After nearly a century, Washington's White Salmon River in south central Washington is flowing freely again! Earlier today, a hole was blasted in the base of Condit Dam, and its reservoir - Northwestern Lake - began to pour through it. The reservoir drained in about an hour.
It's always exciting to see a river come back to life, and with over 40,000 river runners each year, the White Salmon is already one of the most popular whitewater runs in the Pacific Northwest. “New and improved recreational opportunities have emerged on other rivers that have been restored through dam removal,” says American Whitewater’s Pacific Northwest Stewardship Director, Thomas O’Keefe. “The removal of Condit, however, is the first major removal on a river as popular as the White Salmon, and we’re excited to see how the river’s ecosystem will respond and recreation opportunities will expand.”
While we're all excited that the deconstruction process has begun and are anxious to see the revived river, we'll all have to wait just a bit longer. PacifiCorp will continue removal activities through August 2012. The area around Condit is an active (de)construction site and will remain closed to the public until it is safe. American Whitewater encourages everyone to respect the closures and stay out of the area until the official opening of the river.
At 125 feet high and 471 feet long, Condit is the 2nd tallest dam to be removed in the country. Crews began drilling a tunnel at the 90 foot base of the dam in August and blasted through the remaining tunnel today. While almost 1,000 dams have come down throughout the U.S., this is the first removal of this kind, and will expand our knowledge of dam removal and river restoration. Dismantling the rest of the dam will begin next spring, and is expected to be complete by the end of August 2012.
Condit was built without fish ladders in 1913, and updating the dam to today's environmental standards would have been much costlier than removal. Today's blast opened up 33 miles of critical coldwater habitat for steelhead and 15 miles of habitat for salmon. Earlier this fall, fish biologists moved more than 500 salmon above the dam to allow them to spawn in new habitat. The juveniles from these eggs will descend the White Salmon unimpeded by the dam. Eventually, 5 miles of new recreational opportunities will also emerge. Whitewater enthusiasts are excited to see the river that’s been under the reservoir, and experience the White Salmon Narrows, which has been dewatered downstream of the dam. Come August 2012, we'll have our chance.
As a party to the 1999 settlement agreement for removal, American Whitewater has played a leadership role in representing the interests of the whitewater recreation community in the effort to remove Condit Dam. Many AW staff and supporters are there today, and we join you in celebrating freeing another river!