Avista’s aesthetic spills project benefits begin to unfold as water levels decrease
These two photos of Spokane River’s north channel
in Riverfront Park illustrate the difference Avista’s
aesthetic spills project makes. The one on the top
was taken before the project began, with river flows
at 500 cubic feet per second (CFS). The one on the
bottom was taken this month, with river flows at 300
What a difference an aesthetic flows project makes.
If you compare the river during this time of year to
years past, you will notice the falls are flowing with
water. These photos were taken from Post Street
Bridge facing east towards Canada Island in River
-front Park. The top photo was taken before the
project began, with river flows at 500 cubic feet per
second (CFS). The photo at the bottom was taken
this month, with river flows at 300 CFS. Even though
there is less water flow, restoring the riverbed to
more of a natural state provides many aesthetic
and environmental benefits.
If you live in or visit Spokane in the final weeks of summer, you might take the opportunity to go look at the north and south channels of the Spokane River flows
in Riverfront Park. If you compare the river during this time of year to years past, you will notice the falls are flowing with water.
Each summer, usually in July or August, river flows decrease substantially. In the past, this left the two channels dry with just a trickle of water flowing through the south channel.
In the summer of 2010, as part of the aesthetic spills requirement in our federal license to operate Upper Falls Dam, Avista and several stakeholder groups took part in a assessing test flows to determine whether permanent channel modifications could enhance the view of the river during periods of low river flow. These groups, including the City of Spokane
, Friends of the Falls
, Spokane Canoe and Kayak Club
, the Friends of the Centennial Trail
and The Sierra Club
were trying to learn whether the same or better, aesthetic effects could be achieved with 300 cubic feet per second (CFS) flowing through the two channels, than 500 CFS would without modifications.
During the aesthetic spill test, biologists also assessed the impact of potential channel modifications to fish and fish habitat in the river through the park and downstream.
The test was successful, and last year, Avista and its contractors, Land Expressions LLC
, gave the south and north channels a makeover to help restore the Spokane River’s beauty to a more natural state, the way it once was before early developers in Spokane cut into the bedrock to collect water during dry times. The enhancements, using “weirs"
that look like the natural bedrock in the river, spread water more evenly throughout the Upper Falls’ two channels that run north and south of Canada Island. Combined, they produce an aesthetically pleasing flow of water that viewers can enjoy throughout the year.
“Avista and our contractors took a new and creative approach to restoring the falls to a more natural state,” said Spokane River License Manager Speed Fitzhugh. “We matched the color, shape and texture of the weirs to that of the bedrock to produce seamless, natural looking river flows. As far as we’ve been able to determine, it’s the first project of its kind in North America.”
You may remember this year we had a longer than normal run-off season, with high, fast river flows in the Spokane and other area rivers. Thanks to the collaborative effort of Avista, our stakeholders and contractors, visitors to downtown Spokane no longer have to look at a dry riverbed during the warm summer days.
Protecting natural resources and operating our dams responsibly helps us continue to generate clean, reliable and cost-effective hydroelectric power for our customers. Last year’s aesthetic spills project on the Spokane River has improved the scenery in downtown Spokane and recreated habitat for fish, birds, and other local wildlife, something that we can all be proud of for generations to come.
If you pig out in the park this weekend, check out the falls
If you happen to visit Riverfront Park for Pig Out in the Park or for any other event or reason, you can check out the falls yourself. KXLY’s Jeff Humphrey covered the aesthetic spills project in this week’s news and interviewed Avista’s Spokane River License Manager, Speed Fitzhugh.