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Grand Coulee Dam

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Grand Coulee Dam
The Grand Coulee Dam, located on the Columbia River in Central Washington, is the largest concrete structure in the United States and the third largest producer of electricity in the world.[1] The Grand Coulee Dam is over 5,000 feet (1,500 m) long, 550 ft (165 m) tall, and produces nearly US$1 billion worth of electricity each year for the Pacific Northwest.[2][3] The lake formed by the Coulee Dam feeds an irrigation network that provides water to over half a million acres (200,000+ ha) of farmland in Eastern Washington.[4] At the time of construction in 1933, the Grand Coulee was dubbed “the mightiest thing ever built by a man”[5] and “the eighth wonder of the world”[6]

Contents

[edit] Construction History

[edit] Planning the Grand Coulee Dam

Early immigrants to Washington State encountered a shortage of water.[7] Central Washington was too hot and dry for agriculture; prompting the area to be known as the “Great Columbia Desert.” Locals conceived of methods of irrigating the desert to make the land arable. The first formal plan for a dam was put to Washington State voters in 1914. At a price tag of $40 million, residents determined it was too expensive, and rejected the plan.[8]

When the Great Depression hit in the early 1930’s, unemployment exceeded more than 20 percent in the United States, prompting the newly elected President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, to implement numerous make-work programs; Grand Coulee included. In 1933 Roosevelt authorized the use of $63 million to fund the Coulee’s construction. Engineers recommended a design with a maximum height of 550 feet (165 m). However, Roosevelt felt this was too ambitious and dictated that the project should be completed in multiple stages, with the first stage being capped at 290 ft (85 m) in height.[9]

Before construction could commence, crews had to remove 22 million cubic yards (16.8 million m3) of dirt and 30 million board feet (70,700 m3) of lumber from the valley floor.[10]

[edit] Construction of the Grand Coulee Dam

Construction of the Grand Coulee Dam began on July 16, 1933.[11] One of the early obstacles crews had to overcome were frequent landslides. In March 1934 a landslide resulted in the spilling of 1.5 million yd3 (1.1 million m3) of dirt into the valley.[12] To handle the constantly large volumes of refuse, the world’s longest conveyor belt was constructed—it spanned approximately two miles (3 km).[13]

In June, 1935, the Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, signed a change order which instructed crews to build a base for a damn that would reach 550 ft (165 m) in height, an increase from the 290 ft (85 m) promised by Roosevelt. The massive size of the dam dictated that massive amounts of concrete was needed. On May 25, 1939, crews at the Grand Coulee set the world record for most concrete poured in one day at 20,684.5 yd3 (15,814.4 m3).[14] In total, the dam was constructed from 11,975,521 yd3 (9,155,943 m3) of concrete. The natural curing time for such a large volume of concrete would be hundreds of years. To expediate the process, crews laid 2,000 miles (3,200 km) of cooling pipes.[15][16]

The dam’s primary generators became operational in October 1941. Construction officially concluded the following month; nine years after it started.[17]

[edit] The Grand Coulee Dam’s Role in World War II

With the onset of World War II, the irrigation portion of the project was put on hold, while the need for hydroelectric energy increased.[18] The manufacture of weapons and vehicles for the military is an energy and raw material intensive process. President Franklin D. Roosevelt determined that America’s war effort required 60,000 fighter planes, a large number of which were manufactured in the Pacific Northwest.[19] A substantial amount of energy was also being used in Southeast Washington to produce plutonium for the atomic bomb. [20]

After the war in 1946, work on the massive irrigation project resumed.[21] The pumping plant and generators were completed by 1951.[22]

[edit] Equipment Used

[edit] Legacy

The Grand Coulee is just one dam along the Columbia River Basin. The Columbia River, which crosses international borders between British Columbia, Canada and Washington State, USA is extensively dammed. There are more than 250 dams along the Columbia and its subsidiaries. Of the 1,240 miles (1,995 km) of the river, only 50 miles (80 km) is free flowing.[23]

The Coulee was constructed with little feedback from local residents or First Nations. Three to four thoudand residents and an additional 2,250 First Nations were forced from their homes due to the flooding caused by the dam.[24]

The Grand Coulee Dam was built without the same level of due diligence that modern dams recieve. Modern dams feature provisions which allow migrating fish to pass through en route to their final mating location. The Grand Coulee Dam, on the other hand, was constructed with zero concern for aquatic life. The local fishing industry was decimated following construction.[25]

[edit] Renovations

In 1967, a project was started to add a third power plant to the dam, broken up into six units. In 1975 the first unit was completed and began generating electricity. In 1980 the last unit was completed. The 13-year project increased the capacity for the amount of power generated by 3.9 million kilowatts.[26]

[edit] References

  1. History of the Columbia Basin Project. One World Telecommunications [December 8, 2009].
  2. Grand Coulee Dam: A staggering production. CNet.com [December 8, 2009].
  3. Grand Coulee Dam Area Chamber of Commerce Welcomes you to the Coulee!. GrandCouleeDam.org [December 8, 2009].
  4. Grand Coulee Dam Area Chamber of Commerce Welcomes you to the Coulee!. GrandCouleeDam.org [December 8, 2009].
  5. Grand Coulee still the mightiest of them all. DJC.com [November 8, 2009].
  6. Grand Coulee Dam. HistoryLink.org [December 8, 2009].
  7. Grand Coulee Dam Area Chamber of Commerce Welcomes you to the Coulee!. GrandCouleeDam.org [December 8, 2009].
  8. Grand Coulee Dam. HistoryLink.org [December 8, 2009].
  9. Grand Coulee Dam. HistoryLink.org [December 8, 2009].
  10. Grand Coulee Dam. HistoryLink.org [December 8, 2009].
  11. Grand Coulee Dam. HistoryLink.org [December 8, 2009].
  12. Grand Coulee Dam. HistoryLink.org [December 8, 2009].
  13. Grand Coulee Dam. HistoryLink.org [December 8, 2009].
  14. CBI Pours Last of Concrete For Big Coulee Dam. Spokane Daily Chronicle [December 8, 2009].
  15. Grand Coulee Dam. HistoryLink.org [December 8, 2009].
  16. Grand Coulee Dam. HistoryLink.org [December 8, 2009].
  17. Grand Coulee Dam. HistoryLink.org [December 8, 2009].
  18. History of the Columbia Basin Project. One World Telecommunications [December 8, 2009].
  19. Grand Coulee Dam. HistoryLink.org [December 8, 2009].
  20. Grand Coulee Dam. HistoryLink.org [December 8, 2009].
  21. Grand Coulee Dam. HistoryLink.org [December 8, 2009].
  22. History of the Columbia Basin Project. One World Telecommunications [December 8, 2009].
  23. Grand Coulee Dam. HistoryLink.org [December 8, 2009].
  24. Grand Coulee Dam. HistoryLink.org [December 8, 2009].
  25. Grand Coulee Dam. HistoryLink.org [December 8, 2009].
  26. Grand Coulee Dam. Lake Roosevelt Forum [December 8, 2009].

[edit] External Links