65-Foot Crack Found In Wanapum Dam: 'The Next 24-48 Hours Are Cr - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

65-Foot Crack Found In Wanapum Dam: 'The Next 24-48 Hours Are Critical'

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EPHRATA, Wash. -

BEVERLY, Wash - As dozens of engineers and technical experts continue to inspect a 65-foot crack found Thursday in one of the twelve spillways of the Wanapum Dam, inspectors believe the risk of public danger is low, but they are preparing for the worst-case scenario.

"For us this is a big deal, this is a serious issue and we’re treating it as such,”Grant County Public Utilities District spokesperson Thomas Stredwick told KHQ's Kelsey Watts. "It’s something that we haven’t faced before – and there are very few hydroelectric plants that have faced this before.”

Throughout the weekend and into Monday evening, the Columbia River was lowered 20 feet - both to relieve pressure on the aging structure and to allow for easier access for inspectors. However, determining what caused the crack and fixing the damage will take weeks if not months.

"We don’t believe we’re in the worst case scenario but we’re prepared for it," Stredwick added. "Worst case scenario, if there was a failure of this section of dam there would be an isolated release of water from that specific section of dam.”

Stredwick said even if this crack caused the affected spillway to fail, the other 11 spillways and the main structure of the dam would remain intact.

"That release of water would be within what we would expect this time of year, so there would be no impact to downstream residents, no flash floods," he explained.

In the rural area near Beverly, Washington, there is very little in the way of people or property downstream from the dam. Stredwick said that while there are some shoreline communities, they are not threatened.

The crack was discovered by divers roughly 70 feet below the surface Thursday, after an employee noticed an anomaly in the concrete road above the dam last Monday. That "anomaly" was a 2-inch bump that would have gone unnoticed by the untrained eye but signaled a big red flag for engineers.

"At the time they discovered the crack it was 2 inches wide, we believe that by reducing the water elevation above the dam that crack will shrink as things begin to settle,” he added. "The next 24-48 hours are critical for us."

Now, the top priority is stabilizing that section of dam. It has not been evacuated and is still generating hydro-electric power for thousands of people. As inspections continue and a fix is determined, If the dam is not able to continuing providing power nearby dams will be tapped for electricity or the Grant County PUD may choose to buy power from the open market, but Stredwick says there would not be any widespread outage.

The Grant County PUD owns and operates the Wanapum Dam and is working closely with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Departments of Transportation and Ecology and the Grant County Sheriffs Office to ensure the proper inspections and safety precautions are being taken.

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