From lake to sandbox and back again.
Do the math: If a dump truck can hold 10 cubic yards of sand or gravel, then how many trips would it take to pack the Fern Ridge dam with 80,000 cubic yards of sand and 50,000 cubic yards of gravel?
Answer: 13,000 dump-truck loads.
That's how much sand and gravel Eugene Sand & Gravel will deliver to the north side of the dam along Clear Lake Road this summer as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers replaces a 64-year-old drainage system that has eroded and threatened to break the dam. Repair work began in early June and will continue until November - and maybe even into next year. The project has shut down popular Fern Ridge Lake to all recreation, and with it has gone its millions of dollars of economic impact.
Barnard Construction of Bozeman, Mont., is under contract to perform $16.5 million worth of repairs on the $22.4 million project that was originally estimated to run as high as $40 million. After Rep. Peter DeFazio and Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith were unable to secure emergency funding through Congress, the Corps diverted money from other projects to pay for the repairs, Corps project manager Mark Dasso said.
Barnard is excavating 440,000 cubic yards of the earthen dam, yanking out the old 8-inch drainage pipe and replacing it with all that sand and gravel, Dasso said.
Believe it or not, that's how modern drainage systems are designed now, Dasso said. `They didn't know that in the 1930s (when construction on the dam began),' he said.
Actually, it's a bit more complicated than that, but that's the gist of it, Dasso said.
The deteriorating drainage pipe has served to carry out water that has seeped into the dam. The pipe is surrounded by 8 feet of gravel acting as a filter to catch sediments that seep near it. In the new design, sand will perform both of those operations, Dasso said.
"We shouldn't have to do this kind of repair ever again," he said.
On Wednesday, about 35 workers from Barnard Construction and the 11 Corps employees on the project were busy moving huge chunks of dirt along the closed portion of Clear Lake Road and drilling wells in the dam to further bring down an already depleted water level in the lake. Normally at a pool level of 373.5 feet above sea level, the lake has been drained to 355 feet to perform the repairs.
The lower lake level has not only halted fishing, boating and other recreation , but it has altered the operations of farmers in the Long Tom River basin who rely on the reservoir to irrigate their crops and worried environmentalists about the project's impact on wildlife.
"But it looks like it will be fine and everyone will get what they need," Dasso said.
After a record-dry winter, spring rains have provided farmers with enough water, Dasso said.
Under contracts with the Bureau of Reclamation, farmers who irrigate 10,000 acres of crops north of the dam need the lake at 365 feet to ensure the water they're entitled to, he said.
"What I've heard from individual growers is that they're cautiously optimistic," said Steve Cornacchia, an attorney for the Junction City Water Control District, which covers about a third of the contracts and acres in the Long Tom River basin. But there's no guarantee things won't change throughout the summer and into the fall, Cornacchia said.
As part of the project, the Corps will build some wildlife impoundments on the south side of the dam so that when water levels go down in the fall, water will be trapped there to benefit wildlife, Dasso said.
The Corps plans to refill the reservoir on Feb. 1, as it does every year, and expects that Fern Ridge will once again be crowded with anglers, water skiers and splashing kids, Dasso said.
Army Corps of Engineers representatives show the media the construction work being done at the Fern Ridge dam by Barnard Construction of Bozeman, Mont., to repair failed drainage. The lake is scheduled to be refilled by Feb. 1. Mark Dasso, project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers, says, "We shouldn't have to do this kind of repair ever again."