Sep 14 , 2011
Weirs are being built in the bed of the Spokane River downtown. What's a "weir" anyway?
I recently had the opportunity to visit the Aesthetic Flows Project taking place in the Spokane River’s North and Middle channels in downtown Spokane. I received special permission to step into the riverbed for the sake of capturing history in the making for Avista (I also relish opportunities to wear my hard hat).
The project is attracting a lot of attention from spectators passing by as contractors dressed in bright green T-shirts aim their large hose full of concrete-like material at oddly shaped structures formed out of rebar, which are called weirs. The manmade structures are designed to divert the water during low flow periods in a manner that is aesthetically pleasing and they are being made to match the existing river bed as closely as possible-both in color and texture. In fact, once the material has been applied, Land Expressions, our contractor has about two hours to transform the mud-like substance into natural looking weirs before they set up and become too hard to manipulate. They use tools like brushes, paint rollers, and shovels to make this happen. It’s quite impressive, a work of art really.
Typically, this stretch of the river (North and Middle Channels) doesn’t have a lot of water flowing through it during the summer months because river flows drop off after spring runoff. However, about this time next year, the water is expected to be flowing more evenly across both the North and Middle channels of the river near Canada Island with the addition of the weirs.
The work you see Avista doing isn’t just about looks, as the name suggests. It’s part of our new 50-year Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license to operate our five hydroelectric facilities located on the Spokane River. The purpose of the Aesthetic Flows Project is to return the river’s channels to a more natural state, the way they were before early developers cut into the bedrock to divert water during dry times.
The project is expected to be completed by the end of October. Once this is done, there may not be another opportunity for me to don my hardhat in that stretch of the river for quite some time. In the slide show above, you can check out some of the recent photos of the project as it progresses.
If you have any questions about this project, please feel free to call Speed Fitzhugh, Avista’s Spokane River License Manager at, (509) 495-4998.
Sep 08 , 2011
If you happened to be in downtown Spokane over the weekend taking part in the festivities that go along with Pig Out in the Park, you may have noticed the large crane sitting near the Monroe Street dam as well as other projects taking place in and around the Spokane River.
|Removing accumulated rock and gravel from
Monroe Street Dam forebay. Enlarge photo.
The work is part of Avista’s 50-year Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license to operate our five hydroelectric dams on the river and will help protect the resources and operations of our dams in order to generate clean, reliable and cost-effective hydropower for our customers.
This week, we started removing accumulated rock and gravel from the forebay, (the area that pools behind the dam) at Monroe Street and are relocating the materials back into the river below the dam. This is being done because the high river flows from this spring caused large amounts of rock, gravel and other materials to accumulate at the dam. The accumulated rock can damage the intake structure where water enters the turbine, thus interrupting clean and efficient power generation.
Before we were able to begin the project, we performed a bathymetry survey which illustrates the terrain under water so we know where the material has accumulated. We also sampled and tested the materials for contaminants to determine whether or not the rock and gravel could safely be placed back into the river below the dam. The testing and analysis of the sample materials was conducted by a third-party that determined the material was safe to relocate downstream. Once the rock removal is complete, we will perform a second bathymetry survey in order to calculate the total amount of material removed from the forebay.
Other projects that are highly visible to downtown visitors include the construction of a new viewing platform at Upper Falls and the Aesthetic Flows Project in the Upper Falls’ north and south channels. Look for more information about these projects
here on the blog as they continue to progress. In the meantime, if you would like additional information about Avista’s hydroelectric projects, please contact Speed Fitzhugh, Spokane River License Manager for Avista at, 509-495-4998.
Last year we did this video that showed the relocation of rock and gravel in action. Taken Aug. 2010.
Sep 06 , 2011
Drawdown to winter level begins on Tuesday after Labor Day
Avista is beginning its annual fall drawdown of Lake Coeur d’Alene Sept. 6. The lake will be gradually lowered approximately a foot from full pool by the end of September, and an additional 1½ feet per month thereafter until reaching its winter level. Property owners and boaters should take measures to secure docks and boats for the winter season during this period.
As part of Avista’s FERC license to operate its Spokane River Hydroelectric Project, which includes Post Falls Dam, Avista is required to maintain the level of Coeur d’Alene Lake at summer full-pool elevation of 2,128 feet from as early as practical in the spring until the Tuesday after Labor Day. (Read More).
Aug 29 , 2011
Workers place steel anchor bolts with high strength resin into the bedrock to create a solid foundation for the weirs
during our Spokane River aesthetic flows project in downtown Spokane.
Avista’s work on the aesthetic flows project in the river in downtown Spokane is getting a lot of attention from curious onlookers wondering what the project is all about. The reason behind the project isn’t just about looks as the name suggests. While the overall goal is to create a cascading waterfall effect through the channels of the Spokane River that run north and south of Canada Island, the work is related to the aesthetic spills requirement of our Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license.
In 2009, Avista was issued a new 50-year license by FERC to operate our five hydroelectric dams on the Spokane River (Post Falls, Upper Falls, Monroe Street, Nine Mile and Long Lake). The purpose of the aesthetic flows project is to return the river’s channels to a more natural state, the way they were before early developers in Spokane cut into the bedrock to divert water during dry times.
The spray-painted dots you see on the riverbed (in the image above and to the right) are outlines for where the concrete weirs will be installed. Weirs are structures that divert water. Last year, Avista brought together several stakeholder groups, including the Washington Department of Ecology, The Sierra Club, and others, to take part in a pilot test for the project using sandbags as temporary weirs to divert the water. The feedback we received helped us determine the placement for the permanent weirs.
Our contractor is currently placing steel anchor bolts with high strength resin into the bedrock to create a solid foundation for the weirs. The weirs will be custom made to match the natural basalt bedrock as much as possible, including consideration for the existing terrain’s texture and color.
In addition to providing aesthetic attributes, the project will accommodate fish passage at various water flow levels that are determined by the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Department of Ecology. During the project, fish biologists and contractors are on site, relocating fish safely downstream due to the river flow being temporarily stopped while the weirs are constructed.
Once the project is complete, water will flow more evenly throughout the two channels of the river and will produce a more pleasing flow of water through Riverfront Park. The project is expected to be complete by the end of October so you will most likely continue to see activity in the river channel throughout the fall.
Aug 11 , 2011
Whether you’re in downtown Spokane spending the afternoon at Riverfront Park or just happen to walk through the area on your lunch hour, you will see a number of projects taking place in and around the river between Upper Falls and Monroe Street Dams this summer and fall. The work will enhance fish, wildlife, water quality, recreation and aesthetic resources in our community and meet requirements of Avista’s Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license to operate our dams on the Spokane River.
As flows drop to summer levels, the following projects will take place in and around the river. If you are in the area, you may see temporary work structures, cranes, trucks and contractors. All equipment will be handled and operated with an emphasis on public safety and protecting the environment. For your own safety, please stay out of the riverbed and keep clear of designated work areas.
Here’s what’s on the construction schedule:
Viewing Platform Construction – Upper Falls
Construction of a new viewing platform near Avista’s Upper Falls Dam in Riverfront Park will take place this summer and fall. Avista is building the platform to access the Upper Falls Dam for maintenance. Once the work is complete, park visitors will have a permanent spot to enjoy the views of the river. This project will also improve pedestrian access and the aesthetics at Riverfront Park.
Aesthetic Flows Project – north channel, Upper Falls
The goal of Avista’s aesthetic spills project is to spread water more evenly throughout the two channels of the Spokane River that run north and south of Canada Island and produce an aesthetically pleasing flow of water that viewers can enjoy throughout the year. To do this, we’ll modify the river’s channel in order to return it to a more natural state, the way it was before early developers in Spokane cut into the bedrock to collect water during dry times. This project Last year, Avista brought together several stakeholder groups, including the Washington Department of Ecology, The Sierra Club, and others, to take part in a pilot test for this project. Immediately before and during construction, Avista will not release flows into the channels to the north and south of Canada Island.
Monroe Street Dam rock removal
Generating clean, efficient power is a top priority at Avista. The high river flows this spring have caused large amounts of rocks, gravel and other materials to accumulate at the Monroe Street Dam. The excess debris can damage the intake structure and interfere with power production.
In September, the accumulated rocks and gravel will be removed from the forebay. Depending on the analysis of sampled material, the materials will then be placed back into the river below the dam. Usually this activity is done every two years, however, because of heavy water flows this year, Avista will be performing the work again this fall.
While fishery work may not be as visible as other activities, biologists will be doing work throughout the summer and fall in the Upper Falls and Nine Mile Reservoirs. The majority of the work this fall will involve a study to determine the population of fish in this area of the Spokane River.
In 2011, Avista will plant 6,000 catchable, sterile rainbow trout in Upper Falls Reservoir and 9,000 fish in Nine Mile Reservoir. This stocking program is intended to provide families in our community the opportunity to fish.
Stay tuned for more information about these exciting projects throughout the summer and fall. Avista has also posted signs near the project areas to educate those who pass by about what we’re doing.
Jul 27 , 2011
The Spokane River is one of the most striking and scenic centerpieces of our community. It has a rich cultural history, and provides habitat for fish and other aquatic life as well as an abundance of recreational activities.
At Avista, we work hard to be good stewards of this vital resource as we operate our dams to provide clean, reliable, and cost effective energy to our customers. Today, we sent out the first issue of the Spokane River Newsletter, a quarterly publication that will be distributed to those who are interested in learning more about our activities in and around the Spokane River. The newsletter will not only keep you informed about current news, but it will introduce you to some of the people who take care of our natural resources. Each season, Avista plans to distribute the newsletter to stakeholders, employees, customers and others who sign up for it
Jul 19 , 2011
Water levels allow spill gates at Post Falls Dam to be closed
The Post Falls Dam spill gates during high water runoff.
Photo courtesy of Avista employee Patty Hanson.
Avista is advising Spokane River users that river recreation is now permitted in the area between the Spokane Street Bridge and the boat restraining systems located just upstream of the Post Falls Dam. River flows have dropped sufficiently to allow all of the spill gates at the hydroelectric facility to be closed.
The City of Post Falls boat launch at Q’emiln Park was opened to the public Monday, July 18. Typically this occurs sometime between Memorial Day and the July 4 holiday. The median date for closing the gates is June 22. This year, cool spring temperatures and a lingering, heavy snowpack caused longer than normal high water flows, which delayed the opening of the boat launch.
Avista expects summer operation at the dam to continue through Labor Day, as long as weather conditions allow. River users are cautioned that weather conditions can cause rapid changes in water levels. Please exercise caution when using the waterways.
For current information on anticipated elevation changes on Coeur d’ Alene Lake, Lake Spokane, and the Spokane River, to call Avista’s 24-hour telephone information line. In Idaho, call (208) 769-1357; in Washington, call (509) 495-8043. The recorded information is provided to advise shoreline property owners, commercial and recreational users of changes in lake and river elevation levels that may affect plans for water use. You can also check weather and water flow information here.
Jun 07 , 2011
The photo on the left is of group of children touring one of our hydro facilities, Long Lake Dam (circa 1920).
The photo above right is a snapshot of Stevens Elementary sixth graders touring the dam in 2003.
We are Avista - the same reliable company we've always been. For well over a century (since 1889 to be exact), we've built a legacy of dependable service and engagement in the communities we serve. To help illustrate that, we’ve gone deep into our photo archive to uncover some snapshots of our history.
Today we feature one of our generating facilities which sits on the Spokane River approximately 30 miles northwest of Spokane, Long Lake Dam
The photo above left is of group of children touring one of our hydro facilities, Long Lake Dam (circa 1920).
The photo above right is a snapshot of Stevens Elementary sixth graders touring Long Lake Dam in 2003. Both photos were featured in Avista’s 2003 Annual Report
. These students would be in their second or third year of college today.
Legacy matters. We’ve put together a website that details Avista’s history, check out: www.AvistaLegacy.com
Then and now facts
When it was completed in 1915, Long Lake was "the world's highest spillway dam." Its turbines were also the largest (both in size and capacity) of any in existence at the time.
Today, the Long Lake development (HED) is capable of meeting the average energy needs of almost 35,000 households.
May 10 , 2011
High water flows prompt action
Avista will be drawing down the elevation of Lake Spokane (also known as Long Lake) over the next several days, in order to perform maintenance work required as a result of the current and projected high flows on the Spokane River.
As of May 9, the level of Lake Spokane was about 1,535 feet, which is about 1 foot below its normal summer elevation. We expect to decrease the level of the reservoir to bring it to an elevation approximately 3 feet below normal summer level by Thursday, and will return the reservoir to approximately 1 foot below its summer elevation beginning next week.
Due to high seasonal snowpack and warmer temperatures, the National Weather Service is predicting rapidly increasing river flows and high water on the Spokane River over the next several weeks. Avista operators at our Spokane River hydroelectric facilities, which include Post Falls, Upper Falls, Monroe Street, and our downstream dams, Nine Mile and Long Lake, work together to coordinate spilling so that we operate efficiently and manage reservoir levels. However, we want to remind you that weather conditions can cause river and reservoir levels to change rapidly, so please use caution on the water and comply with all posted notices and closures.
Avista wants you to stay safe during your spring and summer activities on area reservoirs and waterways. Please remember, especially during spring run-off, the waters near a dam can contain hidden dangers. Swirling water, submerged objects, strong currents and open spill gates can pose serious hazards to boaters and other recreationists, and sudden discharges of water from spillways and turbines can rapidly increase water levels and river flows. You can always check river and lake levels on our website at http://www.avistautilities.com/inside/resources/Pages/waterflow.aspx
, or by calling 509-495-8043 or 208-769-1357.
We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause, and appreciate your understanding as we perform necessary maintenance and operations of our hydroelectric facilities on the Spokane River.
If you have any questions about this drawdown, please send us an e-mail
Mar 30 , 2011
This Avista crew was in the middle of installing a
large steel electrical structure that holds power lines
which cross the Spokane River near SFCC and TJ
Meenach Bridge. The old wooden structure is still
standing in the middle with the poles connected at
the top. Two of the taller steel replacement poles are
on the picture on the left and right. The placement of
this structure is on the side of a 45-degree angle
ravine that slopes down to the river below. Once the
full structure is built the crew will re-string new, more
efficient power lines across the river.
The Avista crew fills in the hole for a new steel pole.
A contractor had to shoot gravel down the ravine on
a belt to fill in the massive depth of the new poles.
We all use power every day, but don’t always know where it comes from or why it’s so reliable
This morning I wrote a reply in an ongoing online conversation I’ve been having with a few folks on a local news website. The discussion was wide-ranging from rates to hydropower. We don’t always agree with one another. That’s OK. It got me thinking about power generation in our area and our customers’ use of it.
One area of the discussion that struck me was the idea that Avista’s hydroelectric dams (built when the company was Washington Water Power) were paid for by taxpayers. I don’t know if this is a common misperception, but it’s incorrect. In fact, all of Avista’s (WWPs) dams were built through private funding. All Spokane River projects: Monroe Street
(1890) Post Falls (1906), Nine Mile (1908), Nine Mile (1915) and Upper Falls
(1922); and Clark Fork projects: Noxon Rapids
(1959) and Cabinet Gorge
(1953) were built privately.
There are so many little dams chugging away day after day, decade after decade that they are easy to ignore. Even after four years of working at Avista when I think of a “big” dam, I find myself thinking of Grand Coulee
or Chief Joseph
dams on the Columbia River. Those are federal dams built with taxes, Avista’s weren’t.
Our power mix is roughly 50 percent hydroelectricity. Forty-two of that 50 percent comes from the dams we built, own and operate. The rest come from long-term contracts with other hydro generators.
Focusing on reliability so you don’t have to
Operating these dams and electric resources is really a complex process that most of us don’t think about every day. The perception may exist since these resources are up and running that power has, and always will be plentiful and reliable. That’s just not the case. We’ve got to work at it together. One of the questions I received last summer when I was working on our Energy on the Street project
was about the future of energy. How is Avista planning for the future?
The web of electric generation around the Northwest provides juice for those who want it and pay for it. When I come home at night and flip on the lights, I don’t think about where that power comes from and I bet you don’t either. Is it hydro, natural gas, biomass, coal or wind? But there’s a system in place that we manage that ensures you get the power you need when you want it. That’s one way to think of reliability.
The system is also reliable because employees maintain it. The effort extends beyond maintaining or upgrading power plants. It’s reliable because of the people who climb the poles in six-feet of snow. The men and women who brave the elements to ensure the power lines that feed your home are back in service as quickly as possible when nature’s fury blows trees into the lines, encases them in ice or burns them to the ground in a firestorm.
Avista’s electrical system is rooted around 125 years of history, but it’s not on autopilot. Our employees work hard to ensure that when you flip the light switch or turn on the TV, you don’t have to think about 125 years of power lines and dams. All you need to know is that we’re taking care of it and that it’s there for you when you need it. That’s reliability.