Our Northwest

Columbia resembles its pre-dam days

Tuesday, April 8, 2014by  Jon Osterberg

Recreational boaters will suffer this summer because of the large Wanapum Dam crack that prompted officials to lower reservoir water by 26 feet in late February.
   As a result, Columbia River docks and boat launches now sit high and dry. The Grant County PUD says it has “no timelines established for when we anticipate having river levels back up.”
   Riverside communities like Crescent Bar and Sunland Estates, which thrive on tourism, are nervous.
   There’s a silver lining, though. Grant County had planned to upgrade several boat launches and docks, and now that work can be done in open air rather than below water level, saving the county a bundle – perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars.
   Today, a wide swath of sun-cracked mud borders the Columbia, reminiscent of the topography before Wanapum Dam flooded the gorge in 1963.
   See for yourself. Here’s a photo (above) my dad shot in 1955 while driving to Seattle on U.S. 10 – the forerunner to Interstate 90 – through Frenchman Coulee. Back then the Columbia still flowed wild and free between Rock Island and Priest Rapids dams. Note the narrower, shallower river with a sandbar in the middle.
   At the left center of the photo, you see U.S. 10 receding in the distance toward the old two-lane Vantage Bridge.
   In 1963, all of that landscape flooded when Wanapum Dam was completed. For comparison, see my 1979 photo (left) that shows that same old highway vanishing under the water impounded behind the dam.
   Resort owners and seasonal residents want their big river back. And they'll have it.
   But right now, no one can say when.

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