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Homeowners concerned about erosion, dry wells after dam breach

This still image taken from video, courtesy of Andy Maser Films, shows the canyon that was formed above Condit Dam after it was breached.

WHITE SALMON RIVER, Wash. - Two weeks after the Condit Dam was blown open, homeowners along the White Salmon River have concerns about erosion and their water wells.

Before the 127-foot dam was breached, a dock floated on Northwestern Lake. Now it sits upon dry ground, and the lake has been replaced with a muddy canyon, 80 feet deep in some areas.

The ground continues to move every day on the old lake bed, and there are fears the earth below that dock could fall into the chasm.

In addition to losing their lake, homeowners say they have also lost water to their houses.

PacifiCorp has about three dozen leases to homeowners where the lake once sat behind the dam. There are about a dozen private homes and many water wells are drying up now that the lake is gone.

While residents can't do anything about losing the lake, they want the power company to help with the wells.

"If they just said they could add the wells in their plan, and they could help us pay for it, or pay for the whole thing, that would be great," said Diane Swick who lives on the Upper White Salmon River.

Tom Gauntt, a spokesman for PacifiCorp, said how much the company will help the homeowners is still being decided.

"They're lessees, so it is ultimately the company’s property," he said.

But lease holders and private property owners said the last word they got from PacifiCorp is that the company won't pay a penny.

Homeowners said they hope PacifiCorp does reconsider and pays for some or all of the new water wells.

Also on Thursday, a raft team from White Salmon floated the river to assess the damage from the dam breaching.

River guide Mark Zoller led the scouting mission a week ago. His team shot video and scientists who traveled with them did the damage assessment. But PacifiCorp gathered up all video and told its scientists not to talk to reporters.

In response to a reporter's question about why the video was withheld, Gauntt said, "Well, that's tape the company needs to look at."

Time-lapsed video shows the hundred years of silt and sediment being purged from the lake behind the dam. The earth in the old lake bed fell away at an alarming rate.

"I don't think it will ever wash this back out like it was," said Daryl Kandler who lives on the Lower White Salmon and fishes it.

He said the environmental damage from the water release was more than the owners of the dam – PacifiCorp – expected.

"Every time it rains that stuff is going to keep sluffing in," Kandler said. "I don't know when they are going to come in. They say they were going to slope the banks and make it safe but every time it rains more silt is going to keep coming down."

Gauntt, PacifiCorp's spokesman, said the erosion and sediment in the lower river was expected and Mother Nature will eventually take care of it.

"If there is a big rain, a big amount is going to come down and that's part of the whole natural process, he said.

"The mud keeps piling up everywhere," Kandler said. "The river keeps getting wider and shallower."

Environmental groups said they still believe the White Salmon, in the long run, will be healthier with the dam gone. But many homeowners said they will believe that when they see it.

PacifiCorp is still warning floaters to stay off the Lower White Salmon within three miles of the old dam and not go anywhere on the old lake bed where large amounts of earth continue to sluff off daily.
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              Page Updated: Sunday November 13, 2011 02:20 AM  Pacific

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