BEND, Ore. - The Johnson Creek Dam about five miles northeast of Prineville is one of seven dams the Oregon Water Resources Department has ranked as an "unsatisfactory," high-hazard dam, meaning a dam failure could likely cause fatalities.
About seven homes in the Prineville area could be directly affected if the Johnson Creek Dam fails, according to state officials.
The Oregon Water Resources Department sent a letter to the owners of the dam, Debaca Land and Cattle LLC, on Jan. 24.
"What we have determined from our inspection of the dam is there has been no apparent activity to keep the dam in safe and operating condition," department spokeswoman Diana Enright told NewsChannel 21 by phone on Tuesday. "Maintenance is past due for the dam."
Given this winter's high snowpack, officials say the reservoir behind the dam could fill for the first time since 2011, and they say water could leak through animal burrows.
State officials have recommended that the owners remove animals and trees from the dam, excavate below the outlet for inspection and contact the agency as soon as possible. The Water Resources Department has received confirmation that the owners have the necessary information and the agency to develop an emergency action plan immediately.
"If, for some reason, we determine that the owners are not making progress, we can take enforcement actions," Enright said. "Some of those actions include clearing off the brush, clearing the dam spillway, lower the dam height, or we can eliminate all the water in the dam."
The state has had a dam safety program since 1929. Of the 15,000 dams in Oregon, around 900 are over 10 feet tall and regulated by the state. Of those 900, seven - including the Johnson Creek Dam - were listed as high hazard dams.