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Removing the White Salmon’s 98-Year Old Condit Dam Marks the Return of Free Flowing Waters for Protected Fish

Fall 2011 

First Elwha, now Condit. This October the region moved forward with a plan to restore the White Salmon watershed to its natural state by removing Condit Dam on the White Salmon River, a tributary that flows through south-central Washington and into the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area near Hood River, Oregon. The removal of Condit Dam is one of the largest dam breaching projects in the country, second only to the removal of the Elwha River dams on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State.

For nearly a century now, Condit Dam has harnessed the energy of the White Salmon River. It originally powered the Crown Columbia Paper Company but more recently supplied electricity to 7,000 local homes. The Northwestern Electric Company completed its construction of the 125-foot structure in 1913, limiting the once vibrant runs of salmon and steelhead to a three-mile stretch of downstream habitat and preventing them from reaching their historic habitat above the dam. Today, the runs have declined so significantly that Tule fall Chinook salmon, steelhead, and bull trout are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

In 1996, PacifiCorp—the owner and operator of the dam—was directed by NOAA Fisheries to provide adequate fish passage for threatened salmon and steelhead as part of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) relicensing process. This required extensive modifications to the existing facility and the company found it most cost effective to pursue decommissioning and removal. Working with state and federal agencies, the Yakama Nation, local governments, and several environmental groups, PacifiCorp signed a settlement agreement in 1999 to remove the dam and restore the river to its free flowing state. Upon completion, 33 miles of habitat will be reopened to migrating Chinook and steelhead.

On Oct. 26, crews opened a tunnel at the base of the dam, releasing 10,000 cubic-feet-per-second of water into the Columbia River downstream and draining the 92-acre reservoir in approximately six hours. The event sent roughly 1.8 million cubic yards of sediment down the White Salmon River. The sediment flow is expected to disperse in the lower White Salmon and Columbia rivers behind Bonneville Dam, and provide additional gravel for aquatic species like steelhead and fall Chinook salmon. Water will flow through the breached dam until next summer when crews will finish dismantling the structure and by this time next year Condit Dam will be a distant artifact.

As part of ongoing monitoring efforts to evaluate the biological effects of the dam's removal, scientists will evaluate fish passage conditions for all adult fish migrating upstream. These evaluations will occur over the course of decommissioning and until the channels have stabilized. Crews will correct all barriers to fish passage unless the passage barrier is part of the natural geography of the riverbed. Monitoring efforts will also assess turbidity, total suspended solids, and pH levels in both the White Salmon River and the Columbia River.

Through the Whole Watershed Restoration Initiative, the NOAA Restoration Center and Ecotrust are funding the Yakama Nation to perform riparian plantings on three acres of the former Condit Dam reservoir. The funding will also support the Yakama Nation's efforts to reduce the spread of invasive vegetation and it will contribute significantly to the natural revegetation process at the historic site. This active partnership will jump-start efforts to restore habitat along the river and bring salmon, steelhead and bull trout home, giving credence to the river's namesake.

You can view the breaching event via a webcast at: www. pacificorp.com/es/hydro/hl/condit.html

To learn more about the Condit Dam removal please see PacifiCorp's website: http ://www.pacificorp.com/es/hydro/hl/condit.html


Home page: Workers survey the canyon of silt revealed when the 92-acre reservoir was drained; photo by Scott Carlton, NMFS

This page, top right: Aerial view of Condit Dam prior to breaching; photo courtesy of PacifiCorp

Below: Many items came into view as the water drained; from early dam construction materials to these tree stumps; photo by Scott Carlton, NMFS

Long buried stumps behind Condit Dam after removal

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              Page Updated: Tuesday November 08, 2011 01:56 AM  Pacific

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