Inslee optimistic about Wanapum Dam repairs

By Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldMay 14, 2014 

Wanapum Dam

The Wanapum Dam on the Columbia River near Vantage.


Gov. Jay Inslee expressed optimism Wednesday after visiting Wanapum Dam, which is undergoing repairs on a 65-foot crack in a spillway.

The damage has been stabilized, Inslee said. He was also pleased to see that modified fish ladders are allowing salmon to pass the dam, with about 95 percent of the anticipated run making it through.

"I saw about five salmon pass through the temporary sluice they installed," Inslee told the Herald. "All of us were concerned they could lose the run."

The Grant County Public Utility District, which owns Wanapum Dam, announced earlier this week that it was suspending efforts to trap and haul fish around the Priest Rapids and Wanapum dams because of the successful modifications to Wanapum's fish ladders.

Existing fish ladders were modified on the left and right sides of the dam, according to the Associated Press. Pumps, weirs and flumes were installed to help adult fish safely reach the shallower reservoir behind.

The water level was lowered by 26 feet to relieve pressure, which has caused the crack to close.

The PUD has a staff member keeping track of the fish going over the flume every day, and video cameras are filming the flume.

"It's a very ingenious contraption they figured out," Inslee said.

The underwater crack formed across a spillway pier of the 8,000-foot dam, and the problem may have been worsened by a weak construction joint, the utility has said.

Inslee also was pleased with the work done to figure out the cause of the crack.

A team of engineers determined in an 11-week investigation that a mathematical error was made when Wanapum Dam was built 50 years ago, the utility said in a news release. That impacted the calculations for the design of the spillway. They recalculated the design formulas and said additional concrete and/or reinforced steel should have been used in construction.

The weak point on the spillway succumbed over time to the force of water pushing against it, the PUD said.

The utility expects to reinforce steel to properly tie the concrete into the bedrock. The PUD will likely have to reinforce the dam's other spillway piers into bedrock, as well. It hopes to raise the lake level by 19 feet by the end of the year.

"They aren't just patching the crack, they're addressing the cause," Inslee said. "I wish the fellas hadn't made a mistake 50 years ago, but it appears on the way to being fixed."

Inslee visited the Moses Lake North Dam earlier Wednesday to announce that the state will provide $2 million to repair that structure. Officials determined last year that the dam was in danger of collapse.

"It was a really good result," he said.

Inslee also addressed his decision this week to block the release of Jerry Lain, who was convicted in 1982 of attacking Richland Police Officer Mike Fitzpatrick. He said he considered the facts of the case and evidence presented to him in overturning the decision of the Indeterminate Sentence Review Board.

"I considered the circumstances and made the decision based on the record," he said.

Lain's release has been stopped at least six other times, including a denial by former Gov. Chris Gregoire.

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543;; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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