White Salmon Restoration (WA)

Working closely with partner organizations, American Whitewater has successfully orchestrated multiple stewardship projects addressing conservation and public access needs on the White Salmon River in Washington. Federal Wild and Scenic designation has increased, public access points have been established, and Condit Dam was completely removed in 2012, returning the White Salmon to a free-flowing river. American Whitewater’s long term dedication has secured the White Salmon River as a premier habitat for the river’s iconic salmon, as well as a spectacular resource for river enthusiasts nationwide.

Underground aquifers, melting glaciers and steady precipitation provide year-round water for the White Salmon River. Pristine waterfalls cascade out of the canyon walls and tumble into the crystal blue river, capturing the heart of every visitor. “We would often go off on a picnic along the river just to see it bubbling and rushing past,” remarks Phyllis Clausen, former president of Friends of the White Salmon and leader of conservation efforts on the river for decades. “I recognized the power of the river; it was just wonderfully wild.”

:projects:narrows.jpgWhitewater enthusiasts travel to the White Salmon River all year long, enjoying its consistent water levels through the dry days of summer and its easy access during the snowy winter months. As the most popular river in the Columbia River Gorge, the White Salmon is a staple for Pacific Northwest outdoor enthusiasts and a top destination for boaters nationwide. Thanks to the work of American Whitewater, the White Salmon River has developed a strong and committed following with over 40,000 boaters visiting its waters every year.

Phyllis Clausen remembers the proposal for seven dams in 1976 that would have transformed this spectacular river into a series of reservoirs connected by pipes. Together, community members and local supporters began to voice concerns, stating that the White Salmon River belonged to the fish. Others testified in hearings for the river’s historical significance as a salmon run, successfully preventing additional dam construction and creating a foundation of local stewardship efforts. Whitewater paddlers quickly recognized the value of the river as a truly world-class paddling destination.

Removal of Condit Dam (P-2342)

In 1992 we made our original request for a dam removal study (read our request). In our request we wrote that a study was needed to “determine the recreation, fishery, flood damage mitigation, power production and other impacts associated with the removal of impoundments and in returning the White Salmon River to its truest sense of 'run-of-river'.” In 1993, during scoping for the Environmental Impact Statement, we requested “a detailed analysis of the whitewater boating opportunities in the lower White Salmon River that would be reestablished under a dam removal alternative, as well as the economic value associated with those expanded whitewater boating opportunities” (read our request).

American Whitewater joined conservation groups and resource agencies as a signatory to the 1999 Settlement Agreement for the removal of Condit Dam. Over the past several years, we have served in a leadership capacity in guiding this important project through a complex regulatory process. With the dam breached in October 2011, the deconstruction of Condit Dam is a benchmark for national river restoration. The project has opened thirty-three miles of critical cold spawning habitat for steelhead and fifteen miles for salmon, both endangered species. Removing Condit Dam has revealed five miles of restored river that has provided new opportunities for whitewater recreation. After a century, the White Salmon River is once again completely free-flowing from Mt. Adams to the Columbia River.

Since that original request for a dam removal study in 1992, American Whitewater worked over two decades on this high-profile river restoration project. The dramatic draining of the reservoir, taking only an hour, and rapid return of the river was the first of its kind, enhancing our knowledge base on dam removal and river restoration. The White Salmon will continue to serve as a premier example of successful river stewardship endeavors for future generations.

More technical details on the dam removal and key documents filed with federal regulators.

Condit Dam removal blog.

Film of Condit Dam Breach Explosion

Film of Initial Explorations of the Lower Gorge

Wild and Scenic Designation

American Whitewater has represented recreational users on the White Salmon as part of the community effort to gain additional protection for the White Salmon River and keep it free-flowing. The Middle White Salmon, one of the most popular commercially run sections of river in the Pacific Northwest, received federal Wild and Scenic designation in 1986 through the Columbia Gorge Scenic Act. American Whitewater also worked closely with Friends of the White Salmon and American Rivers to designate an additional twenty-two mile stretch near the river’s headwaters in Gifford Pinchot National Forest in 2005. These efforts represent a remarkable achievement for a river that at one time was only valued for its hydropower potential.

Public River Access

American Whitewater helped rally public support for the Trust for Public Land and their efforts to bring a key access point in the town of BZ Corner into public ownership. The eleven-acre parcel is managed by the Forest Service and guarantees future enjoyment of the White Salmon River. Upgrades to the site have included installation of a raft slide to minimize impact and improved restroom facilities for the public. American Whitewater continues to work toward gaining additional access points along the river.

The White Salmon is Officially OPEN!!

posted November 3, 2012
by Megan Hooker
article photo 3

More than two decades after we first investigated the recreational potential of a restored White Salmon River, and a year after a blast of dynamite punched a hole in the base of Condit Dam, the river is now navigable from the headwaters all the way down to the Columbia River! The White Salmon Narrows is a technically challenging new stretch of whitewater that is officially open to paddlers with the skill set to enjoy it safely. Paddlers running this section of river should be solid Class IV boaters who are comfortable running unfamiliar sections of river. 

 

White Salmon River Homecoming Celebration (WA)

posted September 7, 2012
by Thomas O'Keefe
article photo 2

Removal of Condit Dam is nearing completion and we are getting ready to celebrate the moment on Saturday September 29th. Contractors still have equipment in and along the river that will be removed over the next couple weeks and a log jam resulting from the dam breach still needs to be addressed. It's important for paddlers to wait until this work is done and everyone considering this reach needs to understand the hazards associated with the class IV/V entrance drop into the Narrows.


The contacts below include staff and volunteers working on this project. Make sure you are logged in if you wish to join the group.

White Salmon Restoration

Title Name City
Teresa Cronin Details...
Thomas O'Keefe Seattle WA Details...
Lisa Jeidy Portland OR Details...
Amanda Mintz Details...
Brian Vogt Tukwila WA Details...


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Associated Projects

  • White Salmon Restoration (WA)
    American Whitewater has been engaged in a long-term effort to protect and restore one of the Pacific Northwest's most spectacular year-around whitewater rivers.

Associated Rivers

White Salmon [WA]
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White Salmon [WA]
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