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Grand Coulee spill the first in four years

By SUE RYAN

News staff writer

June 3, 2006

The water in the Columbia River has risen so high recently that the level has submerged the Spit at the waterfront.

“I can’t remember the last time I have seen it this high,” said Linda Hull, an administrative assistant at the Port of Hood River.

The cause comes partially from extra spillage done by the Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during the holiday weekend.

For the first time in four years, the agencies spilled extra water over the Grand Coulee Dam during Memorial Day weekend to relieve pressure on the system’s reservoirs.

“We spilled from Saturday through Tuesday. In terms of the Grand Coulee, it’s a matter of not letting it fill too quickly,” said corps hydrology engineer Kathy Hlebechuk.

She said the water level is not unusually high but is in fact normal for the first time in as many years. Bureau of Reclamation engineer Tony Norris said during the last 10 years the agencies have only spilled a total of five times from the Grand Coulee dam aside from spills during the fourth of July and lightshows.

“We finally have an average water year,” Norris said. “I think for so long people have probably forgotten what it’s like to have extra water in the Columbia.”

Once the level reaches above the 12,060 elevation mark at the Grand Coulee Dam, engineers monitor when to open the spillway above the drum gates.

“It happens during a time when the spring flow is really rolling,” said Norris. “The in-flows (from Canada) were tremendous … at 250,000 thousand cubic square feet. This was kind of a peak in the hydrologic runoff.”

The water coming from Grand Coulee added to spills already being done at the dams at McNary, John Day, and The Dalles dams.

That high water level flowing in the Columbia River may have pushed more than water along but also tempers in Hood River as complaints came in to the Port of Hood River office following the holiday weekend.

Water levels have submerged the Spit, a gravel sandbar that is one of two areas designated at the waterfront as a launch site for the sport of kiteboarding.

Hull said the port received calls from residents that a local group of kite boarders took over using the marina and beach area, which are designated areas for swimming.

She said that when weekend port staff approached the group and asked they move that the group refused.

“We’ve never had this problem before,” she said. “What we are asking for is cooperation from everyone using the waterfront. The water will come down in a few weeks.”

Hull said the port has designated areas at the waterfront in order to balance all of the different needs of users. She said safety is the main reason the port asks everyone follow the rules.

“We appreciate your cooperation, patience and understanding in realizing it’s just Mother Nature,” she said.

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