The Wanapum Dam water level was lowered over the weekend after utility managers discovered a 65-foot crack along the base of the power plant on Washington's Columbia River.
The Grant County Public Utility District (PUD) jumped into emergency response mode Friday after noticing an "irregular bowing" along the base of the Wanapum Dam beneath the spillway. As a precaution, the agency lowered the water levels by 20 feet so inspectors could access the affected area, the Seattle Times reported.
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"At this point we already know there’s a serious problem," Thomas Stredwick, PUD spokesman, told the newspaper. "We want to make sure the spillway is stable enough that inspectors are safe when inspecting it."
Dam failure would significantly impact power production and also hinder the boating and fishing communities that rely on its smooth operation. If Wanapum isn’t functioning properly, water flow to other dam systems downstream would increase, throwing off the delicate ecological balance needed to protect salmon nesting holes, the Times noted.
"All these dams coordinate to generate energy on a regional scope," Stedwick said. "If Wanapum is impacted, that has impacts on dams up stream as well as below."
Utility managers are reportedly still assessing the situation but maintain that the public is in no immediate danger.
"This is a situation that’s really changing as more information becomes available," Stredwick said. "But there’s no immediate threat to public safety."
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