From its beginnings on Nov. 1, 1948, the history of the Walla Walla District has been closely tied to the development of water resources and navigation on the Snake and Columbia rivers. Establishment of the District coincided with the construction of McNary Lock and Dam on the Columbia River, along the eastern portion of the Washington-Oregon state boundary. Located approximately 30 miles from the Tri-Cities in southeastern Washington State, McNary Dam was dedicated by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1954. McNary was the second hydroelectric dam completed on the Columbia, with Bonneville Dam being the first. McNary Dam has an electrical generating capacity of 980,000 kilowatts.
The Walla Walla District is one of five districts in the Corps’ Northwestern Division, which is headquartered in Portland, Oregon. The District boundaries are generally the same as the watershed boundary of the Snake River drainage, and include approximately 107,000 square miles in six states: Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, and small parts of Nevada and Utah.
The District has constructed and operated several other major hydroelectric and flood control projects in its 47-year history, including four lower Snake River dams and navigation locks in Washington:Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental,Little Goose, and Lower Granite. These four hydroelectric projects have a combined electrical generating capacity of 3,033,000 kilowatts, and extend slackwater navigation to the inland port of Lewiston, Idaho. The District went on to construct Dworshak Dam, the highest straight-axis concrete dam in the Western hemisphere, on the North Fork of the Clearwater River near Orofino, Idaho. Dworshak Dam and Reservoir is a hydroelectric and flood control project, with a generating capacity of 400,000 kilowatts. Mill Creek Dam, a flood control reservoir near Walla Walla, Washington, was built prior to the formation of the Walla Walla District.Lucky Peak Dam, a flood control project, was one of the first projects designed and built by the District.
Many levees were constructed by the District throughout the Snake River Drainage, but are maintained by local sponsors. However, the levees on the Snake and Gros Ventre rivers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, have been maintained by the District since September 1969. The Walla Walla District also constructed John Day Lock and Dam on the Columbia River near Arlington, Oregon; Willow Creek Dam near Heppner, Oregon; and Zintel Canyon Dam near Kennewick, Washington. Development of the last two projects were pioneering efforts in the development of roller compacted concrete (RCC) technology. Willow Creek Dam, constructed in 1982, was the world's first all-RCC Dam.
A juvenile fish transportation program, begun in 1968, uses specially-equipped barges and tank trucks to carry migrating salmon and steelhead fingerlings around dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers. More than 24.5 million juvenile salmon were collected, and more than 18.5 million of those were transported downstream, in 1995. District activities to aid migrating fish are not limited to transportation programs. In recent years, the District has modified dam spillways to increase fish survivability, and added fish screens to guide most migrating fish around turbine intakes.
Since 1976, the Walla Walla District has constructed nine major fish hatcheries, under the Lower Snake River Fish and Wildlife Compensation Plan, to mitigate for fishery losses attributed to the construction of the four dams on the lower Snake River. The Clearwater Fish Hatchery at Ahsahka, Idaho, the ninth hatchery completed under the Compensation Plan, was dedicated on Aug. 22, 1992. In the States of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, a multifaceted program of land acquisition to compensate for the losses of streambank fishing access, upland game and other wildlife species, riparian habitat, and hunting opportunities was authorized by the Water Resources Development Act of 1976 and modified, with some added features, by the Water Resources Development Act of 1986.
In March 1995, the District office moved from a World War II vintage headquarters facility to a new headquarters building in downtown Walla Walla. The old facility was constructed in the 1940s to serve as an Army Air Corps hospital. It was located at Walla Walla Army Air Base, which is now the Walla Walla Regional Airport.