Saddle Lake Dam Upgrades move to Phase Two

The Saddle Lake Dam, west of Grand Forks, owned and maintained by the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (RDKB), has moved into phase two of the upgrade project after receiving funding from the provincial government.

Austin Engineering’s Dam Safety team has designed and worked on the spillway to address concerns in the first phase of the project, which was also funded provincially.

The RDKB received $395,027 for the engineering and construction of the project’s second phase – stabilizing the dam.

Austin Engineering was engaged by the RDKB in 2015 following a provincial dam safety review in 2014 that identified the dam as being at risk of failure, as well as providing several recommendations.

“This is the only dam the RDKB owns in the region, and it has been a concern for us for several years… with very serious consequences for anyone living downstream,” said Goran Denkovski, Manager of Infrastructure and Sustainability at the RDKB.

Austin Engineering has worked with the RDKB in order for the dam to meet provincial regulations in the future and ensure the safety of the community living downstream.

This is planned to involve three phases:

  1. Design and construction of a spillway – completed in 2020.
  2. Addition of anchors to the crest and fill on the downstream side – in progress.
  3. Recovering and making amendments to the irrigation pipe – in concept.


Prior to Austin Engineering’s involvement, the dam had no spillway – an important safety component of earthfill dams like Saddle Lake.

Spillways allow for water to pass through a channel should overtopping of the dam occur during heavy rainfall and flooding, the latter of which the Grand Forks community experienced in 2018.

The 2014 dam safety review also found issues with the stability of the dam, which Austin Engineering will address, subject to permitting, by reinforcing the dam’s downstream side with fill and further anchoring the crest.

“Moving forward with dam projects such as Saddle Lake, it’s the changes to the permitting process that can be the biggest challenge,” says Ruth Keyes, Dam Safety Engineer at Austin Engineering.

Since changes to British Columbia’s Dam Safety Regulation in 2016, dam safety engineering teams have worked increasingly more with biologists and archaeologists.

These professionals are often involved in the stakeholder engagement and permitting processes to evaluate any impacts to habitats and ecosystems, as well as to sites of archaeological significance to Indigenous Peoples.

Saddle Lake dam is a man-made lake that, since its inception around 1915, has developed a unique ecosystem as a wetland for a specific salamander, as well as many animals and bird species.

A large component of the second phase of works will ask Austin Engineering’s team to demonstrate what the work will look like, any identified disturbances or impacts to the ecosystem and habitat, and the approach to mitigate these if there are any.

Austin Engineering is a leading expert in Western Canada in dam safety engineering, with a successful track record of project delivery covering a range of requirements from diking projects to high-to-extreme consequence dams.

The team has extensive experience working in dam construction, dam safety, hydraulics, hydrology, and hydropower.