Category Archives: Astounding Facts

Stuff you’d never guess.

Catch the spectacular spill before it stops

As I write this, the Columbia River is flowing through Grand Coulee Dam at a rate of 195,400 cubic feet per second. And, spectacularly, about 25,000 cubic feet you can see spilling some 300 feet down the face of the dam.

At Niagara Falls you would see about 20,000 cubic feet of water falling about 70 feet.

The spill should keep going all week, adding incentive to anyone thinking about visiting the dam for the annual July 4th celebration.

A tour group leaves the big bus to peer over the edge of the dam as the Columbia roars over the top.
A tour group leaves the big bus to peer over the edge of the dam as the Columbia roars over the top.

If you’d like to check the current amount of water flowing in the river, over the dam or the level of Lake Roosevelt compared to sea level, you can do that here. (But the data fields might not line up well on a small screen of a cell phone.

Lake Roosevelt, behind the dam, is already basically full, well ahead of last year as the chart below shows.

 

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Water over the dam

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If you’re lucky, usually in the spring, you might get to see the rare and amazing site of water falling down Grand Coulee Dam’s huge spillway about 300 feet to the river below.
Some years this doesn’t happen at all, which is the way most who “operate” the Columbia River prefer it.
Today, the rest of us get our wish. They’ve been “spilling” for the last two days, the result of too much runoff from the snow-packed mountains upstream, which is carefully and continuously measured to avoid flooding downstream.
The Bureau appears to be holding the level of Lake Roosevelt behind the dam at about 1267. Full is 1290 (feet above sea level, that is).
In the photo, less than 10 percent of the River’s flow is coming over the top. The rest of the 173,000 cubic feet per second is flowing through the dam, some of it making electricity.
You can check for yourself how much is currently spilling or flowing through and what the levels of the water are with is link.

Last Thursday, the official forecast was that the lake would come up over the next week to the mid 1270s. Here’s a graph of this years lake levels compared to last year’s.

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Spilling water over the dam

For reasons unknown to me at the moment, the USBR is letting water flow over the top of Grand Coulee Dam right now. This is a fairly unusual event. That’s not just water, it’s money running over the top, in the form of revenue foregone by the BPA, which can’t sell electricity the dam doesn’t produce with that water power.
If you have a chance, pop down and see it.
The dam is almost a mile across, and the spill is about 300 feet.

Update
Seems that Lake Roosevelt has to drop right now to meet flood control goals. We wouldn’t want Portland to flood, after all. Here is info about current lake operations the USBR published yesterday:

The elevation of Lake Roosevelt was 1280.4 at 10 a.m. on April 9.

It is antipated the elevation will remain around elevation 1280.0 in order to reach the Biological Opinion operating objective of 1279.9 by April 10. Currently, Grand Coulee Dam is being operated to meet flood control elevations.

The flood control levels are the maximum elevation for Lake Roosevelt. Other factors such as power demand or supplying water downstream for fish can result in elevations under the flood control elevations.

The current flood control elevation is as follows:

April 30 – 1258.5 feet
This is only a prediction and can change due to weather events, power demand or other unforeseen power emergencies.
Lake level forecasts are updated by 3 p.m. each day. Please call 1-800-824-4916 for the updated forecast.

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Thinking about a visit? Watch this …

An overview of the Grand Coulee Dam area, produced by KXLY TV.
This is a screenshot of a video overview of the Grand Coulee Dam area, produced by KXLY TV.

Someone just reminded me of this piece on the Grand Coulee Dam area, produced by KXLY TV for their Explorer TV series, in which I was interviewed.
They did a great job of cutting in quick and useful information, and it’s worth a few minutes of your time.
One thing I forgot to mention (one of those “I wish I had said” moments) is that the drive through here on SR 155 is actually the heart of a National Scenic Byway called The Coulee Corridor.

This KXLY video is only offered in Adobe Flash, so it may not play if you’re using a mobile device.

 

Windmill art is a glimpse of area’s great asset: ingenuity

I’ve often said that the most enduring legacy from the boomtown days for this community remains a sense of ingenuity. Certainly that’s what marked the contributions of thousands of people who helped design and build the biggest hydroelectric dam in North America.

Emil Gehrke’s windmills, made of what most of us might have called junk, now stand as folk art at North Dam Park, a testament to inventiveness and creativity, and perhaps moving (literally) symbols of the modern ethic of “Reduce, Re-use, Recycle.”