Grand Coulee Dam

Grand Coulee Dam is a concrete gravity dam on the Columbia River in the U.S. state of Washington, built to produce hydroelectric power and provide irrigation water. Constructed between 1933 and 1942, Grand Coulee originally had only two powerhouses. The third powerhouse, completed in 1974 to increase energy production, makes Grand Coulee the largest power station in the United States by nameplate-capacity at 6,809 MW. However, in terms of yearly power production, Grand Coulee places fifth after a number of nuclear facilities to the south, like Palo Verde west of Phoenix. This is because river flow varies throughout the year. For example, while the dam may generate at nameplate-capacity in the spring, decreased river flow in the fall means less power can be generated the rest of the year, resulting in a lower capacity factor.

Grand Coulee DamThe proposal to build the dam was the focus of a bitter debate during the 1920s between two groups. One group wanted to irrigate the ancient Grand Coulee with a gravity canal while the other pursued a high dam and pumping scheme. The dam supporters won in 1933, but for fiscal reasons the initial design was for a "low dam" 290 feet (88 m) tall which would generate electricity without supporting irrigation. That year, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and a consortium of three companies called MWAK (Mason-Walsh-Atkinson Kier Company) began construction. After visiting the construction site in August 1934, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt endorsed the "high dam" design which, at 550 ft (168 m) high, would provide enough electricity to pump water into the Columbia basin for irrigation. Congress approved the high dam in 1935 and it was completed in 1942. The first waters over-topped Grand Coulee's spillway on June 1 of that year.

Power from the dam fueled the growing industries of the Northwest United States during World War II. Between 1967 and 1974, the third powerplant was constructed. The decision to construct the additional facility was influenced by growing energy demand, regulated river flows stipulated in the Columbia River Treaty with Canada, and competition with the Soviet Union. Through a series of upgrades and the installation of pump-generators, the dam now supplies four power stations with an installed capacity of 6,809 MW. As the center-piece of the Columbia Basin Project, the dam's reservoir supplies water for the irrigation of 671,000 acres (2,700 km2).

The reservoir is called Franklin Delano Roosevelt Lake, named after the United States President who presided over the dam's authorization and completion. Creation of the reservoir forced the relocation of over 3,000 people, including Native Americans whose ancestral lands were partially flooded. While the dam does not contain fish passage, neither does the next downstream dam, Chief Joseph Dam. This means no salmon reach the Grand Coulee Dam. The second large dam downstream, Rocky Reach Dam, has an intricate system of fish ladders to accommodate yearly salmon spawning and migration. More details