A broken portion of the John Day Lock and Dam’s upstream navigation lock gate has slowed river traffic through that portion of the Columbia River.

Army Corps technicians found the damage to a lower guide wheel July 25, and closed the lock to river traffic. Engineers and operations staff began limited lockages later that evening in coordination with the Coast Guard.

“At this point, we’re unsure of what caused the damage to the guide wheel, but our main focus will be getting the lock back into full service,” said Col. Mike Helton, Portland (Ore.) District commander. “We understand the critical importance these locks have on commerce moving along the Columbia River and know that any unexpected closures have major impacts on commercial river users. Our goal is to minimize disruption to river users.”

Portland District typically closes its locks at Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day dams in February each year to make repairs, complete inspections and perform maintenance. However, aging infrastructure, wear and tear, and other issues have caused unexpected outages in recent years. In 2019, the Bonneville Lock needed emergency repairs for a sill block, and in 2021, district officials shut down The Dalles Lock for emergency repairs to a miter gate.

Portland District locks on the Columbia River handle 10 million of the 50.5 million tons of commerce shipped annually in the U.S., the Corps said. Navigation is Portland District’s oldest mission, dating back to 1871.

The Columbia River is the No. 1 U.S. export gateway for wheat and barley, the No. 2 U.S. export gateway for corn and soy, and the N. 1 U.S. export gateway for West Coast mineral bulk. The Columbia River system is also a national leader for wood exports and auto imports and exports.

Tourism is also a major industry along the Columbia River, with approximately 15,000 passengers a year passing through these locks on cruise ships, which accounts for $15 million to $20 million in revenue for local economies.