By 1962, Ice Harbor Lock and Dam had been built and construction of the second lower Snake River dam, Lower Monumental, was being passed to the US Army Corps of Engineers Seattle District. The third dam in the queue was right on the heels of Lower Monumental, but construction could not begin until the details of its downstream neighbor were determined.
Originally, Little Goose Lock and Dam was to be built near Little Goose Island. However, once the final location and pool height were decided for Lower Monumental, Little Goose was moved slightly downriver from its original site.
From the webbed feet, up
The River and Harbor Act of 1945 authorized the construction of four dams on the lower Snake River. The USACE Walla Walla District, which would operate and maintain these dams was established on Nov. 1, 1948.
Construction of Little Goose Lock and Dam began in the summer of 1965.
Unlike the other dams on the Snake River, Little Goose only required one cofferdam. The cofferdam was built on the south shore, diverting the river to the north. The entire concrete structure of the dam was built within this cofferdam. However, this also required the district to construct 10 miles of access roads to the south shore. Like Lower Monumental, Little Goose lies in the isolated stretch of the Snake River, surrounded mostly by wheat fields.
Despite the remote location, the concrete structure of the dam was completed in just four years. The earthfill portion of the dam on the north shore was constructed in the winter of 1969 and completed by early 1970.
Each construction project comes with its own challenges, but the construction of Little Goose progressed smoothly. By this point in its history, the Walla Walla District had built the Lucky Peak, McNary, John Day and Ice Harbor dams. The district was finding its stride. And there were more dams to be built, Dworshak and Lower Granite being the two big projects on the horizon.
In the Little Goose powerhouse, the first hydropower unit came online on March 26, 1970. The navigation lock became operational in April and two more power units came online before the end of the year.
The Lower Monumental reservoir was raised in February 1969. The Little Goose reservoir was raised in February 1970. Within a year, 66 miles of the Snake River became navigable. Barging took advantage of this almost immediately. Two grain terminals were constructed near Central Ferry in the Little Goose reservoir and 125,000 tons of wheat moved downriver in Little Goose’s first year of operation.
Since then, the amount of commerce traveling through Little Goose has only increased. During the fiscal year of 2021, almost 2.5 million tons of commodities passed through the navigation lock.
Little Goose’s reservoir was named Lake Bryan in honor of Dr. Enoch A. Bryan, President of Washington Agricultural College from 1893 to 1915. Today, Washington Agricultural College is better known as Washington State University. The name Lake Bryan was proposed by US Representative Catherine May of Washington. The name was made official in December 1970.
Honk if you love fish!
All four dams on the lower Snake River were built with multiple fish passage systems. The Walla Walla District included fish ladders for adult salmon and steelhead migrating upstream and systems to help juveniles travel downstream on their way to the ocean. The construction of Little Goose led to the beginning of another fish passage system: juvenile fish transport.
In 1973, fish screens were added at Little Goose as an experimental fish passage tool. The screens diverted juvenile salmon away from the powerhouse, sending them along a chute to a collection area. Once there, the young fish were tagged and loaded into tank trucks for transport to a drop-off point in the Columbia River near Portland, Oregon.
This transport system was started to provide juvenile salmon with a safe and speedy method to reach the ocean. In 1973, over 1.75 million juveniles were diverted by the screens and collected. 425,000 of these were transported downstream by truck. The rest were returned to the river.
In 1977, after Lower Granite Lock and Dam was built, USACE began transporting juvenile fish via barge. Today, there is a fleet of eight barges and five specially made transport trucks and trailers. These barges and trucks are loaded at Lower Granite and Little Goose and then carry the juvenile fish downriver to be released below Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River.
Between 2011 and 2020, an average of 3.2 million juvenile salmon and steelhead were collected at Little Goose each year. Approximately 2.4 million of these were transported downriver each year.
Transportation helps juveniles avoid potential predators and other hazards. Research has shown that transporting juvenile fish increases survival and can provide a higher rate of returning adults.
The (wing)span of the river
Until Lyons Ferry Bridge was constructed in 1968, Central Ferry Bridge was the only highway that crossed the lower Snake River.
Even today, there are very few roads allowing access to Little Goose Lock and Dam and Lake Bryan. The only paved road to Little Goose is on the south shore, from Starbuck, Washington. Most access routes are winding rural roads, providing access to only a small portion of the lake.
When planning the construction of Little Goose Lock and Dam, it became clear that Central Ferry Bridge would need to be relocated. Once the Little Goose reservoir was raised, the current bridge would be flooded.
To minimize impacts to the existing highway, the new bridge was built 100 feet upstream of the existing bridge. The new bridge was 2,200 feet long and much taller than the existing bridge, to allow clearance for barges traveling up and down stream.
Today, both the Central Ferry and Lyons Ferry bridges are major crossing points along the lower Snake River. And, once constructed, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite became crossing points as well.
Public dam crossings are allowed at Lower Monumental and Little Goose dams once an hour, on the half-hour, from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday. Crossings are allowed at Lower Granite Dam every day from 7 a.m. through 5 p.m.. Crossings are not allowed on federal holidays.
Waiting to take flight
Little Goose was completed in 1970, though additional work would be done over the next several years. The most notable of these additions was the placement of three more turbine units, filling out the powerhouse. These units were completed in 1978.
However, despite all that the construction of Little Goose achieved, there would be no dedication ceremony. Work had already begun on Lower Granite Lock and Dam, and all eyes were moving to that project. The competition of Lower Granite would be the completion of the navigation channel from the Pacific Ocean to Lewiston, Idaho, the furthest inland seaport on the West Coast.
Little Goose is now 53 years old, and the Walla Walla District will celebrate its 75th Anniversary on November 1, 2023. The district continues to serve as a steward of water resources for the Snake River Basin and the nation.