Victoria Dam

Discover the Victoria Dam in the UP

The History of Victoria Dam

Victoria Dam, view from lakeside

In 1929, just before the great stock market crash, work began on the Victoria hydroelectric development. Finally, in January 1931, the facility was placed in commercial operation to provide electricity for the area's copper mining and forest products industries.


Today's Victoria is the third dam on this stretch of Ontonagon. In 1902, Hooper's Dam was built just upstream in what is not the reservoir. It diverted water to the Taylor air compressor to produce energy for the Victoria Mining Company. In 1903, the original Victoria Dam, a concrete multiple-arch buttress-style structure, was built at the falls. In 1991, it was replaced by the existing roller-compacted-concrete gravity stepped-face dam.


There have also been three pipelines at the Victoria Dam. The original 1930 red-wood pipeline was replaced in 1959 with one of Douglas Fir. An actual section of the Douglas fir pipeline was saved and is on display here – for over 40 years, the waters of the south and west branches of the Ontonagon River flowed through this cylinder of wood on their way to Lake Superior. In 2001, the current spiral-welded steel pipeline was built to replace the wooden structure, which had reached the end of its life cycle.


The reservoir, the dam, the pipeline, and the powerhouse are integral parts of the station's generation system. Victoria operates as a run-of-river facility, meaning whatever flows into the reservoir flows out at approximately the same rate, either through the spill gates or through the pipeline.


Gravity moves the water down the pipeline to the powerhouse, where the force of the water passing through the blades of the water wheels drives the turbines and generates electricity. The head (the difference in elevation between the water at the dam and that in the tailrace or discharge below the powerhouse) is 215 feet. As a result, water flows through the pipeline at the rate of 850 cubic feet per second. To put all that into perspective, it could fill nearly 14 million Olympic-sized swimming pools in an average water year.


UPPCO has been the steward of Victoria Hydro since 1947. That year, the company was formed through the merger of three smaller electric utilities, including Copper District Power Company, the original operator of Victoria Hydro. The many preservations and improvement projects at Victoria bear witness to UPPCO's ongoing commitment to clean, domestic, and renewable energy sources.

Turning Water into Electricity

Victoria Dam is a small 12.4-MW hydro station (two 6.2-MW units) remotely controlled from their dispatch center. The large penstock (pipeline) from the bottom of the dam to the turbine is 10 ft in diameter. The Francis turbines turn the 11.5-kV generators at 300 pm. Each unit has a flow rate of 850 cu ft/sec at total capacity.


The Victoria Dam and hydroelectric station were built in 1931 by the Copper Range Mining Company. They are currently still in use and are remotely controlled from the UPPCO dispatch center. The station produces 12.4 megawatts at total capacity. The penstock is 10 feet in diameter and is constructed out of wood staves secured with metal cables, much like a wood barrel.
The height of Victoria Dam is 35.075 m. The capacity for electric power generation 15 000 kW. The dam structure is reinforced concrete. Victoria Dam's structural type has multiple arches and a buttress dam. 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.

A wood-stave pipeline and steel penstock receives the water from the dam.  Massive blades of the turbine are moved by the force of the water.  Measuring 65-inch in diameter set into cast steel wheels powers the turbine and generators.  This process creates and produces electricity.

The Victoria units operate at 300 pm with a maximum operating head of 215 feet. ( Head - the difference in water elevation at the dam and the tailrace or discharge elevation.) At the turbine water wheels there is a charge of 93 pounds of pressure per square inch.  The Ontonagon River receives the discharge of the dam water along its west branch and this eventually flows into the main portion of the river.  The Ontonagon River eventually flows into Lake Superior at the town of Ontonagon.

Bond Falls Reservoir, which is upstream from the Victoria Dam, holds all the water from the 801 square mile watershed.  The Bergland Dam and the Cisco Dam also have water, all of which flows to the Victoria Dam.

All of this water is used for power generation.  In the case of too much water being held, it is necessary to spill the excess water through the radial spill gates. Usually, the most significant amount of water is spilled during the spring snowmelt. As a result, UPPCO can operate the power station about 80 percent of 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.
Old Wood Pipeline at the Dam.

Old Wood Pipeline at the Dam

Storage Facilities

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.  The Bergland Dam, Cisco Dam, and Bond Falls Reservoir are three storage areas for the water.


The Bergland Dam is built with steel beams and wood planks.  It measures 179 feet long.  It can store up to 7,360,00 kilowatt-hours of electricity.  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 1,8000,000 kilowatt-hours. Finally, bond Fall Reservoir is located on the middle branch of the Ontonagon River, consists of the main dam, the control dam, three earth fill dikes, and a canal. It has a storage capacity of 7,310,000 kilowatt-hours.  Measuring 900 feet long is an earth embankment that acts as the main water barrier. 

Environmental Concerns

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