When was Grand Coulee Dam built and by whom?
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation began construction of Grand Coulee Dam in 1933 as the key structure in its multipurpose Columbia Basin Project. It has since become the linchpin in harnessing the second largest river in the United States. It took nine years to build Grand Coulee Dam, but even more years of battling and political maneuvering before construction started. While it was recognized early in the century that the Columbia Basin had rich farmland that needed only water to flourish, the method for providing that water caused much controversy. A Spokane group insisted upon a 134-mile gravity flow canal from Lake Pend Oreille to the Basin, while a Wenatchee/central Washington group favored building a big dam on the Columbia at Grand Coulee. The battle raged for 13 years.
At its conclusion, President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized $60 million to get the dam project started.
In the Grand Coulee, life changed dramatically and quickly once work on the dam began in 1933. Not only did the undertaking of this massive project change forever the shape of the river, but overnight it created towns where nothing but sagebrush, sand and rocks had previously existed.
Thousands came to the Grand Coulee looking for work in the midst of the Depression. They worked around the clock to finish the dam by 1942.
How many dams are on the Columbia River?
Altogether, a total of 11 dams have been built on the river in the United States as it winds its way from the Canadian border toward the Pacific Ocean; Grand Coulee Dam is the keystone of the Columbia River system dams. Five other dams in the Big Bend region of the river also offer facilities for visitors — Chief Joseph Dam on Highway 17 in Bridgeport; Wells Dam south of Brewster on Highway 97; Rocky Reach Dam north of Wenatchee on Highway 97; Wanapum Dam six miles south of the I-90 crossing of the Columbia; and Priest Rapids Dam on Highway 243.
How big is Grand Coulee Dam?
Grand Coulee Dam dwarfs the Great Pyramids of Egypt and generates more power than a million locomotives. An engineering wonder, it is also the country’s largest hydroelectric project.
Grand Coulee Dam is one of the largest concrete structures in the world, containing almost 12 million cubic yards of concrete. It towers 550 feet above bedrock (as high as the Washington Monument) and is 500 feet wide at the base. There is enough concrete in the dam to build two standard six-foot wide sidewalks around the world at the equator.
What is the dam’s main purpose?
Actually, Grand Coulee Dam has three important functions: irrigation, power production and flood control. Although electricity was not foreseen as a primary function when the dam was built, today the production of electrical energy is one of Grand Coulee Dam’s most important jobs.
How is the electricity produced?
Electricity is generated by unseen torrents of water rushing through the turbines within the dam’s hydro-electric plants. There are three powerhouses at Grand Coulee Dam with a total rated capacity of 6,809 megawatts, making this dam the largest hydro-electric producer in the United States.
How many acres does Grand Coulee Dam help irrigate?
Water supplied by Grand Coulee Dam irrigates more than 600,000 acres of rich farmland in the Columbia Basin annually.
Water from Lake Roosevelt (behind the dam) is lifted 280 feet up a hillside to flow into the Banks Lake reservoir, where it starts a journey that eventually covers an area more than twice the size of the state of Delaware. Each of the six conventional pumps in Grand Coulee’s Pump-Generator Plant is powered by a 65,000-horsepower motor and will pump 1,600 cubic feet of water per second, or 781,128 gallons per minute.
In addition, six pump-generators, each having a 67,500-horsepower rating, can pump 1,948 cubic feet of water per second. One of these 12 units can fill the water needs of a city the size of Chicago.
How does Grand Coulee Dam help in flood control?
Each spring the water level of Lake Roosevelt, behind Grand Coulee Dam, is lowered to make space for massive amounts of water that will flow down the Columbia River in late spring and summer as rising temperatures melt snow in the Rocky Mountains. The water is “captured” in the lake to prevent flooding downstream and to provide a steady flow of water for the whole year.
How big is Lake Roosevelt behind Grand Coulee Dam?
The dam’s blocking of the Columbia River has created Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake, which extends 151 miles upstream to the Canadian border. The reservoir has a shoreline of 660 miles, a surface area of 82,000 acres, and a total storage capacity of 9,562,000 acre-feet of water.
How is Lake Roosevelt managed for public recreation?
Recreation on the lake is managed cooperatively by three federal agencies and two Indian tribes. The National Park Service has authority for the portion of the lake and adjacent shoreland comprising the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area (LRNRA). The Colville Confederated Tribes and the Spokane Tribe manage public recreation along the areas of the lake and shoreline that fall within their reservation boundaries. Other partners cooperating in the lake’s management are the Bureau of Reclamation and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Each year, more than a million visitors enjoy the beauty and recreational opportunities of the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area.
How do I take a tour of Grand Coulee Dam?
Stop at the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Grand Coulee Dam Visitor Center (VC) on SR155 just north of Coulee Dam. Abundant information and films are available at the VC. Call the VC at 509-633-9265 to inquire about tours. See new interactive exhibits at the Visitor Center, even fly through the dam in a virtual reality game on a plasma screen.
• View the award-winning movie, “The Columbia — a Fountain of Life,” at the Visitor Center. Also showing is a movie about the Ice Age Flood that carved out the Grand Coulee.
• The Third Powerhouse tour uses vans and small buses that take up to 35 people at a time from the elevator parking area to the floor of the powerhouse for the tour – then up to the top of the dam. The tour takes about an hour.
No bags of any kind, even camera or diaper bags are allowed. And you’ll have to go through a metal detector, but it’s worth it.
• See the dam from Crown Point State Park’s panoramic site. Two nature trails, Candy Point Trail and the Down River Trail, also offer exciting vantage points.