The Fourth will be dramatically different at Grand Coulee Dam this year

Official prediction: water to spill over the top

Sunrise adds a glimmer to a waterfall over Grand Coulee Dam 300 feet tall and half a mile wide.

This year’s Fourth of July will be dramatically different at Grand Coulee Dam and on Lake Roosevelt behind it.

You’ll be able to watch the dramatic spill at Grand Coulee Dam this weekend or over the Fourth of July holiday.

It’s rare, but this year’s climate conditions actually lead to a fairly stable prediction: expect water to overtop Grand Coulee Dam for at least a week and a half.

The long, cool spring, coupled with a double the normal snowpack in the mountains upstream (including Canada) from Grand Coulee has led to a later-than-normal spring runoff, and a big one at that.

Lake Roosevelt is quite low for this time of year, but very accessible, with great big beaches – hundreds of miles of them.

And visitors to the Grand Coulee Dam Festival of America July 2, 3 and 4 will be able to get an up-close view of the 300-foot-high, half-mile wide waterfall that will cool the park below the Visitor Center at the dam.

Over the last month, dam operators have been regulating the rise of the lake by “spilling” water through outlet tubes in the middle of the dam big enough to drive a truck through.

From 50,000 to 100,000 cubic feet per second shoots through those tubes into the river below. That’s up to about 750,000 gallons each second, less than half the river’s flow of about 2 million gps.

My house is about a half mile from the face of the dam, and my kitchen cupboards rattle just a little from the impact.

A more serious problem is that the resulting air injected into the water kills fish downstream, which take in too much nitrogen-saturated water through their gills.

A fish farm 20 miles downstream raising 2.7 million steelhead trout was losing them by the thousands. That operation has now apparently lost at least 100,000 of its big triploids, and anglers are snatching them up in Lake Rufus Woods — that part of the Columbia River between Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams.

Even so, operators will need to keep spilling through the outlet tubes even after the water tops the dam until enough volume is spilling over for a controlled spill, said Bureau of Reclamation Public Affairs Officer Lynne Brougher.

When you see the nice spill, realize that the management of the flow at this dam is the key to managing a river draining an area the size of France so that Portland, Ore. and points downstream does not flood.

Not letting the lake fill too quickly is critical in that plan.

“Actually,” Bougher said, “the system is working as it was designed to do this year.” She said the lower Columbia has been held right at flood stage, “and we’ve still got room” to fill the lake.

Normally full by July 4, Lake Roosevelt will likely be full about July 10 or 11, she said.

 

Fun planned over the Fourth

The top of Grand Coulee Dam serves as an impressive venue for fireworks.

In addition, to all the fun around Grand Coulee Dam, the food and craft booths in the park and great scenery, look for three days of outstanding music when the Grand Coulee Dam Festival of America is celebrated July 2, 3 and 4.

The Town of Coulee Dam is sponsoring the music for the second straight year, and according to Mayor Quincy Snow, the town is offering an outstanding assortment of music for the three-day event.

The venue for the event is the park below the Visitor Center. Music begins Saturday, July 2, with Eric Engebretson at 4 p.m.

Eric E, as he is also known, is familiar to coulee area music fans, having been a regular for several years during the Festival of America celebration. With his voice, guitar and a digital “looper” Eric E can pump out a song from just about any year named back to the first part of the last century.

Eric E works his musical magic at the 2010 Festival of America

Snow has scheduled what he calls “happy music” for the night cap with the Mariachi Estrella DeMeico band of Wenatchee. They make their second appearance here, and will be on stage from 6 p.m. until 9:30, just before the 10 p.m. showing of the Laser Light Show.

On Sunday, music begins again at 4 p.m. with Scott Smith and Kayla Taylor, a couple of area favorites. They play country, pop and rock renditions.

At 6 p.m. Campbell Road, a Celtic band, will perform in his first appearance at the festival.

The 8 p.m. appearance of the ever popular Steve Sogura, highlights the evening. His impersonation of Elvis Presley and his music has been a favorite at the festival for years. He will perform until just before the Laser Light Show.

As Elvis, Steve Sogura works the crowd at the Grand Coulee Dam Festival of America

On Monday, July 4, at 4 p.m., Smith and Taylor will be back with their variety of music styles for another two-hour performance.

At 6 p.m., older music lovers will connect with William Florian, former lead singer with the “New Christy Minstrels.” He will perform until 8 p.m., when Sogura will rock the area with a couple of hours of Elvis music.

The concerts, all three days, are free and financed through the town of Coulee Dam’s hotel/motel tax receipts.

Watch out for sneaky water levels

Low lake coming up
The level of Lake Roosevelt has been held low for flood control, but will now rise through July 11.

Camping or boating on Lake Roosevelt?
Watch yourself and the lake, which will continue to rise at a couple feet a day, even on the Fourth of July.

 

That means you shouldn’t pitch your tent too close, or you might be floating before you wake up.
And your boat, anchored out very far, could lift its anchor as the water rises. Good luck finding it the next morning. Better to tie it off at shore with a long rope.

Lake Roosevelt likely won’t be full until about July 10 or 11 this year, a good week later than most years due to the late spring runoff.

How much land is irrigated with the help of the dam?

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.

New tours offered at Grand Coulee Dam

A stop on the top of the dam is a good photo op for visitors.

The new tours of Grand Coulee Dam take about an hour and afford visitors the opportunity to go into the Third Powerhouse and ride across the dam with a stop to look over the spillway.
Visitors this week will likely get an extra thrill when they stop for a spillway look because Bureau officials say that the facility will start spilling water sometime this week.
Visitor tours start with a briefing by tour guides who provide information about the dam, often with a humorous touch. Then its into a 20-passenger bus or a van for the driving part of the tour.
Visitors get to go through security control gates and ride to the lower portion of the Third Powerhouse, where they get out and walk into prescribed areas of the building housing six huge generators. Security is tight, but done in such a way that it isn’t intrusive.
Visitors tour the massive Third Powerhouse

All along the way, tour guides provide pertinent information and answer scores of questions. They either have the answers at hand or are quick to admit that they don’t know.
Tours begin at 10 a.m. seven days a week and go on the hour all day long.
Tour officials said people going on the tours should arrive 15 minutes early due to security reasons.
But we’ll tell you that if it looks like a real busy season, show up an hour early.
Here’s another tip you may only get at this blog: If you have a choice between the small bus and van, take the van. Those are driven by USBR tour guides who will tell you interesting facts as they drive you around the site. The buses are staffed by bus drivers. They drive.
The tours begin at the building at the east end of the dam almost directly across from the Visitor Center. No bags or purses are allowed on the tour because of security concerns; accordingly, visitors are encouraged to lock them in their cars. That includes camera bags (although cameras are OK) and even diaper bags.
Either before or after the tour, see the interactive exhibits at the Visitor Center, and catch a short movie or two about the history of the dam.

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