» Under canal’s languid flow, an issue lurks


A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Under canal’s languid flow, an issue lurks

Written August 5th, 2018 by Hasso Hering

Here’s what the Albany-Santiam Canal looked like through the fence at Ninth Avenue on the evening of July 31. Want to see what it looked like without the fence?

Get up close enough so the camera peers past the wire in the chain link barrier, and you see:

Maybe it’s just me, but as a scenic attraction in the Monteith Historic District, the canal looks better this way. And as the 2001 urban renewal plan proposed, it could become a major asset in Albany’s livability if the city wanted to make it one.

It is, of course, more than a potential scenic attraction. It’s also one of the two sources feeding the city’s water system, the other one being an intake on the Santiam River near Scravel Hill. And then, during the winter and spring when the flow in the South Santiam near Lebanon allows, the canal also powers Albany’s 500-kw generator in the historic Vine Street powerhouse.

Albany has a federal hydropower license covering the generator, the 18-mile canal and the headworks on the South Santiam above Lebanon. Keeping up with the regulatory requirements linked to that license is expensive. I don’t know how expensive, but it’s more than what’s warranted by the $80,000 a year on average in power sales.

One choice facing the council before too long is to abandon power production. But the need to maintain the canal as a water source would remain.

For more than a year now, Albany has worked on another option: Surrender the power license but at the same time obtain from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) what’s called an exemption for a small-conduit hydroelectric facility.

The goal, Albany project manager Mark Yeager reminded me, “is to have the ability to continue to operate the hydroelectric facility much as we do now without including all the requirements related to FERC jurisdiction over the canal, dam, fish screens and head gates.”

He and others have been working on this alternative with state and federal agencies for more than a year. In March 2017, the city council allocated up to $90,000 for outside legal and other professional services. Yeager says expenses so far are well below that.

Drafts of the applications — to surrender the power license and get the small-conduit exemption — should be finished soon, Yeager says, after which the city will again seek the consent of state and federal fisheries agencies. The council then will have to decide on whether to proceed. How soon? Nobody knows.

When this process is over, maybe it will be easier to do something to enhance the downtown leg of the canal. For starters, the city could take down the barbed wire. If the canal itself is no longer a federally regulated energy facility, perhaps the city council will be more inclined to improve its looks. (hh)

10 responses to “Under canal’s languid flow, an issue lurks”

  1. Jim Engel says:

    From out to say 34th Ave into the “power plant” it ought to be put into a big tube. That is nonsense to make it into some kind of an open attraction. The flow is too swift to NOT have a fence around it! Without a barrier & the 1st brat that falls in… the City will have a lawsuit. Once enclosed & paved/covered over the City could have its promenade. It would extend the bike path south by a good 1/2 mile.

  2. Terry says:


    Just keep the canal secured.

  3. Sandi Foster says:

    My understanding is that open running public water supply is illegal to begin with.

    • John Jay says:

      So does that make the S. Santiam illegal? Going to be hard finding little jail jumpsuits for the Salmon and Steelhead.

    • Marilyn Smith says:

      Karen Kelley, Albany water superintendent, responds: Public water supplies can come from surface water bodies including lakes, rivers, streams and canals. In fact, several hundred public water supplies in Oregon are supplied by such water bodies, including the City of Albany. However, once that water is treated to drinking water standards, it must be stored and delivered in closed systems (tanks and pipelines). After water from the Santiam-Albany Canal is fully treated at the Vine Street Water Treatment Plant, it is pumped into a closed distribution system according to Oregon Health Authority requirements. Contact OHA at 971-673-0405 for more information.

  4. Chezz says:

    Are we considering the water being tainted by human hands? City of Corvallis had a potential issue with this years ago. Public water needs protections.

  5. J. Jacobson says:

    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”
    H. L. Mencken

  6. Avid reader 69 says:

    I agree with Jim Engel. And most of everybody else. Public water needs to be protected, I say leave the barbed-wire fence in place. And install more where it is open to the public. I can only imagine what someone could do to the water supply.

  7. Helen McGovern says:

    We have lived near the canal for about 50 years. I remember when a neighbor would take the neighborhood children to the canal to catch crawdads. They loved the adventure. Walking along the canal was great. Walking over a small foot bridge near Henderson Park was a fun short cut to Central School. So how to balance safety and beauty is the question

  8. Mike Ransom says:

    Where is the barbed wire? I see only cyclone fence.


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