Some cabin owners near Northwestern Lake, the
former reservoir on the White Salmon River, have seen their
wells run dry since the breaching of Condit Dam in late
PacifiCorp, the dam’s owner, became aware of
the problem over the past week, said Tom Gauntt, spokesman
for the Portland utility. After consulting with cabin
owners, the company has agreed to assist them.
“We’re going to help them get to their
water,” Gauntt said.
A total of 53 cabin owners lease land from
PacifiCorp along the river or fronting the former
Northwestern Lake, which drained within a couple of weeks
after the dam’s breaching. Pacificorp breached, and will
dismantle, the dam because it was cheaper to do so than to
try to restore passage for wild fish.
The White Salmon, now a swift-moving river,
has shifted east, exposing an expanse of mud and sediment
for the first time in 98 years.
The cabins are served by a Class B water
system. As many as seven houses draw water from a single
well. In all, the community is served by 11 registered
wells, Gauntt said, but there may be older, unregistered
The 92-acre reservoir, owned by PacifiCorp,
kept the water table relatively stable, but when it drained,
the water table dropped, leaving some pumps — and docks —
high and dry.
Not all the wells are dry, Gauntt said.
“There’s dry, and then there’s adequate water supply.” The
pumps, like the cabins, belong to the homeowners, but the
utility will step up, he said, “recognizing there will be
different solutions for the different wells.” Some wells may
need to be replaced, he said, and individual cabin owners
will have to agree on the fixes for shared wells.
Gauntt said it’s too soon to estimate how
much it will cost to restore water to cabin owners.
“It will be something that is equitable and
helps them along the way,” he said.
Ken and Clara Parker own a riverfront cabin
but don’t live on the river year-round. They take water for
bathing and washing dishes directly from the river. Although
they had to buy a new pump after the dam breaching, “So far,
we haven’t had any problems,” Clara Parker said.
Recent heavy rains have helped to flush
sediment from the reservoir to the river’s mouth. Flows
increased by 50 percent as a result of the intense Nov. 22
storm that dropped two inches of rain on Vancouver.
Some cabin owners are concerned about erosion
of the old lake bed and the carving of steep canyons as the
sediment continues to move downstream.
It’s hard to know how much sediment has
moved, Gauntt said.
“The telling thing will be in a couple of
weeks,” when contractors conduct special aerial surveys that
will reveal the topography of the river and show how it has
changed, he said. The surveyors will use Lidar equipment,
which is an acronym for Light Detection and Ranging.
“The bottom of the river keeps deepening,”
Gauntt said. “It’s cutting through all those years of
sediment and it will eventually reach something it can’t cut
through as easily.” Eventually, he said, the delta at the
mouth of the White Salmon “is where the heaviest stuff is
going to land.”
The Parkers’ lot is protected from erosion —
so far — by a retaining wall, but Clara Parker worries about
how the fast-changing river channel will affect them and
their neighbors in the months to come.
“It’s too soon to tell,” she said. “The lake
has not been gone long enough.”
“We’ve been up here 45 years,” she added.
“It’s the saddest thing we’ve ever seen happen.
“People used to fish off their docks. Now
they can’t go fishing.”