After careful study and consultation with state regulatory agencies, Georgia Pacific has determined that declining water levels at Olalla Lake have created a substantial public safety hazard at the reservoir. In particular, the earthen slopes leading to the water have become too steep for visitors to safely walk on.
Effective sundown today, Oct. 8, Georgia Pacific is suspending public access to the reservoir until the water rises to a safe level for visitors. The access gate will be locked 24 hours a day, a no trespassing sign will be posted and only authorized personnel will be allowed to enter the reservoir area.
GP will notify the public when access is restored. But it’ll take a lot of water – maybe even a rain-heavy winter – to make that happen. And the long range weather forecast doesn’t look good due to the presence of a very strong El Nino offshore.
The reservoir provides water to GP’s Toledo mill for the production of containerboard (the mill buys its drinking water from the city of Toledo). The company built the reservoir at the same time the mill was constructed (1956-57). For many years, GP also has allowed the public to use its reservoir during daylight hours for recreational purposes, such as fishing, swimming, boating and hiking. Each fall, GP closes the gravel boat launch at the reservoir as a safety precaution due to seasonally low water.
The Olalla Lake reservoir is fed by a combination of rainfall, stream flows, and surface water pumped from the Siletz River. There’s been little rainfall, stream flows have all but dried up and the level of the Siletz River is so low that the state prohibits any river water being pumped to Olalla Lake.
So, what is GP doing to conserve water at the mill? GP says they strive every day to use water responsibly, but when levels are low, they look for additional opportunities to reduce water use. Various conservation measures, implemented earlier this year in their production processes, save about 20 percent of daily water use.
At what water level are mill operations affected? GP says they continue to study the potential effects of low water levels in the reservoir on mill operations. As with any large manufacturing facility, we have contingency plans for various situations, including water scarcity. For now, they say they continue to operate normally and they’ll let the public know if anything changes.