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Educate. Empower. Act. The mission of Project WET is to reach children, parents, educators and communities of the world with water education. We invite you to join us in educating children about the most precious resource on the planet — water.
Today Molly, Theresa and I are getting the VIP treatment at the Grand Coulee Dam. Once inside the Vistor Center we hear an announcement: "Project WET dignitaries please report to the information desk."
Reclamation Guide Cydonie Fukami
We are greeted by Cydonie Fukami, who will take us on a special tour of the dam. She is a Reclamation Guide, employed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and part of a team of educators who teach the dam's 2,000+ daily visitors about the facility. Cydonie is also a brand new Project WET facilitator and one of the attendees at last month's Project WET Leadership Conference.
Cydonie greets us warmly, calming some of the trepidation we're all feeling about touring under the dam. It's not every day that a person gets to be underneath 12 million cubic yards of concrete-enough concrete to encircle the world twice with a six-foot-wide sidewalk! The dam itself is 550 feet high—as tall as the Washington Monument.
Theresa takes a photograph
from the base of the dam
Completed in 1942, Grand Coulee Dam today is the largest hydro-electric-power-producing facility in the United States. Producing electricity was not the main purpose for which Congress authorized its construction, however. Initially, the Columbia Basin Project (CBP) was designed primarily for irrigation. Eastern Washington is a semi-arid region receiving only six to ten inches of rain annually. The dam allows the desert to bloom by delivering water to over 671,000 acres for irrigation. Annually, on average, 2.5 million acre feet of water is used for crop production and delivered by thousands of miles of canals throughout the region. While this is an enormous amount of water, it is only about 3 percent of the annual Columbia River flow.
Pump-generators from one of three power houses
Theresa asks Cydonie to explain how the water is transported. "Great question! Let me show you!" Cydonie says as she escorts us to one of the power houses. We can see pump-generators that draw water from Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake and carry it 280 feet uphill to Banks Lake Reservior. From there, water is delivered to a tunnel and canal system and then distributed to farms in the region. This water is used to grow over 90 different crops. If you have eaten McDonald's french fries, you have consumed Washington state potatoes.
During World War II, the capacity to produce electricity was expanded and upgraded, providing energy for factories in Seattle, Vancover and Portland that were building ships and airplanes. Today, Grand Coulee has a 6,809-megawatt power rating-enough to power a million locomotives. Power from the dam is sold throughout the Basin and beyond. Even Helena, MT—six hours away by car—is on the Northwest Energy Grid.
From two stories below the dam, we take an elevator seven floors up to the surface to get the top-side view:
Molly peers off the side of the dam, viewing the spillway
From Grand Coulee, we will leave Cydonie and head north to the Canadian border and then on to Hope, British Columbia, where we will participate in a community "Make A Splash" water festival sponsored by Nestlé Waters North America.