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

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

(Run Time: 7 minutes, 48 seconds)

Doug Johnson, Public Affairs Specialist, Bonneville Power Administration:
I’m Doug Johnson. Today I’m at Grand Coulee Dam, the nation’s largest dam on America’s fourth-largest river, the Columbia River. Now there’s a reason this dam’s a big dam — there’s 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. I’m joined today by Lynne Brougher with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates Grand Coulee Dam, who’s 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. What’s 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, that’s about six trillion gallons of water.
Doug Johnson: Okay, that’s a lot. If the dam weren’t there what would happen?
Lynne Brougher: Well, if the dam wasn’t 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, we’re 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 we’ve 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 I’m 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 we’re 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 you’re beginning to see that water is a precious commodity in the Columbia Basin. And as you’re about to hear, water for irrigation is critical to the Northwest’s 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 we’ve spoken of and the irrigation it provides us it would be a dustbowl surrounded by sagebrush and cactus. That’s a fact.

Steven Berg, Berg Farms: If we don’t have the water we can’t grow the crops. That’s 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 didn’t 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. I’d say.

Doug Johnson: Getting crops and other products to market leads us to our next benefit — navigation. The Columbia River is a key shipping channel for the country. TONS of goods move up and down its waters every day. Here’s 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 isn’t 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 we’ve talked about the flood control provided by Grand Coulee Dam. We’ve talked about how folks at the dam help take water from river and help farmers irrigate their crops. And we’ve 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 we’ve saved the best for last because there’s one more benefit and that’s recreation. Lynne, we’re 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 isn’t 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. You’ve been a great help.
Lynne Brougher: Thanks for visiting the dam and Lake Roosevelt.
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