing on the Oregon Coast (source of Chinook Salmon for the McKenzie) for the 2023 season.
UPDATE: Columbia River closed to Salmon fishing due to low numbers. As of 04/18/23 Chinook Salmon fishing is closed on the Columbia. However, ODFW changes the regs day by day, so stay tunned. The McKenzie is a tributary of the Willamette and Columbia River and low Salmon numbers reach all the way from Portland to the upper McKenzie. Any mitigation which improves Salmon passage,
SUCH AS OPENING LEABURG DAM can only help recover Salmon numbers.
UPDATE: Four dams on the Klamath River are to be removed in 2024.
Cougar Dam on the South Fork of the McKenzie River to be drained permenantly and opened for fish migration.
Detroit Dam on the Santiam River to be drained permenantly and opened for fish migration.
Oregon is the #1 state in the nation for removal of dams!
Algae and Pollution
With 175,000 acres of forest burned in the Holiday Farm Wildfire the challenge in the McKenzie Watershed is massive. The threats range from infestation of insects in rotting trees, to pollution from fertilizers and herbicides used in tree farming, to loss of forest and riparian features acting as filters for creeks and streams. Chemicals from tree farming and septic leeching are in the river and detectable. The volume of chemicals needed in tree farming efforts in the watershed plus the leeching of old and new septic systems near the river are increasing the Filamentous and Didymo Algae in the river. Every biological aspect of the river is at risk due to the pollution in the river. And water quality is directly impacted by Algae.