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Wanapum Dam: Concern mounts over 65-foot crack in Wanapum dam's spillway

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Wanapum Dam, a hydroelectric project located on the Columbia River in Grant County, Wash., is still running despite engineers and divers discovering a 2-inch wide, 65-foot crack under the water on one of the spillway piers.

According to the Seattle Times on Friday, officials have enacted emergency procedures to stabilize the causeway, although the dam’s engineers have said there is no immediate danger posed and no evacuations have been ordered along the river.

“At this point we already know there’s a serious problem,” said Thomas Stredwick, spokesman for the Grant County Public Utility District. “We want to make sure the spillway is stable enough that inspectors are safe when inspecting it.”

The problem was traced to the crack after an engineer noticed that the roadway that runs over the dam showed some “bowing.” A concrete spillway had raised up by close to three inches, causing the road above to bow out.

“Since we’ve noticed the issue, there’s no additional movement for that spillway section,” assured Stredwick.

The crisis plan was put into place should the dam fail. If so, the primary impact would be a loss of power to the town of Vantage, located about six miles away. Officials at the dam have notified state and federal agencies, who in turn have notified residents who own land below the dam.

Engineers have also started to lower the water elevation in order to inspect the crack and make repairs. By Monday the reservoir levels should be down by at least 20 feet, officials said.

“All these dams coordinate to generate energy on a regional scope,” Stedwick said. “If Wanapum is impacted, that has impacts on dams up stream as well as below.”

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