The Columbia River System is large and complex. This educational feature introduces you to individual projects that play a role in supporting the region’s tribes, communities, industries and fish and wildlife species.
Located on the south fork of the Flathead River, 15 miles south of the west entrance to Glacier National Park in Montana and 20 miles northeast of Kalispell, stands the 564-foot Hungry Horse Dam. The Bureau of Reclamation operates and maintains the concrete arch structure as part of the Hungry Horse Project. In 1953, at the time of completion, the dam was the third highest and the fourth largest concrete dam in the United States. The project includes the dam and reservoir, associated spillway, outlet works, and penstocks, as well as a powerplant and switchyard.
From January through June, the reservoir level is adjusted to make water storage space to help prevent flooding in the lower Columbia River and locally in the mainstem Flathead River near Columbia Falls, Montana. The amount of space depends on estimates of the amount of runoff that will occur that year or inflow forecasts that reflect current and projected snowpack and weather.
Reclamation also releases stored water from the project to maintain streamflow for fisheries. From April to June, flows aid spring anadromous fish migrating in the lower Columbia River. From July through September, reservoir storage is balanced to meet the needs of local and downstream fish. Releases supplement flows for juvenile anadromous fish migration in the lower Columbia River, but timing and limits to drafts also benefit resident fish. To preserve fish habitat in the river below the dam, flows from the reservoir are maintained year-round.
The project plays an important role in meeting the growing power needs in the Pacific Northwest. The reservoir stores almost 3.5 million acre-feet of water for later release to produce clean, renewable hydropower. In the 1990s, Reclamation modernized the Hungry Horse generators to produce up to 428,000 kilowatts of electricity–that’s enough to power almost 270,000 homes.
The Hungry Horse project also provides water storage for hydroelectric dams father downstream on the Columbia River and generates electrical power for the immediate area. Reclamation operates the project in close coordination with the 13 other federal projects that make up the Columbia River System.
The area around Hungry Horse Dam and Reservoir offers excellent recreation opportunities. The four-season recreation area allows visitors to take part in fishing, boating, camping, water skiing, snowmobiling and hunting. To learn more about Hungry Horse visit www.usbr.gov/pn/hungryhorse/index.html.