Victoria Dam

Turning Water Into Electricity

Hydroelectric plants need millions of cubic feet of water to operate. To store the water obtained from melting snow and rainfall, dams are constructed to back up rivers and provide a storage facility.

At Victoria, water from the diversion dam flows through the intake structure at the dam into wood-stave pipeline and steel penstock to the turbines. The force of the water passing through the blades of the 65-inch diameter cast steel wheels drives the turbine and generators to produce electricity.

The Victoria units operate at 300 rpm with a maximum operating head of 215 feet. (Head—the difference in water elevation at the dam and the tailrace or discharge elevation.) With maximum head, a pressure of 93 pounds per square inch (psi) exists at the turbine water wheels.

After the water passes through the turbines, it is discharged into the west branch of the Ontonagon River, then into the main Ontonagon River, and finally into Lake Superior at the Village of Ontonagon.

Photo Credit: Renee Holman

Rainfall and melting snow throughout the 801-square-mile watershed upstream of the Victoria eventually end up as water at Victoria Dam. Some of this water is held in storage at UPPCO’s Bond Falls Reservoir, Bergland Dam, or Cisco Dam, and flows as river-run directly to Victoria. (UPPCO refers to the Upper Peninsula Power Company.)

At Victoria, this water is used for power generation. However, if the river-run exceeds the storage capacity of the Victoria Dam and the 850 cubic feet per second utilized by the turbines while operating at a full load, it is necessary to spill the excess water through the radial spill gates. Normally the greatest amount of water is spilled during the spring snow-melt or runoff.

Because water can be stored upstream of Victoria for release and use during dry periods, UPPCO is able to operate the power station about 80 percent of the time during the average year. The least amount of generation occurs during July and August when the river-runs are sometimes down to 150 cubic feet per second.

Storage Facilities

UPPCO owns and maintains three storage dams upstream of Victoria Dam. The water retained in these dams is eventually utilized at the Victoria facility.

Bergland Dam is a low-head structure built of vertical steel I-beams and wood plank flashboards and is 179 feet long and 4 feet high. It is located on the West Branch of the Ontonagon River at the north end of Lake Gogebic and has a storage capacity of about 7,360,000 kilowatt hours.

Cisco Dam is a low-head concrete structure 21 feet long and 5 feet high with two 6’8″-wide concrete bays. It is located on the Cisco branch of the Ontonagon River at the north end of the Cisco chain of lakes and has a storage capacity of approximately 1,800,000 kilowatt hours.

Bond Falls Reservoir is located on the Middle Branch of the Ontonagon River and consists of the main dam, control dam, three earthfill dikes, and a canal. It has a storage capacity of 7,310,000 kilowatt hours.

Photo Credit: Renee Holman

Main Dam is an earth-fill embankment approximately 900 feet long and 40 feet high with a sheet-pile core wall. The steel gate located at the main dam is 13 feet high by 26 feet wide.

Control Dam, similar in design to the Main Dam, is approximately 850 feet long and 40 feet high and is equipped with a steel slide gate five feet square.

Dikes: The three dikes vary in length from 110 feet to 250 feet and height from 5 feet to 15 feet.

Canal: The 7,500-foot-long and 20-foot-wide canal diverts water from the Main Dam and the Middle Branch of the Ontonagon River into the south and west branches of the river for use at Victoria Dam.

Environmental Concerns

Photo Credit: Renee Holman

UPPCO is conscious of its responsibility to the environment, including fish and wildlife. In cooperation with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, a minimum flow is maintained in the river during the period of spring walleye spawning. Monitoring and maintenance of the facility and safety inspections by a qualified engineering firm are ongoing processes, and regular inspections by Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) personnel ensure that all environmental and safety regulations are met.

Also located near the Victoria Dam is the Taylor Air Compressor, an ingenious device hewn into the local bedrock that supplied ample and reliable pneumatic power to the Victoria mines. It is presently underwater and dormant, but it would function again today if the intakes were exposed.