Near VANTAGE, Wash. - Contractors are now on top of the Wanapum Dam near Vantage. They are drilling into a concrete pier next to a spillway, trying to figure out what caused a 65-foot-long crack in that pier. They are also trying to figure out how to fix it.
Tom Stredwick is a spokesman for the Grant County Public Utility District which owns the dam. He said, “For us, I think the big priority is let’s get this done safely, but let’s also get this done as quickly as possible.”
The impact of the damage discovered last month is huge. The Grant County PUD had to lower the reservoir behind the dam by 26 feet, to ease the pressure on it.
Now almost a dozen irrigation pipes that normally draw water from the Columbia River are high and dry, including one on Maria and Phil Agnew’s farm near Malaga.
Maria said, “I’ve actually never seen that.”
Her husband said, “We’ve got some real problems facing us with the situation on this river.”
The couple raises beef cattle. Without water to irrigate their pasture, they may have to buy more hay to feed their livestock.
The Agnews are even more concerned about neighbors who grow cherries. Phil said, “We’ll survive this, but they’re going to have it pretty tough without water for raising soft fruit.”
Since many wells were drilled down to river level, there's also a fear that those wells may now go dry.
The river is so low, boats can't reach the water. Boat launches and parks are shut down. Private contractors are patrolling miles of shoreline to keep the public out, before someone gets stuck in the silt or tries to take artifacts now exposed on the riverbed.
The PUD’s Stredwick said, “This stretch of the Columbia River was a focal point for Native Americans for many years.”
Salmon runs are another critical issue. In another month, Spring Chinook will be climbing a fish ladder up the Wanapum Dam, but there’s no way to get them down safely into the lowered reservoir.
The PUD is going to have to build them a slide to complete their journey, or catch the fish below the dam and truck them around it.