Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The Second Largest Lock in the World!

By Kris Krell

The Second Largest Navigational Lock in the World!  

I had a couple of ideas for the blog post today, but I wanted something more!  My ideas just weren’t grabbing me as what I wanted to write about.  

So I was googling around, and found this statement in a city brochure:  Ice Harbor Dam is the second largest navigational lock in the world.”  Wow!  Could this be?  How interesting that the Tri-Cities area would have such a large interesting place!  

So here's what I found out:

Ice Harbor Lock & Dam was named for an ice-free cove on the Snake River just upriver from where the dam is located today.  Steamboat captains used this cove as a shelter to wait out the winter so that ice dams wouldn’t damage the boat. The cove was about 10 miles from the junction of the Snake River and the Columbia River.  

Two Lewis and Clark Expedition journal entries, according to the Ice Harbor Dam Visitor’s Center, dated October 13, 1805, and October 15, 1805, mention how late in the season they were sailing, how bad the rapids were, and how turbulent the waters were as they arrived at what is now present day Tri-Cities area.

In 1945, Congress authorized four dams the be built on the lower Snake River; Ice Harbor Dam was one of the four.  The Dam is part of the Columbia River Basin system of dams.  Building began in 1956 and was opened and dedicated by Vice-President Lyndon B Johnson on May 9, 1962.  The dam provides hydropower generation, recreation, irrigation, and improved habitat for fish and wildlife.  

The Dam includes a powerhouse, the navigation lock, two fish ladders, a removable spillway weir (This is a horizontal barrier across the width of the river allowing water to flow freely over the top of the weir before spilling down to a lower level.), and a juvenile fish bypass facility.   It is located upstream from the McNary Lock and Dam and Lake Wallula.  Ice Harbor Dam is 2,822 feet long and 100 feet high.  It is a concrete gravity-type dam (A dam constructed of concrete and/or masonary, that relies on its own weight and internal strength for stability. There are sub-types as well) with an earthfil  embankment section at the north end.  The navigation lock is 86 feet by 675 feet.  The 10-bay spillway is 590 feet long and includes ten 50 foot tainter gates (Tainter gates are the normal metal doors that are on all dams that regulate water flow through the dam.  They are named after Wisconsin structural engineer Jeremiah Burnham Tainter.)  A lock is a system used for raising and lowering boats, ships and other watercraft between waters of different levels on rivers and canal waterways.

When the dam was completed, Lake Sacajawea was born and the safe-harbor cove was covered over.  Lake Sacajawea was named after the Shoshone Indian woman who travelled with the Lewis and Clark expedition in their search for the easiest route to the Pacific Ocean. 
On Lake Sacajawea, one can enjoy fun and relaxation!  Popular activities are:  hiking, boating, camping, swimming, water skiing, hunting, fishing.  Full-service campgrounds and picnic areas and remote undeveloped beaches are available. You can also watch migrating fish or watch boats move through the lock.  

In 2012, the lock was closed temporarily due to a persistent popping noise in the lock’s machinery.  It was determined that was no cause for alarm; the popping noise was caused by a slight movement in machinery components  and was fixed.

Now, as for the second largest navigation lock in the world being in Tri-Cities?  To complete my research due diligence, I googled, “what is the largest navigational lock in the world.”  According to, the world’s largest lock is Kieldrecht Lock in Antwerp Belgium, and it opened in 2016.  The second largest is Berendrecht Lock  also in Antwerp.  Both of these locks are 1,600 feet long and 223 feet high.  

So, Tri-Cities may no longer have one of the largest lock’s in the world, but it appears to me that Ice Harbor Dam and Lock  is a “go to place”for some fun, relaxation, and to gaze in awe at a very large dam and lock in our local area!  

Sources:  Wikipedia,, US Army Corp of Engineers,, Tri-City Herald newspaper article, Mystery Solved.  Ice Harbor Dam’s lock reopens to boats, March 25, 2017, and

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