NEAR GEORGE, Wash. – The Grant County Sheriff’s Office is warning people to stay away from the Columbia River.
It’s the newest safety concern and the residual effect after a crack was found in the Wanapum Dam last month. Crews discovered a 65-foot long crack in a spillway, and the Grant County PUD drained the reservoir behind it as a precaution. Water levels have fallen close to 30 feet since the order went into effect.
According to the sheriff’s office, it has also uncovered soft soils which hadn’t seen the light of day in a half a century. Grant County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Ken Jones says there have been at least four calls for help since the water levels dropped, including a pair of teenagers who were stuck in waist high mud.
“It’s almost like quicksand,” said Jones.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has closed five different sites, including Yo Yo, Old Vantage Highway, Sunland Estates, buckshot, and Frenchman Coulee/Climbing Rocks.
Eugene Penix, who lives in Sunland Estates, says he used to have water surrounding the spit on the river. He now has acres of dry property in front of his home.
“If this goes on for a long period of time, then we’re going to have a different kind of summer,” said Penix.
The draw down has also revealed what the PUD refers to as “culturally sensitive materials.” Someone stumbled across a skull and bones, and the county later determined they were part of a Native American settlement.
It’s unclear when the PUD will come up with a temporary or permanent fix for the dam. PUD spokesperson Tom Stredwick said Wednesday that the agency has hired a contractor to do some exploratory drilling. Consultants and federal regulators will have a final say with the fix.