Seli’š Ksanka Qlispe’ Dam: A Marvel of Hydroelectric Power
The Seli’š Ksanka Qlispe’ Dam, colloquially known as the SKQ Dam, is a monumental structure of concrete gravity-arch design that stands at the 72nd river mile of the Flathead River. Originally constructed in 1938, the dam serves multiple purposes, including hydroelectric power generation, irrigation, and recreational activities.
Location and Geographical Significance
Located within the territory of the Flathead Indian Reservation in Lake County, Montana, the dam has a significant impact on the region’s geography. It has magnified the size of Flathead Lake that is close to Polson, Montana, by raising its level.
Construction and Design
Construction of the dam began in 1930 under the guidance of the Montana Power Company. The dam is an impressive 205 ft (62 m) in height and spans a length of 751 ft (229 m). It has the capacity to contain 1,217,000 acre⋅ft (1.501 km3) of water.
The Great Depression and the Dam
Work on the dam was temporarily halted due to the economic crisis of the Great Depression. However, with financial assistance from the federal government, the project was resumed in 1936 and completed two years later.
Hydroelectric Power Generation
The dam’s primary purpose is to harness the power of the Flathead River for generating electricity. The hydroelectric power plant at the dam consists of three units, each receiving water from a separate penstock located 865 feet (264 m) upstream.
Recreational and Irrigation Uses
Not only does the dam generate electricity, but it also regulates the lake’s level for irrigation and recreational purposes. The dam has thus contributed significantly to the local economy by boosting recreational activities and facilitating agriculture.
Ownership and Operation
The dam was jointly operated by NorthWestern Energy and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. However, in 2015, the Tribes completed the purchase of the dam, making it a symbol of tribal self-determination.
Following the acquisition, the Tribal Council announced a name change for the dam during their celebration of the event. The dam is now named Seli’š Ksanka Qlispe’ Dam, which reflects the confederation of the three tribes.
Hiking Around the Dam
Aside from its practical uses, the dam also offers scenic beauty to hikers. A trail around the dam provides a panoramic view of the Flathead Lake and the surrounding landscape. However, visitors are advised to take precautions due to the steepness of the trail.
With an installed capacity of 208 MW, the dam powers about 147,000 homes and generates more than $9 million in annual revenue for the tribes.
The Dam in Popular Culture
The construction of the dam is the central theme of the novel “Wind from an Enemy Sky” by D’Arcy McNickle.
The Future of the Dam
The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and their energy company, Energy Keepers, Inc., are committed to maintaining and improving the dam for the benefit of the community and the environment.
The Seli’š Ksanka Qlispe’ Dam is a testament to the power of human ingenuity and resilience. Despite the challenges of the Great Depression, the dam was constructed and continues to serve the community in multiple ways. Moreover, the dam symbolizes the strength and determination of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, who now own and operate this significant structure.
“The dam is more than just a source of hydroelectric power. It’s a symbol of tribal self-determination and economic independence.” – Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes