Power On The Kootenay: The Fred Elwell Collection

Plant #3 construction began in 1926 at South Slocan and the plant was operational by summer 1929. The three turbines produce a total of 75,000 horsepower and the generators produce 51 MW. In 1928, the generators of the Upper Bonnington plant (No.2) were re-wound and re-piled to increase output.

The fourth plant, Corra Linn, named after another waterfall on the Scottish estate of Sir Charles Ross, was completed in 1932. Corra Linn essentially turned Kootenay Lake into a reservoir and allowed WKP&L to control water levels to the other plants. This required permission from the International Joint Commission (IJP) as it would have effects upstream into Idaho. The IJP gave final approval in 1937. The Corra Linn Dam has 3 turbines each producing 19,000 horsepower for a total power production of 51 MW.

WKP&L was tied to its largest customer and its parent company, Cominco. At the outbreak of World War II, Cominco became key to the war effort not only producing lead and zinc but other key commodities including nitric acid and weapons grade ammonium nitrate. As well, starting in 1941 in a top secret building known as “project 9” heavy water for the Manhattan Project was produced and this would be key to the development of the atomic bomb.

The demands of war time required another dam be built on the Kootenay River. Plant #5, the Brilliant Dam, was designed and operated by WKP&L but Cominco would own it and oversee construction. Construction began in April 1942. However, a severe winter in 1943 delayed construction and the dam was not operational until June 1944. The dam initially had two Francis turbines. Two more were added later. The plant produced 129 MW.

Brilliant dam was sold in 1996 to the Columbia Power Corporation a subsidiary of the Columbia Basin Trust. From 2000 to 2002, the dam turbines were upgraded increasing its output to 148 MW. The Brilliant Expansion project took place from 2003 to 2007. A second powerhouse was built downstream and a single Kaplan turbine produces an additional 120 MW.

Bonnington Falls powerhouse construction
Railway tracks alongside the Kootenay River 1906. likely the lower Bonnington plant or WKP&L plant #1.
Don Ohs Collection
Bonnington Falls power house construction 1906 The Rotor room
Don Ohs Collection
Bonnington Falls powerplant construction 1906: Two men standing outside by the transformers
Don Ohs Collection
Bonnington Falls power house construction 1906: large group photo