Value of the River – Flood Control, Irrigation, Navigation & Recreation

Value of the River – Flood Control, Irrigation, Navigation & Recreation


Doug Johnson, Public Affairs Specialist, Bonneville
Power Administration: Iím Doug Johnson. Today Iím at Grand Coulee Dam, the nationís largest
dam on Americaís fourth-largest river, the Columbia River. Now thereís a reason this
damís a big dam ó thereís a lot of water behind it that we can use to produce valuable
hydroelectricity, but we also need it so that we can provide flood control. If this raging
river gets downstream it can do a lot of damage. But in addition to those threats there are
a lot of benefits we get from this dam. We can use it for irrigation to help farmers
get their products to market. And people that like water sports, boating, fishing and other
recreational activities can enjoy those because of this dam. So now that you have a little bit of an idea
of all the benefits that we get from Grand Coulee Dam, it would probably be good to talk
to somebody who knows a little more about those benefits and how we gain them. Iím
joined today by Lynne Brougher with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates Grand
Coulee Dam, whoís going to tell us a little bit more about flood control, irrigation and
navigation and how the bureau actually makes those things happen. Lynne, I guess it makes
sense first, since we can see all of the water behind the dam, to talk a little bit about
the flood control element and how you can control the water. Whatís back there? Lynne Brougher, Public Information Officer,
Bureau of Reclamation: Well, behind Grand Coulee Dam is a huge reservoir which we call
Lake Roosevelt. It runs from the dam to the Canadian border, about 150 miles, and it has
9.5 million acre feet of water. Doug Johnson: So how much is that? 9.5 million
acre feet; that sounds like a lot of swimming pools, a lot of glasses of water. Lynne Brougher: Well, thatís about six trillion
gallons of water. Doug Johnson: Okay, thatís a lot. If the
dam werenít there what would happen? Lynne Brougher: Well, if the dam wasnít there,
the huge spring runoff and the spring rains would raise the river rapidly; no way to control
it and communities downstream would flood. Doug Johnson: How do you actually control
the reservoir behind the dam? Lynne Brougher: Well, weíre able to fluctuate
the reservoir in the spring time. If we have a really good water year and expect a lot
of water we can take the reservoir down 82 feet to prepare for that spring runoff. Doug Johnson: So now that weíve covered flood
control we should probably talk a little bit about the less scary benefits of the dam.
And one of the things the dam provides is irrigation for crops. Water from right behind
the dam, on which Iím standing right now, comes up through those pipes, just over my
left shoulder, and into an irrigation canal. Lynne, wow exactly does that process work? Lynne Brougher: Well, this is the beginning
of the Columbia Basin Project. We have 12 pumps which are connected to those tubes behind
us. We pump water from Lake Roosevelt 280 feet up the hillside into a canal which then
enters Banks Lake, which is the irrigation holding reservoir for the Columbia Basin Project.
The project is huge. Right now, we irrigate over 670,000 acres and that reaches from Ephrata,
Washington to Pasco, Washington. Doug Johnson: So what kinds of crops are we
talking about? Lynne Brougher: Well, the Columbia Basin Project
has over 60 different crops growing right now, everything from A to Z: apples to corn
to mint to zucchini. Doug Johnson: So pretty fancy way of saying
water, from right behind this dam which weíre standing on top of, gets through some tubes
and a reservoir and in to the fields that create food and other products we consume. I think youíre beginning to see that water
is a precious commodity in the Columbia Basin. And as youíre about to hear, water for irrigation
is critical to the Northwestís economy. Rob McKinney, Vice President of Operations,
St. Michelle Wine Estates: Here at Columbia Crest Winery, the water is our lifeblood to
our vineyards. Without the water, without the dams that weíve spoken of and the irrigation
it provides us it would be a dustbowl surrounded by sagebrush and cactus. Thatís a fact. Steven Berg, Berg Farms: If we donít have
the water we canít grow the crops. Thatís just the bottom line. This at best would be
producing 15 to 25 bushels of wheat an acre. Well, we can do 10 times that under water. If we didnít have the river system and the
dams and the delivery system capable of delivering water to this farm, everybody would probably
have to have a bigger garden. Iíd say. Doug Johnson: Getting crops and other products
to market leads us to our next benefit ó navigation. The Columbia River is a key shipping
channel for the country. TONS of goods move up and down its waters every day. Hereís
how it works. Between the state of Idaho and the Pacific
Ocean, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operates a series of eight locks. These locks move
cargo ships up or down, allowing them to smoothly travel from sea level to an elevation of more
than 700 feet along 365 river miles. Remember those irrigated crops that we talked
about? The Columbia River also helps carry them to market. Steven Berg: The grains we grow, the wheat,
the corn, it all gets barged out on the river system. If we had to do it in trucks or rail
it would cost quite a bit more. Doug Johnson: Each day, ships carry about
17 million tons of cargo to and from the Northwest to ports all around the world. All told, it
adds up to about $13 billion worth of goods that travel up and down the river every year. And the benefit isnít just an economic one.
Using cargo ships to move products keeps thousands of trucks off the roads, reducing emissions
and helping to keep our Northwest skies clear. Doug Johnson: So weíve talked about the flood
control provided by Grand Coulee Dam. Weíve talked about how folks at the dam help take
water from river and help farmers irrigate their crops. And weíve also talked about
how the dams along the Columbia and Snake rivers help big boats navigate and get all
kinds of products all over the world. So maybe weíve saved the best for last because thereís
one more benefit and thatís recreation. Lynne, weíre here at Spring Canyon, Lake Roosevelt,
right behind the dam and the reservoir. What kind of activities go on here? Lynne Brougher: We have all sorts of water
recreation from boating to fishing to swimming to taking a walk along the beach. Doug Johnson: And, Lake Roosevelt isnít the
only recreation site on the Columbia. From Astoria to Hood River, people use the waters
of the Columbia every day for everything from windsurfing to sail boating, from pleasure
cruises to fishing. Recreation and tourism on the Columbia River are a big industry,
and they bring millions of dollars into the Northwest economy. BPA and its partners at
the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation work together to make this
possible, and to harness all the value of the river. Doug Johnson: Lynne, thanks so much for showing
us around and helping us better understand how important Grand Coulee Dam is and all
of the things it does. Youíve been a great help. Lynne Brougher: Thanks for visiting the dam
and Lake Roosevelt.

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