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International experts visit NCW dams

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North Central Washington public utility districts welcomed a high-level delegation from the International Commission on Large Dams last weekend. About 50 experts from China, Russia, Japan, the Congo, South Africa Sweden and Ukraine visited Wanapum, Rocky Reach, Wells and Grand Coulee  dams.  The folks at Chelan Public Utility District invited me out to take a tour of Rocky Reach Dam with the delegation.  Bill Christman, the engineering services manager at the PUD, said it was an opportunity to demonstrated the operating efficiencies and the balance with the environmental concerns. In many parts of the world, environmental concerns tend to be less of a factor than they are in the U.S.  Jeff Osborn, fish and wildlife specialist for the utility, showed them the fish ladder viewing room. Fortunately, some salmon chose to swim by at the time. He also spent quite a bit of time talking about the engineering behind the $120 million fish bypass system. It seems like a lot of money until you factor in the amount of spill that the PUD would otherwise be required to do and the impact that would have on revenues. That was $120 million well spent. I had a chance to chat with Shiyong Wu, of China. Wu is based in Sichuan province where a substantial portion of the country's hydroelectric power is generated, he said. The notion of locally-owned public agencies producing power is a model that you don't find in many parts of the world. Wu said he was fascinated by the technology that was being used to provide for salmon. He said they don't appear to have migratory species like the salmon but said more study needs to be done to confirm that.  The visit to the dams was an opportunity for this international group to share ideas, learn about new techniques and develop relationships.  I had a chance to visit with Guy Lund, of URS Engineering in Colorado. Lund and his company evaluate the safety and systems of Columbia River dams every five years. Lund said the way the system in the northwest is integrated and professionalism of the utilities makes it a place that they send young engineers to see how dams ought to be operated.