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Avista Utilities was founded as Washington Water Power in 1889 and its first buildings were the hydroelectric plants that generated power from the Spokane River for the small mining community of Spokane Falls, Washington. Today, Avista owns and operates two hydroelectric dams on the Clark Fork River in Montana and Idaho, and six on the Spokane River in Washington. Together these facilities are capable of generating approximately 1,000 megawatts of hydropower, providing more than 40 percent of Avista’s total electric generation capacity.
Our partnership with the river system shapes the way we live and work. Careful planning and management allows hydro projects to coexist with the natural environment. Throughout our company’s history, we have been recognized locally, regionally and nationally for our collaborative efforts in fish and wildlife protection, endangered species protection, water quality improvements, and maintaining and enhancing recreation and cultural projects along the rivers.
In 2010 Avista completed installation of new, computerized spillway gates at the Nine Mile Dam, just downstream from what is now downtown Spokane. The new system consists of metal gates supported by air-filled rubber bladders, and replaces our old wooden flashboard process, which had been in use since 1928. A series of community meetings engaged customers and property owners in the project, and Avista staff listened closely to their concerns about shorelines, water levels and wildlife and partnered with them to achieve acceptable outcomes for all parties.
The upgraded system gives Avista operators the ability to raise and lower the height of the spillway gate at any time in order to maintain the reservoir pool at a more constant level throughout the entire year. The new spillway helps improve Avista’s coordination of the operation all of its Spokane River dams, allowing us to operate more efficiently and be more environmentally responsible and responsive to the needs of the community, whether we’re meeting customer demand, implementing flood control measures, protecting habitat or working with recreationists to improve angling and boating experiences.
Enhancing the efficiency of sustainably generating renewable energy also helps to maintain more consistent river levels with minimal impact on fish, wildlife, shorelines and recreation.