Maintenance on Olive Lake Dam closes small portion of lake to public access. Lake level will drop significantly over the next few months.


Pendleton, Oregon – A small portion of Olive Lake, a popular mountain lake and campground located on the North Fork John Day Ranger District of the Umatilla National Forest, is now closed to boating and swimming due to a mechanical failure in the water release gate located at the bottom of the dam structure, announced Ian Reid, District Ranger.   

“Suction created by water flowing into a 14 inch-wide intake pipe poses a significant hazard to a person swimming near the intake area,” said Reid.  The area closed to public entry is approximately one-half acre and will be signed, fenced and defined by a string of buoys extending from the dam into the water about 200 feet to notify swimmers and boaters of the safety hazard and area to avoid.  The area is located on the northeast side of Olive Lake. The campground and hiking trail around the lake remain open and boating and swimming are still allowed outside the restricted area. Currently less than one percent of the 149-acre lake surface area will be affected by the closure.  

“Forest Service engineers were out the week of August 22, inspecting the dam and preparing for maintenance operations scheduled to begin this fall,” said Reid.  While testing the gate mechanism, the hydraulic system failed, preventing the gate from closing and resulting in a small leak of 2-3 gallons of hydraulic fluid into the lake.  The spill does not pose a public safety risk.  Mitigation measures are in place to absorb the material and Oregon DEQ notifications have been made.  Manual closure of the gate is not currently possible due to a failed hydraulic hose and underwater safety concerns.

“The gate was installed back in 1979 and the gate mechanism is aging,” said Paul Gerber, Acting Forest Engineer.   “This week’s inspection was scheduled specifically to assess the required maintenance needs and to evaluate alternatives for future rehabilitation of the dam,” said Gerber. 

The gate will remain open until the lake drops to a level where it is safe to repair, approximately 27 feet.  A contractor is in place to begin maintenance operations after the Labor Day Weekend. Pacific Northwest regional geotechnical project engineer, Jonathan Berry anticipates that the lake could drop up to seven feet by the holiday weekend which may impact access to the boat ramp and docks located at Olive Lake.

Forest staff will monitor lake levels for hazards that become apparent as the lake drops but swimmers and boaters are also asked to stay vigilant and observe the existing no-wake restrictions in Olive Lake.  Additional restrictions or closures may be implemented as the lake level continues to drop.

“I appreciate the public’s patience and understanding while we repair the aging dam structure. We realize this is a popular fall recreation area for hunters and anglers and are committed to maintaining recreational opportunities at the site while providing for public safety,” said District Ranger Reid.

Olive Lake and campground are located 12 miles west of Granite, Oregon.  The natural lake was deepened by a 30 foot-high dam built in the early 1900s by the Fremont Power Company to provide hydroelectric power, generated at the Fremont Powerhouse, to the then-booming gold mining community. 

Forest engineers hope to have repairs completed before this winter and expect the lake to refill with spring runoff in time for the 2017 recreation season. 

For more information about the closure area or permitted recreation activities on Olive Lake, please contact the North Fork John Day Ranger District at 541-427-3231.  Updated Release