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Columbia River's Wanapum Dam Cracked, Officials Mull Options

Tom Banse
Northwest News Network
File photo of Wanapum Dam

Dam operators are struggling to find a solution for a major underwater crack in the Wanapum Dam. It spans the Columbia River in central Washington near Vantage.

In the short term, operators are lowering water levels to at least relieve the pressure. Dam operators found the crack a few days ago during a routine inspection. On further examination, divers found the 65-foot crack underwater on the dam’s spillway.

Wanapum Dam is owned and operated by Grant County. Both county and federal officials are working on the problem. So far, the river has been lowered 20 feet to relieve pressure on the structure.

Thomas Stredwick, spokesman Grant County Public Utility District, says the lower pool is affecting power production, but homeowners won’t be affected. The worst-case scenario is if the spillway was to topple.

But Stredwick thinks other sections of the dam would hold on and downstream communities should be safe. He says Columbia River dam operators plan for events like this crack, but hope they never occur.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.