Excerpt from A History of the Walla Walla District, U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1948-1970. pp. 170-172
THE TRANSITION OF POWER
Before leaving the work at the dam it might be well to record the evolution of man's thinking and planning for hydroelectric power in the Pacific Northwest. The development of the John Day power picture may be fairly typical of that transition of thought. The common fault of making ''too small plans,'' of which COL William Whipple was critical as District Engineer, is not necessarily a large factor in this process. Rather, the large capital cost of generating capability, fabrication expertise, and availability of a ready market seem to be prime items in an industry that has experienced phenomenal reorientation of concepts in generation, transmission, and use. Studies for Columbia River development in l932 found that a 100-foot-high dam at John Day site could generate about one million kilowatts of power, but there was no market and, hence, no justification. That study opted for 27 generating units of 40,000 kw each, which were large by standards of those days. In comparison, the Puget Sound Power and Light Company was building Rock Island Dam at that time and the initial installation was two units of 15,000 kw each. Inland Power, with a project on Lewis River to serve Portland, installed one unit of 45,000 kw. Bonneville, which was started as a depression work project soon after, had original plans to install only two units of 143,000 kw each, with the feeling that the project would flood the power market.
By the time the 1948 ''308'' Report review was being prepared, and the expansion of the region as a result of the war experience had taken place, more justification for the John Day project was envisioned and it was authorized in 1950, providing for 114 units of 85,000-kw capacity. This installation would still provide only 1,200,000 kw of total generation, about the same as the 1932 report estimated, since the concept was still to provide for prime power or ''base load'' with high load factor guarantees. This concept held to some extent through the preparation of the 1948 review report which modified the John Day storage concept and anticipated an installation of 12 units initially at a unit capacity of 108,700 kw for a total of 1,305,000 kw. The ultimate installation was foreseen as 20 units and a total capacity of 2,1714,000 kw, recognizing the future need for more peaking capacity with a resultant lower load factor for the plant.
The 1960 annual report cites subsequent power studies then under review which; If implemented, would provide for ''...an initial installation of not less than eight units and an ultimate installation of 20 units. The nameplate rating of each unit has been increased from
108,700 kilowatts to 135,000 kilowatts. In accordance with inclusion of the completed power studies, the initial power installation will consist of at least eight units at 135,000 kilowatts each - a total of 1,080,000 kilowatts.'' The increase in size of units was the result of more sophisticated design criteria, model studies, and experience. By 1962 the initial number of units had increased to ten. A review in 1964 found the need for more generation in the immediate future, particularly for power peaking purposes and the California power intertie. That study settled upon 16 units for the initial installation at John Day, which is the current program under construction. By mid-1970 twelve units were in place and working, with the additional four on a firm schedule. With their completion in 1972 the project will have the distinction of containing the greatest installed generating capacity (2,160,000 kw) of any existing powerplant in the United States. The remaining four units are tentatively scheduled for much later this century. To summarize, the changing concepts of power demand and generation for a project of essentially the same hydraulic head has, over the years, dictated the following design changes.
1932 --- 1,080,000 kw capacity 1958 --- 2,174,000 kw capacity
1948 --- 1,105,000 kw capacity 1962 --- 2,700 kw capacity
In anticipation of the creation of a 77-mile-long reservoir in a very picturesque, long, narrow river canyon with a surface area of some 52,000 acres, the naming of the reservoir was a popular subject. Even before construction was initiated in 1958 familiar local names were being presented by groups and communities with names of pioneers, historic names, and Indian names on the list. The official name is usually the result of action, both by the Congress and the U.S. Board of Geographic Names. For the John Day reservoir the decision in 1958 was that it would be called Lake Umatilla after the Indian tribe of that name who fished and hunted in the area. As a byproduct, the people of the town of Umatilla were happy since they had felt for some time that McNary Dam was rightfully Umatilla Dam because of its location at the long-identified Umatilla rapids. A lake in their front yard with their name on it was some compensation.
With the sophistication of operating procedures, remote control, computer introduction, and extensive integrating of power distribution systems, the responsibilities for individual project operations have progressed through a series of changes. Some of this evolution is most evident in the operation of the lower Snake River system and is discussed there. As a result of this development in integrated operation, a decision was made by the Division Engineer in 1967 that for optimum conditions an integral unit of The Dalles and John Day Dams was best. Accordingly, after considerable discussions and evaluation of alternates the operation of all facets of the John Day Dam and reservoir was allotted to the Portland District. Subsequent inter-District agreement divided the operation of the reservoir area between Portland and Walla Wal la because of natural geographic conditions.