LIHI Certificate #33 - Willamette Falls Project, Oregon

The Willamette Falls Hydroelectric Project (FERC #2233) is located at river mile 26.5 on the Willamette River between Oregon City and West Linn in Clackamas County in north-central Oregon. The Willamette River flows north to its confluence with the Columbia River at Portland and drains an area of approximately 11,250 sq mi. The Project is located in a highly populated, industrialized urban setting about 10 miles from downtown Portland. Willamette Falls is a horseshoe-shaped, 40-foot-high, natural waterfall that marks the head of the tidally influenced lower Willamette River. The obstruction of the river by volcanic bedrock causes the river to cascade over a Falls producing a hydraulic head of at least thirty feet. The Project is owned and operated by PGE.

The site has been home to hydroelectric generation for more than 100 years, beginning with PGE's Station A in 1889 and continuing to this day with PGE's T.W. Sullivan Powerhouse, built in 1895, and the now-shutdown Blue Heron Paper Company (BHPC) powerhouse, built in 1916. Paper mill operations have also been present at the Falls for more than a century. Historically the area was also home to flour, saw and pulp mill operations that no longer operate. A navigation canal and locks on the west bank of the river have been operated since 1873, providing 30 ft of lift for commercial barge transport and recreational boat traffic.

The project lies entirely within the city limits of Oregon City on the east shore of the Willamette River and the City of West Linn on the west shore. The project boundary of the Willamette Falls Project encompasses 97.23 acres and includes the project facilities described below. Most of the property within the project boundary is owned by PGE.

The pool upstream of Willamette Falls extends approximately 30 miles to RM 56. Given the Project's highly developed and industrialized setting, the impoundment was not included within the project boundary by FERC. Computer modeling indicates that the pool without any Project structures would extend approximately to RM 54.

The horseshoe-shaped project dam is located along the crest of Willamette Falls and consists principally of a 600-foot spillway section, a 2,300-foot dam topped with flashboards, the T.W. Sullivan (TWS) Powerhouse, containing 13 units with a total generating capacity of 16 MW and the now-shutdown BHPC Powerhouse, containing 2 units with a total generating capacity of 1.5 MW. At the time that PGE applied for a new license for the Project, BHPC operated the BHPC Powerhouse and was co-licensee for the Project. As discussed in documents (attachment 3) provided by the Applicant as part of this filing, PGE purchased, shutdown, and is decommissioning the BHPC Powerhouse as part of the suite of fish protection measures agreed to in the Settlement Agreement and implemented in the FERC license.

The Project also includes the West Linn Paper Company's (formerly Simpson Paper) grinder rooms number two and three at the north abutment of the dam. In 1996, FERC approved the decommissioning of the generating facilities of the project's Simpson Development. However, because these structures and facilities were integral to the project's dam, they remained in the project boundary and under license. A fish ladder, owned and operated by ODFW, is located on the west side of the Falls, and includes three entrances within the Falls and one at the TWS Powerhouse tailrace. A navigation lock at the Project is owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Pursuant to the terms of the Settlement Agreement, as approved by the new license issued by FERC on December 8, 2005, PGE is implementing a number of measures and constructing new project facilities to improve fish passage at the Project. PGE has completed a number of modifications to the Project's forebay, has installed a second fish bypass system (the North Fish Bypass or NFB), and is now completing a flow control structure at the apex of the Falls to improve downstream migrant passage over the Falls.

The Willamette River flows from southwest to northeast emptying into the Columbia River at Portland. The project operates in a run-of-river mode and does not provide useable water storage or flood control. Flashboards are added to the dam around the crest of the Falls during low flow periods of the year, typically summer through fall. The flashboards are allowed to washout as flows increase. Under the range of normal operations, the water surface at the dam varies from approximately 54 feet msl during low flow with the flashboards installed to about 58 feet during normal winter flows, when flashboards have washed out. Typical water surface elevations are in the range of 55 to 56 ft msl.

The Willamette Falls Dam diverts water into the T.W. Sullivan powerhouse forebay on the west side of the river. The water intakes for the turbines are located at the base of the powerhouse. Water diverted through the powerhouse rejoins the main river immediately below the Falls. Since the tidal effect of the Pacific Ocean is evident all the way to the base of Willamette Falls, the tidal influence on tailwater elevation also has a small effect on hydroelectric generation.

PGE terminated operation of the BHPC development in 2003. As discussed in greater detail in Attachment 3, the Settlement Agreement and the new license provided for PGE to permanently decommission the development. This process is scheduled to be completed in 2008.

Project Name Willamette Falls
LIHI Certificate No. 33
LIHI Certificate Term November 2, 2017 - November 1, 2027
Owner Portland General Electric
State Oregon
Location Located at river mile 26.5 on the Willamette River between Oregon City and West Linn in Clackamas County in north-central Oregon.
Installed Capacity 16.9 MW
Average Annual Generation 130,525 MWh (5-year average)
Facility Type Run-of-river
FERC No. P-2233 issued 2005, expire 2035

Certification History

June 4, 2018 – The 30-day appeal window for the preliminary recertification decision of the Willamette Falls Hydroelectric Project closed on June 2, 2018 with no appeals to the decision received. The decision is therefore final and the Willamette Falls Hydroelectric Project is recertified for a10-year term from November 2, 2017 through November 1, 2027.

May 3, 2018 – On April 27, 2018, the Low Impact Hydropower Institute (LIHI) preliminarily approved the Willamette Falls Project for a new 10-year term of Low Impact Certification.

The reviewer’s report is attached at the bottom of this page. This decision is preliminary pending the 30-day appeal window. Only those who commented in the initial application 60-day comment period are eligible to file an appeal. Such appeal needs to include an explanation as to how the project does not meet the LIHI criteria. Appeal requests can be submitted to Requests must be received by 5 pm Eastern time on June 2, 2018. 

If no appeal requests are received and the decision becomes final, the new term for the Willamette Falls project will be November 2, 2017 through November 1, 2027.

September 26, 2017:  The Low Impact Hydropower Institute has received a complete application for a new term of Low Impact Certification for the Willamette Hydroelectric Project. The Willamette Hydroelectric Project is located in Located at river mile 26.5 on the Willamette River between Oregon City and West Linn in Clackamas County in north-central Oregon. The 2017 application materials can be found below.

LIHI is seeking public comment on this application.  Specifically, we are interested in knowing whether you think the Willamette project meets the LIHI Low Impact Certification Criteria, as revised in the 2nd Edition Handbook released in March 2016.  Please review the program and criteria in LIHI’s revised Handbook and then review the Project’s 2017 application materials posted on the project page.

Comments that are directly tied to specific LIHI criteria (flows, water quality, fish passage, etc.) will be most helpful, but all comments will be considered.  Comments may be submitted to the Institute by e-mail at with “Willamette Comments” in the subject line, or by mail addressed to the Low Impact Hydropower Institute, 329 Massachusetts Avenue, Suite 2, Lexington, MA 02420.  Comments must be received at the Institute on or before 5 pm Eastern time on November 26, 2017 to be considered.  All comments will be posted to the web site and the applicant will have an opportunity to respond.  Any response will also be posted.

December 5, 2012: The Low Impact Hydropower Institute has determined that the Willamette Falls Hydroelectric Project continues to meet the certification criteria. They have been re-certified for a second five year term of low impact certification, effective November 2, 2012 and expiring November 2, 2017.

February 29, 2008: The Willamette Falls Hydroelectric Project has been certified as low impact for a five year term, effective November 2, 2007 and expiring November 2, 2012.

November 2, 2007: Portland General Electric has submitted an application for certification of the Willamette Falls Project.