Locks Which Grant Access



Over the past few days, I’ve highlighted numerous challenges with borders. Let’s take another look. What if borders opened access and provided opportunities? Some friends and I in Seattle had the opportunity to see the Ballard Locks, the border between Puget Sound and Lake Washington. Let’s take a look at the geography:

Lake Washington is a freshwater body to the east of downtown Seattle. It provides waterfront access to many communities around the Seattle Metro area. To the west of Seattle, Puget Sound is a saltwater entity that ultimately leads out to the Pacific Ocean. To travel from Puget Sound to Lake Washington, all boats must enter a lock that lifts the boat from saltwater Puget Sound to freshwater Lake Washington.

As kids, many of us have built small dams or other means to block water flow. What impressed me most about these locks is how simple the technology is to do some pretty incredible things at a massive scale. At its heart, a lock is simply to doors that block water flow and valves that raise and lower water between the doors.

Each boat travels into a holding tank and the water raises or lowers depending on the direction of travel.

Let’s take a look at the second scenario. A boat wants to travel from Puget Sound to Lake Washington.

  • The lower doors of the lock open
  • Boats travel into the lock (picture 1)
  • Each boat secures to the moveable sidewalls of the lock (picture 2)
  • The lower doors close
  • Water flows from Lake Washington into the lock, raising the boats level to Lake Washington (picture 3)
  • The upper doors of the lock open
  • Boats travel into Lake Washington (picture 4)

Picture 5 is a view of the second lock which is almost quadruple the size of the first lock!

The doors of the lock are huge and while secure, small amounts of water flow out between them stopped. The upwelling of water from the walk out to Puget Sound is significant. This is extremely simple technology that is operating at a massive scale to move tons of boats between Puget Sound and Lake Washington.

Like many things motor + marine a light petroleum sheen could be seen across the top of the water 🥲

What about the fish?

Alongside the locks is a salmon ladder so the fish can also move between Puget Sound and Lake Washington. Salmon live most of their life in saltwater but go to the headwaters of local rivers and streams to spawn. The young salmon then make their way down to the saltwater traveling through this infrastructure. Without the salmon ladder, the entire population east of the lock would perish.


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