Monday, November 22, 2010

Grand Coulee Dam: One of the Wonders of the World

Grand Coulee Dam is the biggest dam on the Columbia River. It is the biggest concrete structure in the United States. And America's highest producer of electric power. And the 5th largest hydroelectricity producer in the  world.

There are several hydroelectric dams in the United States that are on the Top 50 list of the World's Top Hydro-Electric Producers. The majority of the American dams, in the Top 50, are on the Columbia River. On the Top 50 list, on the Columbia River, in addition to Grand Coulee Dam, there is Chief Joesph Dam, John Day Dam and the Dulles Dam. Other American, non-Columbian electricity makers on the World's Top 50 Hydro-Electricity Producer list are Niagara Falls, Bath County PSP and Hoover Dam.

It took a long time and a lot of debate to get the Grand Coulee Dam built. Some wanted a dam which would only provide an irrigation canal. Others wanted a high dam, producing electricity and a pumping scheme for additional water storage and irrigation.

The high dam won out after President Roosevelt visited the dam construction site in August of 1934. When FDR visited construction was well underway, but the design was such that it could be changed to a high dam. FDR returned to Washington where he got Congress to approve the high dam in 1935. Grand Coulee Dam was completed in 1942, with the first water running over the spillway on June 1.

World War II changed Grand Coulee Dam's primary irrigation function to increasing electricity production. Huge amounts of power were needed at the Hanford Site of the Manhattan Project to build an atom bomb.

As power demands in the Pacific Northwest increased, additional electricity generating capacity was added to Grand Coulee Dam, with a third powerplant added.

Grand Coulee Dam stopped the migration of salmon to their upstream spawning grounds. The Canadians, and others were not happy about that.

Due to FDR's role in making Grand Coulee Dam happen, the reservoir behind the dam is called Franklin Delano Roosevelt Lake. You can go houseboating on Roosevelt Lake.

As the Columbia rose behind the new dam, over 3,000 people had to be relocated, including Native Americans, who had been living on this land for thousands of years. The Indian fishing grounds were covered by the rising water. Kettle Falls, a prime fishing grounds, disappeared under water. The average number of salmon caught per year went from 600,000 to zero. In June of 1941 Native Americans of the many tribes of the Northwest met at Kettle Falls for a Ceremony of Tears, lamenting the end of fishing and the loss of Kettle Falls, which disappeared a month later.

Years later, in the 1990s, the federal government took responsibility for the impact Grand Coulee Dam had on the native lifestyle, giving the Colville Indians a settlement of $53 million, with annual payments of around $15 million.

Grand Coulee Dam flooded over 21,000 acres. Land as far as 150 miles upstream from the dam had to be taken, sometimes by condemnation, otherwise known as eminent domain. In the flood zone were 11 towns, 2 railroads, 150 miles of country roads, 3 state highways, 14 bridges, 4 sawmills, cemeteries and miles of power, phone and telegraph lines.

Water is pumped from Grand Coulee Dam, up to Banks Lake, which is key to the Columbian Basin Project's ability to irrigate a large area of Eastern Washington. A pleasant side effect of Banks Lake is seeping water creating a series of small lakes in the Grand Coulee, like Sun Lakes.

Grand Coulee Dam is nearly a mile long at 5,223 feet. The dam is 550 feet tall. At the top the dam is 30 feet wide. At the bottom it is 500 feet wide. On average Grand Coulee Dam generates 21 billion KWH per year.

At Grand Coulee Dam you will find a visitor center with many exhibits and a theater. You can
tour the Third Powerhouse and ride a glass elevator to view the generators. Pre 9/11 you could take yourself on quite a tour of the dam. Security concerns have changed that.

In summer, since 1989, a 37 minute long laser light show, with music and narration, is projected on the face of the dam. This is one of the largest laser light shows in America. It runs from Memorial Day through September 30.

Below you can listen to Arlo Guthrie sing a love song to Grand Coulee Dam, one of the Wonders of the World...

No comments: