Lake Roosevelt is
the name of the Columbia River reservoir behind
Grand Coulee Dam. It
is named for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who as president authorized the initial
construction of the dam and remained its champion as long as he was president.
on how full it is, the reservoir reaches upriver about 150 miles. It averages
4,000 feet in width and 375 feet in depth. When full (elevation 1,290 feet
above sea level at the dam), Lake Roosevelt impounds 9 million acre-feet (11.1
billion cubic meters) of water. That amount would cover a land mass the size of
the state of Washington (71,303 square miles, or 184,674 square kilometers)
with 2.3 inches of water.
Spokane and Colville Indian reservations border on the lake. Outside of the
reservations, the shoreline is managed by the National Park Service as the Lake
Roosevelt National Recreation Area. This recreation area encompasses
approximately 100,400 acres (40,630 hectares). The Park Service has managed the
area since 1946.
Roosevelt provides water storage for flood control and hydropower generation at
Grand Coulee and at dams downriver, but it also is something of a playground
for public fishing and boating. Three fish hatcheries, two of them operated by
the tribes and a third operated by the Washington Department of Fish and
Wildlife, produce trout and kokanee for the popular sport fishery in the lake.
More than 30 species of fish are found in the lake. The hatcheries release more
than 500,000 rainbow trout and 500,000 kokanee into the lake each year. Some of
the fish incubated at the tribal hatcheries are reared and released at a series
of floating net pens in the lake that are operated by volunteers.
level of the lake is dictated by hydropower and flood control operations. The
maximum elevation of the lake is 1,290 feet (393 meters) above sea level, and
the minimum is 1,208 feet (368 meters). Thus the lake level can fluctuate by 82
vertical feet (25 meters). In most years, the lake is drawn down in the fall
and winter in anticipation of the spring and early-summer runoff, and allowed
to refill to full, or within about 10 feet of full, by the end of June. The
Bureau of Reclamation, which operates Grand Coulee Dam, adjusts the level of
the lake in coordination with other federal agencies that operate dams
downstream, Canadian entities that operate dams upriver, and the two federal
fish and wildlife agencies that implement the Endangered Species Act for
salmon, steelhead and bull trout. White sturgeon in the upper reaches of the
lake also are affected by the fluctuating water level.
Roosevelt provides irrigation water for the
Columbia Basin Project,
which is managed by the Bureau of Reclamation. The project includes more than
670,000 (271,139 hectares) acres of the Columbia
Plateau south of
Grand Coulee. About 2.5 million acre-feet (30.8 billion cubic meters) of water
are pumped from Lake Roosevelt to irrigate crops in the project area each year.
recreation, such as fishing, boating, and camping, is an important economic
activity. At full pool, the lake has more than 600 miles (965 kilometers) of
shoreline, and much of it is within the National Recreation Area managed by the
park service. The Colville Tribe also operates a houseboat rental business on the
lake that is popular with summer tourists.
activities take place along the length of the lake despite concerns about water
quality, which has deteriorated over time as the result of pollution. One of
the chief sources of long-term pollution in the lake is a large smelter at
Trail, B.C., on the Columbia River a few miles north of the border. For decades
the smelter discharged untreated waste products that included dangerous levels
of heavy metals and chemical. These settled downriver in the United States and
affected water quality and fish. The Colville Confederated Tribes have raised
awareness of the pollution dangers to humans and fish; the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency and the smelter owner, Teck Cominco, have attempted to
negotiate a cleanup agreement.
recreational potential of the lake long has been recognized. In his 1949 book, The
Columbia: Powerhouse of the West, Murray Morgan wrote about Lake Roosevelt
in superlatives. Murray calculated that if all of the water in the lake were
divided evenly among all Americans at the time, each would receive an amount
equivalent to two-and-a-half railroad tank cars. He wrote that the advocates of
Grand Coulee Dam predicted Lake Roosevelt would “. . .be developed into an
all-year playground with sailing, swimming and hiking alternating with skating,
ice-boating and skiing.” He wrote that the lake “. . .does offer wonderful
sailing, and in winter becomes a tremendous rink bordered by pleasant ski
slopes.” But he also noted the predicted developments had not taken place. In
tones reminiscent of a guide book, he said the lake scenery was magnificent and
that a good three-course dinner could be had for eighty-five cents and a
pleasant hotel room for two dollars.
described the shore as an almost never-ending campsite backed by dry brown
hills incised with creeks, many of them dry in the summer, and green water
lapping at bunch grass. The place was ideal, he proclaimed, for the
“sleeping-bag tourist.” The confluence of the Spokane River, once a feared
place because of its rapids, had been turned into a quiet lake by the
reservoir, a confluence now as placid as the meeting of two Dutch canals, he
time the lake did develop as a tourist destination, if not to the extent Morgan
envisioned. In 1980, the Park Service counted 800,000 visitors to the lake. By
2000 that number had nearly doubled, and the number is expected to continue
grow in future years.