Salem Dam Failure Could Put 40 Homes at Risk

Oregon inspectors say an earthen dam at Salem could flood about 40 homes if it failed, and safety work is needed before the weather turns rainy this fall.

It’s difficult to gradually release water from the dam, and trees growing on it could weaken its structure, particularly if a windstorm uprooted the trees.

The dam was used in a fish-farming operation in the 1960s and is now owned by a condominium association and the owners of a mobile home park, the Statesman Journal reported Wednesday.

“The dam is not in jeopardy of imminent failure, but immediate action must be taken to bring it into compliance with safety standards,” according to a letter sent Monday to 376 Salem residents by the Oregon Department of Water Resources and the City of Salem.

The dam holds back 4.1 million gallons of water.

Mike Gotterba, a spokesman for the city, said a dam breach could potentially flood about 35 acres.

“We will do whatever it takes to make it safe for our neighbors,” said Dennie Brooks, a board member of the Cinnamon Lakes Condominium Association.

She said the state and city should explore a comprehensive solution for flood mitigation in the area.

“To look at this one dam, isn’t the answer,” Brooks said.

Some of the possible fixes include modifying the dam with an overflow spillway, lowering the water level behind the dam, or draining the lake and creating a wetland, said Racquel Rancier, senior policy coordinator with the state agency.