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:
Between a renewed push for re-introducing salmon to the Columbia River above Grand Coulee Dam and a newly developing technology, a consortium of tribes is hopeful that somehow, there will be a way to bring salmon back.
The icon of the Pacific Northwest has been gone from the upper reaches of the Columbia since the building of Grand Coulee Dam. Now they’re actually stopped at Chief Joseph Dam, more than 50 miles downriver.
But a treaty may open for negotiations between the United States and Canada that dictates exchanges of water and electricity and infrastructure provided. And the Upper Columbia United Tribes is hopeful, along with the Colville Confederated Tribes, that a way for cheap transport may have been discovered by company touting its “salmon canon.” Picture a kinder, gentler form of the same kind of suction tube that takes your deposit at a drive-up bank.
Whooshh Innovations, of Bellevue, Washington, has more information about adapting their fruit moving technology, to help solve the problem of letting fish move upstream. Below is a video that demonstrates the innovation. The company has lots more on its website, which was even recently featured in a segment on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.
Although a way may be found to move salmon upstream over huge dams, that may actually be the easier part of the problem to solve. After hatching, the young salmon have to get back to the ocean. They only swim upstream, so they have to be pushed by a considerable current, which is not present in Lake Roosevelt above Grand Coulee Dam.
But the salmon canon idea is still fun to watch:
Image of a chinook salmon by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service used under Creative Commons license.
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.