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The maximum water level in the Detroit Reservoir has been lowered this year to reduce the potential impacts of future earthquakes. The drop in water levels could affect ramp access in dry years and is just one part of the seismic preparedness work going on there.

The reservoir extends over the boundaries of Lynn and Marion Counties on the North Santiam River near Detroit, and is an important source of drinking water for communities in both counties, including Salem. A 2020 seismic study there found that current maximum water levels may “beat sewer gates during a major earthquake,” according to a press release from the US Army Corps of Engineers.

To avoid this, the maximum height of the tank will be reduced by five feet, to 1,558.5 feet from 1,563.5 feet. While this may not sound like much, officials say it will significantly reduce pressure on flood gates during the earthquake.

This move may affect access to the boat ramp during some years, however, as the waterline drops below the ramp lines, especially during the drier part of the summer in August and September. The reduction is not expected to affect other recreational activities, such as non-motorized boating, fishing, swimming and camping.

“The structural analysis showed the possibility of curving the sewer gates under the force of a full tank during a major earthquake,” the press release said. While officials say the risk of full breach of the dam is low, they say this reduction is necessary to avoid damage to the gates of the drain.


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