hydropower

Grant County PUD

Priest Rapids Dam on the Columbia River in southeast Washington state has multiple leaks and structural problems.

The dam is made up of large sections of concrete and steel bound together by 50-foot-long layers of grout. Now, at least four sections of the grout are failing and causing leaks.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

When the price of one bitcoin soared to almost $20,000 late last year, an influx of entrepreneurs and developers came to the Pacific Northwest in search of cheap hydropower to do bitcoin "mining."

But now cities, counties and utilities at the epicenter in central Washington are hitting the pause button. The cryptocurrency businesses bring tech jobs—but they are also electricity hogs.

Grant PUD

In Central Washington, Grant Public Utility District officials have declared what they’re calling a “non-failure emergency” at the 1950’s-era Priest Rapids Dam northwest of Richland. 

Crews discovered leaking in the dam’s spillway structure when they were drilling inspection holes.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation - tinyurl.com/ybza9ssv

The U.S. Department of State and the Canadian government announced Thursday that formal renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty will begin in early 2018. Fish, electric rates and flood protection all figure to be part of the talks when updating the 53-year-old international treaty between the U.S. and Canada.


Marko Ahtisaari / Flickr - tinyurl.com/z7gay8n

The price of bitcoin set another new all-time high Wednesday, shooting past $13,000. The meteoric rise in the value of bitcoin and lesser known virtual currencies is having a real world effect in the Pacific Northwest.

Entrepreneurs are bombarding the public utilities in Central Washington with requests for cheap hydropower to run bitcoin computers.

Salcido Connection, Inc.

One of the Northwest’s selling points is its cheap hydropower. That’s why in recent years data centers have sprouted along the Columbia River in both Washington and Oregon.

But in north central Washington, an emerging power-hungry industry is meeting with some resistance. It involves the making and managing of the virtual currency called bitcoin.

Anna King / Northwest News Network

Updated -- Officials with the Grant County Public Utility District say an electrical equipment failure is to blame for an explosion at Priest Rapids Dam Thursday that injured six workers, two critically.

Jessica Robinson / Northwest News Network

A little-known fact about Columbia River dams is that a valuable chunk of the power generated on the U.S. side goes to Canada under an international treaty.

US Army Corps of Engineers

U.S. senators from the Northwest say it is time "to strike a better bargain" with Canada over hydropower generated along the shared Columbia River.

Bill Barrett, Wikimedia. A view of Kerr Dam with the gates at full open in June 2011.

The Northwest hydropower system is full of dams that were built over the strenuous objections of Native American tribes. Now, two of these old projects are changing ownership -- one in Western Montana and another in central Oregon.

And it’s the tribes that were once powerless to stop them that are becoming the new managers.

The Kerr Dam went up on the Flathead Indian Reservation in the 1930s. It’s north of Missoula. Homesteaders and farmers used it for irrigation and it still generates electricity to this day.

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