The Clearwater Tribune on July 4, 1976, published a special supplement celebrating the United States’ 200th birthday. Included in this supplement were several historical articles about Clearwater County.The article
This year, the Clearwater Tribune is going to re-print some of these articles. Next is an article about the origins of Dworshak Dam.
Dworshak Dam, 717 feet high, the highest straight gravity concrete dam in the nation was dedicated June 15, 1973 marking some 50 years of man’s dream to harness the hydro-energy potential of the Clearwater.
Nearly $300,000,000 has been invested in the up-stream storage project by the Corps, complimenting a 3 billion dollar investment on eight dams on the Snake and Columbia Rivers.
Potential implication of a power site on the North Fork of the Clearwater came from Orofino sources as early as 1922 when local power firms sought to file on 100,000 kilowatt power site at Bruce’s Eddy, a mile above Ahsahka.
However abundant power from the Columbia River was made available in the thirties, and the project was forgotten until the massive flood of 1948 reinterested the Corps of Engineers in the upstream storage areas of the system.
First tangible evidence of a major dam at the present Dworshak dam came in November 1953 when the Corps unveiled up-river dam studies to disclose the vast economic values of high dams at Bruce’s Eddy and at Penny Cliff’s on the Middle Fork.
The latter project was shelved because of the severe impact on the region and the Wild Rivers system, but the North Fork project moved ahead and by 1960 the Idaho Senator Henry Dworshak, for whom the dam was named, had in an unprecedented maneuver, obtained more than $2.5 million for pre-construction planning and design of the project.
Final authorization of the project came in the summer of 1962, shortly after the senator’s death with Senators Len Jordan and Robert Kerr of Oklahoma responding to appeals from A.C. Curtis and Ray McNichols to nail down the project.
First access road contract was awarded in April 1963 to Murphy Brothers, Peter Kiewitt got the diversion tunnel job in 1964 and reservoir clearing was begun. Water was diverted into the tunnel on October 18, 1966, the same year the general contract was awarded to Dravo and its associates.
Gates on the tunnel were closed in September 27, 1971 and the dam topped out at a ceremony on January 26, 1973.
The power house was bid in January 1970 and first power on the line came on March 1, 1973.
Dent and Grandad Bridges were built at a cost of over $12 million, from 1969 to July 1972 by Hansel Phelps Co.
Resident Engineers on the project were Don Basgen, Ben W. Molle, Ed Groff and Gary Willard. D.B. Debertin was assistant most of the life of the project. For DDC, managers were Whitey Wixson and Ron Maxwell.
Sets Off Blast
Mrs. Dworshak set off the initial quarry blast on Sept. 24, 1966 and was present for the June 1973 dedication with three sons and families.
Since the ceremony, operations has been in charge of Rodger Colgan and Richard Knowles. A new million-dollar campground has been completed at Dent, reached by the Grandad Bridge, and many mini-camps established along the lake.
Revision of the latter sites has been encouraged by the increased fire hazards and the 1974 Gold Creek fire which showed the potential danger.
Disposal of vast amounts of debris from the reservoir and control of the material after high water seasons has been of continuing concern to the Corps which is making strong efforts to improve the lake for navigation.
Interference by the EPA, state and federal, in ignoring established burning patterns has hampered and delayed the clearing project but accumulations of recent years are to be worked off this summer.
A new million dollar visitors center has completed a slide picture history of the project and is attracting thousands of visitors annually. Fishing on the reservoir has gone in cycles, but is substantially improved over the pre-dam days on the North Fork.
Much money has been spent on mitigation for use of the river bottom as a purported elk winter range with the result that elk have more and better forage than ever before existing on the North Fork.
Hydro Power from the 400 megawatt generators has silenced the project critics with the energy now stabilized for the lower river, equivalent of millions of barrels of oil imports annually. Flood control benefits in heavy runoff years have saved millions of dollars.
The big dam doomed the old Potlatch love drive, but log navigation may come back in the future. The big marina and recreation complex has sharply benefitted the family recreation seeker and brought a new industry to the county with a broadened tax base and many fringe benefits.
BIG FLOOD CONTROLLER FOR COLUMBIA RIVER—Impressive annual flood control benefits have accrued from Dworshak Dam, reimbursing much of its original $302 million cost. The 717 foot high structure tames the Clearwater Northfork which had flow variation of 400 to 1, and brought 400,000 kilowatts of power on an energy hungry region in March 1973. Within 2 million feet of storage the dam reservoir pool is lowered each winter to absorb the snow melt floods and firm up power during the summer for the Columbia River Bonneville Power system. A new million dollar campground has been completed at Dent Acres, reached by the beautiful Dent suspension bridge 15 miles above Orofino. The reservoir is 53 miles long and provides new access to sportsmen and recreationists, as well as providing water sports recreation for many. Photo shows the visitor’s center on the left, and the dam spillway at a rare time when outlets were opened.
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