June 27, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

Grand Coulee Dam: A staggering production

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Thus, the government began to conceive of a great public-works project that could harness the Columbia to simultaneously irrigate agricultural lands for miles around and provide power to much of the Pacific Northwest.

On July 16, 1933, 7,000 men and women began working on the dam that the federal government, and in particular President Franklin D. Roosevelt, had championed. Of course, this was only after 22 million cubic yards of dirt had been removed from the valley in which the dam was to be built.

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Video: Grand Coulee in black-and-white
CNET News.com's Daniel Terdiman found some up-to-date happenings at the historic dam in Washington. Here's an old-fashioned look at it.

And when we talk about the Grand Coulee Dam being the largest concrete construction in American history, we're not just talking about a truck or two filled with bags of concrete. The dam required the use of 12 million cubic yards of the building material.

Initially, the power produced by the dam went to communities throughout the Pacific Northwest. But when World War II broke out, Roosevelt demanded the construction of 60,000 fighter planes for the war effort. So the dam was converted to powering the manufacture of huge amounts of aluminum for the planes.

Meanwhile, the dam is a central part of the Columbia Basin Project and the Federal Columbia River Power System, which provides power to Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and even Nevada.

As such, the basin project is about half complete and is expected to provide the ability to irrigate 1.1 million acres of land by the middle of the 21st century and to pump 1 billion gallons a day.

Currently, the dam provides irrigation via the Columbia and 300 miles of canals and 3,000 miles of irrigation ditches to half a million acres of land, and the resulting crops are worth half a billion dollars a year.

All told, in fact, the Columbia River stretches 1,200 miles from the Canadian Rockies to the Pacific Ocean, and descends 2,600 feet in the process.

And that descent is what makes the Columbia the "mightiest" in the U.S., according to the laser show story. It's the power provided by running the water through the generators that creates the giant amount of hydroelectric power.

But such immense utility came at a staggering cost.

Upon the construction and completion of the dam, 12 communities, many belonging to tribal reservations, were flooded out or relocated. And with the flooding, which hit anything in the path of the river below 1,310 feet, came a brutal hit to the local salmon populations. Even today, the salmon have not fully returned.

At the visitor center, there is a section devoted to the uprooting of the Spokane and Colville tribes, and it is sobering to be reminded of the human cost paid for a project that benefited so many.

On one sign on display in the visitor center, that reminder is made very clear.

"Sometimes even now, I find a lonely spot where the river still runs wild," the sign quotes Spokane tribe member Alex Sherwood as having said. "I find myself talking to it. I might ask, 'River, do you remember how it used to be--the game, the fish, the pure water, the roar of the falls, boats, canoes, fishing platforms? You fed and took care of our people then. For thousands of years, we walked your banks and used your waters.'...Sometimes I stand and shout, 'River, do you remember us?'"

"Up next: Technology, or the lack thereof, in baseball's minor leagues."

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Worth It
To my mind, the costs and drawbacks of a massive project such as the Grand Coulee Dam are far outweighed by the benefits. It is sad to me that Americans suffer diminishing vision where projects that stand among the wonders of the world no longer seem possible. We have forgotten how to dream of greatness. Hopefully by focusing on successes such as the Grand Coulee, that vision will once again be rekindled.
Posted by Techno Guy (77 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Portland gets its power from Bonneville
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.nwp.usace.army.mil/op/b/home.asp" target="_newWindow">http://www.nwp.usace.army.mil/op/b/home.asp</a>

FYI I think these TLA's for states is pointless when the states already have 2 letter notations. Is OR &#38; WA that hard to remember? Can OR or WA be confusing?

I didnt think so.
Posted by kieranmullen (1070 comments )
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In part
Bonneville and Grand Coulee are both part of the BPA, which supplies to the NW in general
Posted by parcelbrat (6 comments )
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Is this news?
The lack of quality writers on this site and the increase of more non tech articles lead me to believe that news.com does not care about the quality or the material they produce. Instead they are only interested in page views for their advertisers.

Posted by kieranmullen (1070 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not really news but...
Not really news but interesting.
Posted by Stan Johnson (322 comments )
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Dams Kill Endangered Salmon
Virtually all salmon species in the Pacific Nortwest are endangered. Damn dams :-(
Posted by jblair1 (3 comments )
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Typical wacko response...
Let's see, according to the environmentalists, we can't build
dams to generate electricity, we can't burn coal or oil, we can't
use wind power (windmill farms interfere with migratory birds,
and they would spoil Ted Kennedy's view of the ocean from
Martha's Vineyard), we can't use solar (engineers calculate
millions of acres of solar panels needed for even a small city.) Of
course ANY form of nuclear power is completely out of the
question. So what would the wacko's have us do as a society?
Why, isn't it obvious? We simply return to our hunter/gatherer
roots and begin dismantling our cities. We eschew technology in
favor of an organic existence and we all live happily, singing
while we gather tonight's meal from the collective farm.
Posted by lkrupp (1608 comments )
Link Flag
you kill salmon
ever wonder where the power came from to supply your computer? idiot.
Posted by phdprof (1 comment )
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