Grand Coulee

The Grand Coulee Dam is ninety miles west of where we live. We’d passed it plenty of times, even gawked at it up close yet had never taken a tour. I decided it was time to see the “biggest thing that man has ever done”, according to the Woody Guthrie song. We got to go inside one of the pump houses underneath the dam where I was awestruck by the sheer physical enormity of the operation and at the tour’s end, were driven across the top of the huge structure. The Grand Coulee is second in size only to the Three Gorges Dam in China and the area for which it provides power is immense. The pumps and generators are gigantic and what they accomplish, amazing. Provisions were not made for salmon to pass — or downstream at the Chief Joseph Dam either — so migration to the original spawning grounds is impossible. The native cultures which were dependent on the salmon were irreparably damaged.  Farms and small towns were flooded and many native graves were not moved. Times were different — construction began in 1933 — and I wouldn’t want to live without electricity.  Still, I couldn’t tour this facility without a feeling of sadness.  As the tour guide succinctly put it:  These days, the Columbia River is a giant machine.


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