If you’d like to glimpse the inside story of one aspect of the mission of Grand Coulee Dam, this is a good video.
The dam was originally conceived to provide irrigation to more than a million acres of potential farmland in the Columbia basin, but these days most people think of it as a huge electricity producer.
It is that, but this video, produced by the Bureau of Reclamation as a tool to help potential recruits, also provides a good overview of the basics with some spectacular footage. Watching it will help you appreciate what you see when you visit in person.
Grand Coulee Dam is the largest electrical production facility of any kind, in terms of capacity, in North America. But it doesn’t just happen magically. These folks make it happen. Watch:
The laser light show that explains the history of the area and the dam shows nightly through the season. It’s the largest outdoor show in North America and is something to see, newly updated in 2014.
What time does the laser light show begin?
The laser show is held nightly at Grand Coulee Dam as follows for 2015:
May 23 to July 31 at 10:00 p.m.
Aug. 1 to Aug. 31 at 9:30 p.m.
Sept. 1 to Sept. 30 at 8:30 p.m.
The show is about 28 minutes in length. There is no admission fee. Call 509-633-9265 for more information.
How long is the laser show?
The laser light show lasts approximately 28 minutes, during which time colorful images created by the lasers move back and forth across the huge surface of the dam.
Where can I view the show?
The best locations are the seating area at the Visitor Center and from the park below the Visitor Center. These areas provide an outdoor sound system.
The town of Coulee Dam has a park — terraced and grassy for viewing the laser show — adjacent to the east end of the Columbia River bridge.
Other viewing spots: from Douglas Park in Coulee Dam; from Crown Point atop the granite cliffs above Lake Rufus Woods, access from SR174 towards Bridgeport.
The USBR broadcasts the audio portion of the laser light show nightly at 90.1 FM.
What is a laser?
Lasers are intense beams of light commonly used in medicine and science, but they’ve also found a niche as a high-tech, fast-moving form of entertainment. They are controlled by computers which, at Grand Coulee Dam, are in the Visitor Center.
Although a single dot of light, lasers can trace an image so rapidly it appears as a solid figure to the human eye.
The term laser is actually an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. It is so commonly used now that the tradition of using capital letters for an acronym has been dropped.
How are the lasers used at Grand Coulee Dam?
As one of the largest entertainment laser projection systems in the world, and certainly the largest outdoor laser show in North America, the lasers at Grand Coulee Dam tell the story of the Columbia River and how its power was harnessed to provide multiple benefits to mankind, including electrical power, irrigation for farming and exciting recreational opportunities. As a result of the open process of scripting the show new in 2014, viewers will also understand the costs of building the dam — cost to wildlife, and to native peoples whose way of life was dependent on that wildlife, in particular, the salmon that no longer could continue upstream to spawn.
How much did the lasers cost?
With the original equipment in use since 1989, the Bureau of Reclamation commissioned a new show and new equipment. The equipment began operation in May of 2013, but projecting the new show began in May, 2014. Lumalaser, of Oregon, bid the project at $1.6 million.
How big are the laser images?
Pictures are beamed at the awesome height of nearly 300 feet.
How far do the lasers project?
The laser lights are beamed between 2,000 and 4,000 feet to the surface of the dam.
Lake Roosevelt is being held at a level about 47 feet below the full mark while maintnenace is completed on the drum gates that hold the water back when the lake is full.
The Bureau of Reclamation, which operates Grand Coulee Dam, reports the lake will likely remain below 1,255 feet above sea level until May 10.
The water forecast for the Columbia River drainage above Grand Coulee Dam, from April to August this year, is estimated to 82.5 percent of normal, so the maximum level allowed for flood control right now would actually be 1,283.3 feet, less than 7 feet below spilling over.
But such flood control elevations are the maximum elevations allowed to ensure enough room in the lake for the spring runoff. Actual elevations may be lower “based on power demand, unforeseen power emergencies, changes in weather events, maintenance on the dam, etc,” the bureau explains on its website.
Visitors using Instagram are always posting how amazed they are when they see Grand Coulee Dam.
“It amazes me how humans built this large, amazing structure more than 80 years ago!” wrote @lishlo this morning in a public post.
The Bureau of Reclamation has produced a top quality documentary on the building of Grand Coulee Dam to show you the amazing story behind the immense effort, the big thinking, innovation and, yes, even politics it took. If you want to visit it, you’ll appreciate it even more if you understand the whole story, so we’ll post the video here, which you can also watch on a big screen in comfortable seats at the Visitor Center when you get here.
With Lake Roosevelt about 4 feet from being full, the Bureau of Reclamation expects the lake to rise starting July 3 by up to a half foot each day through the weekend.
Filling the lake lifts accumulated debris off the shores and into the water where it can be dangerous to boaters.
The Bureau of Reclamation is advising people camping along the Lake Roosevelt shoreline over the July 4 weekend to be aware of potential dangers that could exist due to rapidly rising lake levels.
“When camping along the shoreline, it is recommended that tents and other belongings be kept well away from the water’s edge,” said Public Affairs Officer Lynne Brougher. “Although the lake is a popular vacation spot, it is also a working reservoir that supplies water for hydroelectric facilities at Grand Coulee Dam which can result in rapid fluctuations.”
Brougher says campsites that are too close to the water’s edge could potentially become flooded and boats that are not properly anchored or secured could drift out into the lake and become a safety hazard.
Reclamation must adhere to the court-ordered 2008/2010 FCRPS Biological Opinion requiring the lake to be at the full pool elevation of 1,290 feet above sea level between late June and early July. It was at 1,286 feet above sea level Tuesday evening.