Woodworth Dam construction progresses following delays

In 2020, construction began on replacing the Woodworth Dam in Prince Rupert, on British Columbia’s Northwest coast. A critical piece of infrastructure and a huge project, the dam serves as a reservoir and water source for the city. 

The new structure, a 15m high concrete gravity arch dam, is being constructed downstream of the existing dam within a rock canyon and is set to create a stable water supply to the Prince Rupert community for the next 50-100 years.

Once the new dam construction is completed, the existing concrete gravity dam will be decommissioned. The existing dam could not be remediated because the materials used to build the original structure have reached the end of their design life. If the existing dam were to fail, downstream flooding of the access road, Shawatlan Lake and the sound would occur.

As leading dam design specialists, Austin Engineering has been contracted to manage the project with 10 specialists involved to oversee:

  1. Clearing and removing vegetation from the canyon.
  2. Rock removal and site preparation.
  3. Laying the foundation and setting/tensioning the anchors.
  4. Formwork and rebar.
  5. Concrete pouring.

Construction was originally scheduled to finish in October 2021, but delays due to the pandemic and encountering bad rock throughout the project site slowed progress.

In civil engineering, bad rock refers to rock mass consisting of very poor quality; good rock is unfractured and consistent. If bad rock is used, it can cause the failure of infrastructure resulting in major social, economic and environmental effects.


Partly decommissioning the original Woodworth Dam has been a part of the project for Austin Engineering’s team. With the introduction of BC’s 2016 Dam Safety Regulation, dam and hydrotechnical engineers have seen an increase in dam decommissioning projects. 

The federal and provincial governments’ commitment to Canada’s First Nations, Inuit and Métis people in relation to land reclamation and fisheries have seen our team involved in helping dam owners navigate the regulatory and decision-making process of dam decommissioning.

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

The Austin team has extensive experience working with property owners, First Nations, Inuit and Métis groups, and communities to deliver dam construction, dam safety, hydraulics, hydrology, and hydropower advisory and management services.

Read more about our dam safety work here.