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Wanapum Dam crack: Huge 65 ft. break in Washington threatens Columbia River

Columbia River's Wanapum Dam's situation has officials on standby Monday. Since Tuesday's discovery of a 65-foot crack in the Washington dam, engineers have been hard at work trying to stabilize the structure to prevent dam failure. Today will offer up clues as to if interventions at Wanapum are working, according to a Mar. 3 Web Pro News post.

Wanapum Dam aerial view
Joe Mabel (on Flickr as Joe Mabel from Seattle, US)/Wikimedia Commons

The Wanapum Dam crack was reported after workers noticed a bowing in the dam deck and a spill gate was not properly aligned. Upon closer inspection, divers noticed the crack spanning more than 60-feet and two inches wide. On Friday, Grant County officials became alarmed enough to issue an Alert-1, similar to a fire threat level.

With the 55-year-old dam suffering a fault over a long span, there is always the threat of a breach, which would cause potential flooding due to lower-lying regions down river from Wanapum.

Monday, Washington officials began lowering water levels in the reservoir behind the dam. This is designed to relieve water pressure on the structure until workers can begin repairs.

Earlier reports from ABC News suggest that initial interventions appear to have lowered concerns for a massive dam breach, but engineers are cautiously optimistic at this point.

Catastrophic failure is very unlikely. We're generating now. We're not anticipating a huge amount of water coming. In a worst-case scenario and that piece of the spillway would fail, the flows that would move into the river below would not exceed the regular flow of the Columbia River. There is plenty of room to handle it," said PUD assistant general manager Chuck Berry.

To illustrate the crack on the Wanapum Dam, picture a 65-foot-wide pier that stands about 126-feet high, 92-feet (front to rear) with a crack on the downriver side of Columbia. It's unknown what impact the fracture would have had it been on the frontal side.

The good news for residents that depend on the dam for electricity is that it is still generating enough power. And even if the worst-case scenario happened (minus flooding), the utility company would buy energy credits from regional affiliates.

Boaters should be aware that traffic from Wanapum Dam to Rock Island Dam is restricted temporarily beginning Tuesday as water levels are drawn down for repairs.

This story is developing.


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