Regional News

Secretary Bernhardt Renames Third Power Plant at Grand Coulee After Father-Son Hydropower Pioneers

Aug 14, 2020

On August 12,  U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced the Third Power Plant at Grand Coulee Dam would be renamed as the “Nathaniel ‘Nat’ Washington Power Plant,” in honor of the father-son duo who were instrumental in the conception, construction and implementation of operations at the dam. 

The announcement was made during a virtual roundtable event hosted by Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) and comes on the heels of Secretary Bernhardt’s visit to the dam in July. The virtual event today highlighted the contributions of Nathaniel “Nat” Washington Sr. and Jr. and the benefits of Grand Coulee Dam to the Pacific Northwest region. Interior Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Dr. Tim Petty and Bureau of Reclamation Regional Director Lorri Gray were joined by Washington State Senator Judy Warnick, Washington State Representatives Tom Dent and Alex Ybarra, Colville Business Council Chairman Rodney Cawston, and Mike Scellick, a community advocate and local historian. 

“Grand Coulee Dam is responsible for transforming our region from an arid desert to one of the most productive agricultural regions in the country, and it provides the lifeblood of the Pacific Northwest,” said Rep. Newhouse. “We know that our way-of-life would not have been possible without the tireless advocacy and service of Nat Washington and his son, Nat Washington Jr. Until now, their story has been largely untold. Thank you, Secretary Bernhardt, Assistant Secretary Petty, and Director Gray for listening to local voices and taking action to finally give these local pioneers of hydropower the recognition they deserve.”  


“This naming is fitting since the Washington family was an early supporter of hydropower and advocated for infrastructure investment. Their efforts helped put thousands to work, and their infrastructure legacy continues to meet the needs of current and future generations through the largest hydropower producing structure in North America,” said Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt.  


“We have long recognized the important role Grand Coulee Dam plays in creating hundreds of jobs for local communities, providing important irrigation for the regional agriculture industry, and supplying the Pacific Northwest with flood control and clean, affordable hydropower,” said Interior Assistant Secretary of Water & Science Dr. Timothy Petty. “I appreciate the opportunity to also recognize the contributions of Nat Washington Sr. and Jr. to both the conception of a hydropower structure along the Columbia River and the implementation and construction of Grand Coulee.” 


“The Washington’s vision and advocacy extended beyond hydropower development in the Columbia Basin,” said Reclamation’s Columbia-Pacific Northwest Regional Director Lorri Gray.  “Their influence also helped implement the Columbia Basin Project, which supplies irrigation water to 10,000 farmers on an estimated 680 thousand acres of farmland in the Columbia River Basin.”   

Click here to watch the virtual roundtable announcement. 

On July 24, 2019, Rep. Newhouse introduced H.R. 3937, a bill to rename the Grand Coulee Dam Third Power Plant as the “Nathaniel ‘Nat’ Washington Power Plant.”  

Nearly one year later, Secretary Bernhardt visited Grand Coulee Dam and learned of the Washington’s story. Secretary Bernhardt, Rep. Newhouse, and Director Gray toured the dam, including the Third Power Plant. Secretary Bernhardt witnessed the operations firsthand and heard of the countless benefits the dam offers local communities – from clean and renewable energy to irrigation and flood control.



Nathaniel “Nat” Washington, Sr., a descendant of President George Washington’s family, left his home in Virginia and established a homestead along the Columbia River in 1908. Shortly after arriving in Washington, Nat Sr. was elected as Grant County Prosecutor and later the first president of the Columbia River Dam, Irrigation, and Power District. In this role, Nat Sr. played a key role in the conception of, and securing approval for, the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam. He fell victim to the power of the Columbia River when he was swept away in the current, losing his life while attempting to save his brother James from drowning. 

Nat Jr. shared his father’s passion for public service and after earning his law degree from the University of Washington, served as Grant County prosecutor. He went on to serve in the Washington State Legislature for 30 years. Nat Jr. was instrumental in the development of several hydropower projects across the region, as well as the Columbia Basin Project, which is one of the largest water reclamation projects in the United States and provides nearly $2 billion in economic benefits to the region each year. 

When the Third Power Plant was completed in 1980, Grand Coulee Dam became the largest hydropower generating complex in the world. With a generating capacity of 6,809-megawatts supplying up to 21 billion kilowatt hours of electricity, Grand Coulee is the largest power generating complex in the United States. Nat, Jr. continued to advocate for hydropower and secured funding for the building of Priest Rapids and Wampum dams.  


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