Snoqualmie Falls and White River Power Developments

[Trade Journal]

Publication: Electrical World and Engineer

New York, NY, United States
vol. 43, no. 19, p. 849-853, col. 1-2

The Snoqualmie Falls and White River Power Developments.

THE newly organized Snoqualmie Falls and White River Power Company, capitalized at $3,000,000, has acquired by purchase the properties of the noted Snoqualmie Falls Power Company, the Seattle Cataract Company and the Tacoma Cataract Company.

The Snoqualmie Falls Power Company was the pioneer long-distance transmission company in the Pacific Northwest, having a developed capacity of 11,000 hp, which has been in operation three years.


Fig. 1. — General View at the Falls


Fig. 2. — Sectional Drawing of Head Waters


The power generated at Snoqualmie Falls has been distributed through the agency of the Seattle Cataract Company and Tacoma Cataract Company. These two companies owned the franchises and the right to sell Snoqualmie power in the two cities, respectively. They owned the large and handsome sub-stations at these points and the distribution systems throughout the cities, and they marketed the product of the generating plants.

There has been an unprecedented demand for the power generated by the Snoqualmie Falls Power Company. Indeed, this company, both from the viewpoint of the electrical engineer and of the financier, has been an unqualified success. The company's gross earnings have been at the rate of $244,000 a year, and although its prices have been most moderate, its net earnings have been $120,000 per annum, which will be more than doubled after additional capacity is installed. Snoqualmie power is turning the wheels of the many factories and workshops of Seattle and Tacoma, and is running the trolley cars of Seattle, which carry 40,000,000 passengers annually. It supplies power to the Puget Sound Railway Company, commonly known as the "Interurban," which conveys more than a million people between Seattle and Tacoma yearly, and to the Seattle & Renton Railway Company, which carries 1,140,000 passengers annually.

To mention divers uses, this power grinds 9,000 bushels of wheat a day at the Centennial Mill and 2,200 bushels at the Hammond Mill, both of which plants are located in Seattle, treats 650 tons of ore a day at the Tacoma Smelter, and runs dentist's burrs in Seattle and Tacoma. It furnishes power for the Washington Iron Works Company, the largest industry of this sort in the Pacific Northwest, and for the Metropolitan Press, of Seattle, which prints most of the papers and periodicals published in this part of the country. It grinds spices and roasts coffee for the Crescent Manufacturing Company, and is the motive force of the Washington Shoe Company, which sends its products all through the Northwest and Alaska. Among other large users of power are the Seattle Electric Laundry, the flour and feed mill, operated by Lehman Bros. in Seattle, and the Tacoma Mill and Fransiola Mill in Tacoma, the hay presses and large feed mill of the Galbraith-Bacon Company and the smelting works and machinery of the large jewelry factory of Joseph Mayer & Bros., of Seattle.


Fig. 3. — Underground Power Station


Snoqualmie current furnishes light to the American Steel & Wire Company, for all of the Seattle tracks of the Northern Pacific Railway Company, and runs the motors of its machine shops; to many of the public buildings, stores, saloons and offices in Seattle and Tacoma; and it operates the motors of the numerous small industries of both cities.

Current is supplied to Renton, Kent, Puyallup, Sumner, Swansea, Issaquah and Auburn; and the two last-mentioned cities also obtain their street lighting from this source. Besides supplying Tacoma with most of the power and light for its factories, stores and residences, the Snoqualmie Company also has a contract for the entire city lighting, concerning which the Mayor of Tacoma recently wrote to Mr. Charles H. Baker, president of the Snoqualmie Falls Power Company. "If, throughout your five-year contract with the city, you continue to' supply this character of current, you will greatly benefit the city and retain the advanced position you now hold."


Fig. 4. — General Profile of Snoqualmie Hydraulic Development


Snoqualmie power is also being used by the Great Northern Railway Company in the construction of the important tunnel which it is carrying under the heart of Seattle in order to get its trains off of the main waterfront street of the city, and will light the tunnel both during the creative period and after it is in operation.

Mr. Charles H. Baker, who, in connection with his father, the late William T. Baker, promoted and built the Snoqualmie plant, has taken upon himself an entirely new promotion and development, in harnessing the water power of White River. For this purpose he has organized the White River Power Company, of which he is the chief engineer, and the active manager of its constructional operations. Mr. Baker's Snoqualmie plant is already overloaded owing to the rapid development of the Puget Sound country, and he, therefore, expects to find little difficulty in marketing the product of his White River Company, which already has applications for a considerable portion of its initial capacity. The White River power plant will supply current to the same sub-stations that the Snoqualmie plant does in addition to such new points of distribution as may be determined upon, the radius of profitable distribution being 250 miles in this territory already abundantly supplied with cheap coal and wood fuels. The White River Power Company was formerly owned by the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company, of Pittsburg.

It is now generally conceded that Snoqualmie River and White River afford the best commercial water powers tributary to the Puget Sound communities. While there are numerous streams in this section of the country—and any stream which has positive direction of flow may theoretically be a water power—yet practically it is unsafe to consider any stream as a commercial possibility unless its volume at minimum flow is ample and unless Nature has, figuratively speaking, done most of the work in the proposed power development, as in the case at both the Snoqualmie and the White River plants. It must not be lost sight of that Puget Sound already affords the cheapest fuels in the world for power in the shape of nearby coal and wood, and the first serious point to be considered by the hydraulic engineer, therefore, in order to protect investors is whether the proposed water power can successfully compete in cost. It is the careful consideration of this condition which bars nearly all the rivers and the streams in the Northwest from having significance as power possibilities. Streams which must be discarded for consideration in Puget Sound, would, if they could be shifted to other fields like California, Nevada and the Central States, where fuels are high, become important industrial factors and wealth producing agencies.


Fig. 5. — White River Power House


In the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, under the shadow of the snow-capped peak of Mt. Rainier, the White River Power Company is constructing a power plant which is destined to play a very important part in the development of that country, wonderfully rich in natural resources, lying between Portland, Ore., on the south, Vancouver, B. C., on the north, the Cascade Mountains on the east and the shores of Puget Sound on the west. Utilizing the water power of White River, a glacial stream having its source in Mt. Rainier, the company is constructing near Sumner, Wash., a power plant having a capacity of 50,000 electrical hp, of which 10,000 hp will be ready for distribution within one year's time. It will be unequaled in America in size, simplicity and first cost. The varied and multiple uses to which the Snoqualmie power is now being put give, however, only a hint of the demand that exists for electric current in the rapidly-growing section which will be fed by the White River Power Company.

The territory covered by the construction crews of the White River power development extends from Buckley (elevation 660 ft.) in the foothills of the Cascades to Sumner (elevation 65 ft.) lying in the level and fertile lower valley at the White River, a distance of ten miles. The headworks are located about three-quarters of a mile above the Northern Railway Company's trestle over the White River at Buckley. A concrete dam is being built across the river 9 ft. high and 500 ft. long. This dam will be provided with a sluice gate and automatic flash boards, which will eliminate injury to the dam from floating logs during the periods of high water. An intake 120 ft. wide, located on the south bank of the river, will lead into the first section of an open canal. This canal, which is 50 ft. wide and is 5 miles long from the intake to the storage basin at Lake Dorothy, follows an old channel of the White River; and owing to this provision by Nature of a ready-made canal site, it will not be necessary to build flumes at any point of the entire length of the construction work. By the use of four of the largest steam shovels obtainable and 1,500 men this part of the work will be pushed to a speedy conclusion.


Fig. 6. — View of Transmission Line


The company is most fortunate in being enabled by the natural conditions to develop an engineering plan entirely eliminating all fluming. All wooden flume features are a disastrous attribute of any power plant, particularly where there is not an extensive storage system as a guarantee of continuous service. The Bakersfield plant in California, which depended upon a two-mile flume, found the service so unreliable on account of the land slides and rock slides taking out the flume, that it penetrated a mountain with a two-mile tunnel through solid granite in order to abandon the flume construction. The longer the flume, the greater the liability to disorders.

The White River plant and the Snoqualmie plant have practically the same elevation of intake, viz.: 660 ft. above sea level. This is a most fortunate situation, for if they were any lower it would be at the expense of head, and any increase in elevation would proportionately reduce the area of watershed and particularly of the rain-fed portion of the watershed. It must be remembered that the Puget Sound rivers derive their winter flow from rains and springs, and their summer flow from snow and glaciers. The higher the intake elevation, therefore, the less the rain area controlled, and consequently the less the power capacity of the river for winter service. Under the load conditions in Seattle and Tacoma, the power requirements are thirty-five per cent. greater in winter than in summer, and the flow at the Snoqualmie and White River intakes responds to these conditions. Another favorable feature of the White River watershed is that the snow and glacier portion of it faces the north, and being thus sheltered from the hot summer sun, the melting is more gradual and later in the year, thus promoting a higher low water stage in the late summer. The Puyallup and Cowlitz glaciers lying upon the southern slope of the mountain disappear much earlier, so that these rivers suffer a more marked and protracted summer low water proportionately.

The first 1,300 ft. of the canal is being excavated along a side hill and will be lined with rubble stones. At the bottom this part of the canal is 25 ft. wide with slopes of 1/2 to 1, and the water will have a depth of 10 ft. From this point the canal, lined with concrete, crosses the county road, which will be bridged, and tunnels the embankment of the Northern Pacific Railway. Then the canal passes on to a series of alternately narrow and broad benches, which at some remote period formed the bed of the White River itself. These benches are open on the north, the river side, and sloping towards the south they are surrounded on three sides by a higher bench forming the flat part of the main land or plateau. The geological formation of the country, through which the canal passes, is cement and boulder gravel. On this foundation will be deposited by the natural action of the water the white sediment, from which the river gets its name. This sediment is a glacial silt, formed by the scraping of the glaciers of Mt. Rainier on the rock, and its characteristics are such that after it becomes caked it is practically as impervious to water as rubber. By the use of this substance the seepage of the canal will be reduced to a minimum at the outset, and it is expected that within two or three years it will be entirely eliminated.

The elevation of the intake was so established that it made it possible to lead the canal into four lakes—respectively, Hart Lake, of 8 acres; the McHenry Lake, of 68 acres; the McHugh, of acres, and the Campbell Lake, of 35 acres. In order to supplement the work of Nature it will only be necessary to build several low embankments, the material for which will be furnished by the earth taken from short cuts between the respective lakes. Like the canal these lakes will be rendered water-tight by the deposits of glacial silt. In them the white sediment will be made to settle in order that none of the silt shall be carried into the storage basin at Lake Dorothy.


Fig. 7. — Tacoma Sub-Station


Fig. 8. — Interior of Tacoma Sub-Station


After leaving the settling basins the water is carried from the intermediate bench through a cut to the high bench, and from this point traverses the main flat country in a westerly direction for 3 1/2 miles until it reaches the Lake Dorothy storage basin. This section of the canal is 100 ft. wide on the surface and 50 ft. wide at the bottom, with slopes of 2 to 1; the depth of water will be 11 ft. To utilize the settling basins, previously mentioned, the location of the intake was so determined that the canal emerges at an elevation of 100 ft. higher than the storage basin. This difference in level will be overcome by guiding the water down over successive chutes to the storage basin. Had the intake been placed so as to avoid the use of these chutes, the canal would necessarily have had to be built along the steep side hills of the White River canyon, thereby entailing the construction of several miles of flumes, a structure that would have been enormously expensive in first cost and maintenance and neither permanent nor reliable.

The White River, while glacial in its origin, is also largely fed by rain and melting snow. During the winter the flow of water is the largest, for it is rarely cold in this part of the country for any length of time, and the warm Chinook winds cause the snow falling on Mt. Rainier and the Cascades to melt rapidly. The floods vary with the precipitation of snow and rain, but the highest flood recorded is 60,000 c.f.s. Only in one month of the year is the flow less than 2,000 c.f.s., the quantity required for the operations of the company on a basis of 120,000 theoretical hp. In October the flow drops as low as 600 c.f.s., and all of this will be taken with the exception of 30 c.f.s., which the federal law requires shall be left in the river to keep the fish alive and for domestic use. During the other months of the year the control gates of the intake will admit only the 2,000 c.f.s. needed to run the company's water wheels.

Through the magnitude of the Lake Dorothy storage basins, however, the company will always have in reserve a vast volume of water for the use of its generating station, which will be constructed in the White River valley, near Sumner below the storage basins. This basin is the most important feature of the whole plan of the White River Power Company, as it is the largest storage basin controlled by any power company in the United States, being only exceeded in capacity by the Great Lakes, which feed Niagara Falls. Another great advantage that this basin has is that it is situated directly over the station in which the water will be used for generating power.

Its location, unlike that of some storage basin remote from the power plant, removes the supply of water from all uncertainties. By the time that the water has reached the storage basin, all dangers from logs and log jams, from breaks in the dam or in the canal or from other causes, are entirely obviated. The Lake Dorothy basin is, therefore, the principal factor in the undertaking of the company.


Fig. 9. — Seattle Sub-Station and Office Building


Until the White River Power Company secured the ownership of the territory surrounding the largest lake, which will be used for a storage basin, it was known as Lake Tapps, the present area of which is 620 acres. In its close proximity are three other lakes, respectively Kirtley Lake, of 80 acres; Church Lake, of 40 acres, and Crawford Lake, of 20 acres. Like that of the canal right of way and the settling basins, the natural contour of the country around the storage basin is such that it might appear as if Nature intended these lakes for the purpose that the company now proposes to utilize them. The present elevation of Lake Tapps is 515 ft. above the sea level; Church Lake, 530 ft., and that of Kirtley Lake is 526 ft.; but work is now progressing on a series of embankments, making it possible to raise the level of Lake Tapps 35 ft., thus securing a water area of 4,000 acres, which is about seven times larger than the present area. The storage capacity of the Lake Dorothy basin