How a Hydro Project Owner Helps Students Experience the Columbia River

Back to All

How a Hydro Project Owner Helps Students Experience the Columbia River


February 6, 2023


Jeremy Chase-Israel, Content Development Specialist, NHA


How a Hydro Project Owner Helps Students Experience the Columbia River

NHA thanks our sponsors:

Waterpower Week

The Rocky Reach Discovery Center in Wenatchee, Washington, is educating tens of thousands of visitors each year about the importance of hydropower.

Chelan County Public Utility District (PUD), who own and operate the Rock Reach Dam and the Discovery Center, have found a way to attract people of all ages to learn about renewable, reliable, affordable hydropower, as well as the benefits of public power.

With a bevy of community events, exciting exhibits, and a focus on hydropower education, the Rocky Reach Discovery Center works towards inspiring young minds and growing the future hydropower workforce.

By learning how one utility invested in engagement, hydropower owners and operators looking to develop stronger community relationships should borrow lessons from Chelan County PUD’s Rocky Reach Discovery Center.


Located on the Columbia River, the Rocky Reach Dam is an engineering marvel. Construction began on the 125-foot-tall dam in 1956 and concluded in 1961. The dam runs 1,695 feet across the Columbia River and has 12 spillway gates. The hydroelectric component of the project features 11 turbine-driven generators with a nameplate capacity of 1,300 MW of electric power.

Rocky Reach Dam was the first dam in the United States to install a juvenile fish bypass system, which assists salmon and steelhead as they journey to the ocean. In addition, Rocky Reach Dam underwent major upgrades in 1995 to add more fish friendly turbines.

In 1962, one year after opening, the dam was complemented with the addition of the Rocky Reach Visitor’s Center, where visitors could learn about the history of the Columbia River, the dam’s importance, and the animal species that call the river home.

In 2019, Chelan County Public Utility District committed $7.7 million to upgrade the Visitor’s Center and Museum of the Columbia. In 2021, the newly remodeled Discovery Center opened as a popular, free destination for hydropower education in the Pacific Northwest.

One of the ways the Discovery Center facilitates hydropower education is via the Foundation for Water and Energy Education’s (FWEE) annual Hydropower STEM Career Academy, which introduces high school students around the region to career pathways in the hydro industry. At the academy, students build hydropower models, tour and learn from plant mechanics and operators, construct and race solar cars, fly their own drone, and much more.

In addition, the annual Summer Science STEM Adventure program invites elementary students to a multi-day immersive and hands-on educational experience, where they learn about hydroelectricity and hydro-related issues.


  • Four floors of stories, games, history, and art – plus big views of the river and the unique landscape of the Columbia River valley
  • 14-foot-tall spiraling fish mobile, which spans two floors, and is made up of over 100 salmon sculptures to represent the different species found in the mid-Columbia River
  • Focus on the Native American history of the Columbia River
  • Expanded viewing windows allow visitors get an eye-to-eye view of salmon and steelhead traveling through the fish ladder
  • Sternwheeler experience, where users control a simulated sternwheeler ship as it navigates around rocks and sandbars
  • Hydropower Know How invites guests to try their hand at generating electricity, using a crank to turn mechanical power (the flow of the river) into power for lights, heat and technology
  • Augmented reality app, which allows users to swim with salmon, view Rocky Reach Dam from the perspective of a drone, and visualize a water molecule’s journey as it travels through a turbine

The Discovery Center also hosts regular school field trips and tours for people of all ages, as well as annual events and programs, such as Kids’ Fest – a diverse, community celebration filled with activities and hands-on experiences related to hydroelectric literacy.

In addition, the Discovery Center is the home to the Salmon Festival, which is a three day educational event that invites guests to discover and appreciate the complexities of the natural world and the significance of salmon to the people of the Pacific Northwest; also, during the autumn season, the center hosts the Fall Harvest Round-up – a trick-or-treat event inviting guests to participate in educational games centered around hydro activities.


Throughout the United States, owners of hydroelectric projects have created centers, museums, models, and displays for people of all ages to learn about history, fish and wildlife, and how hydropower plays an important role in powering the United States. By investing in these resources, owners and operators can demonstrate the importance of hydroelectricity as a means of both powering communities and bringing them closer together.

Consider sharing stories about effective learning centers with NHA for publishing in the “Connect and Learn” section of NHA’s POWERHOUSE media platform; email ideas to: