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Keeping Bones, Cultural Artifacts Safe In Central Washington Proving Costly

The drawdown of water behind the cracked Wanapum Dam in central Washington is exposing dozens of human gravesites and hundreds of Native American cultural artifacts. Grant County officials are working overtime to protect these sensitive sites, but that work isn’t cheap.

Grant County utility district says it’s spending about $600,000 per month protecting 80 miles of Columbia River shore.

Sheriff's deputies, Grant County employees and state Department of Fish and Wildlife officers are patrolling the riverbanks to keep gawkers and illegal looters away. At the same time, a team of 25 archaeologists is finding and cataloging sites along the river shore.

Chuck Berrie with Grant County utility district says the area has a high density of ancient human remains.

“We know of over 20 cemeteries now along that stretch of the river. And there is a lot of people that just have no idea it’s illegal; looting — it’s a big deal,” Berrie said.

Utility district officials hope to know the root cause of the dam’s crack around June. By then, protecting the shoreline and cultural resources could rack up to more than $2 million. Officials say it’s not yet clear whether they’ll raise power rates to cover this expense.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.