Victoria Dam

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. 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 Victoria. 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 present 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. 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 there (two 6.2-MW units), which is 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 rpm. Each unit has a flow rate of 850 cu ft/sec at full 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 full 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.

At Victoria, water from the diversion dam flows through the intake structure at the dam into a 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.
Rainfall and melting snow throughout the 801-square-mile watershed upstream of the Victoria eventually end up as water at Victoria Dam. 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.


All of 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 can 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.

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. 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 1,8000,000 kilowatt-hours.

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.The 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: 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

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 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.