Condit Dam (White Salmon River WA) Removal Agreement

Posted: 10/26/1999
by John Gangemi

On September 22, 1999 PacifiCorp signed an agreement to remove Condit Dam on the White Salmon River in Southwest Washington State. The culmination of two years of negotiations between state and federal agencies, American Whitewater, and 13 other environmental groups. The agreement calls for removal of the 125-foot-tall concrete dam that since 1913 has diverted water from the natural channel obstructing downstream navigation and blocking upstream fish passage.

The White Salmon River is well recognized in the paddling community for its challenging whitewater available year round. Jeff and Tonya Bennett (A Guide to the Whitewater Rivers of Washington) describe four sections on the White Salmon comprising 25 miles of Class IV and V whitewater. The famed Green Truss run is described as a "proving ground for many Class V paddlers; great vertical!" The section below Condit Dam is not even mentioned in the Bennett's guidebook because the 125-foot-tall dam, coupled with steep canyon walls downstream, effectively restricted access and thus boating opportunities on this three-mile stretch to the Columbia River. Dam removal will allow paddlers to enjoy this scenic Class III float to the Columbia. Furthermore, Condit Dam inundated an additional four miles of the White Salmon River under Northwestern Lake. There is no telling what rapids are waiting to be reborn when the dam is removed. Sum total, dam removal equates to 7 additional miles of whitewater available year round on the White Salmon River.

This voluntary agreement signifies an important step in restoring fisheries and recreational opportunities on the White Salmon River," said John Gangemi, American Whitewater Conservation Director. "More importantly, this agreement serves as a model for other rivers where dam removal is being considered. After credible scientific study the stakeholders and utility collectively came to the conclusion that dam removal was the best restoration alternative for the White Salmon River. Furthermore, this agreement reinforces the financial and societal obligation of utilities to remove dams they have constructed and generated profits."

American Whitewater recognized early on that the river might benefit immensely if Condit Dam were removed. In 1989, when the process first started, dam removal was not a concept embraced by many of the stakeholders. As early as 1992, American Whitewater urged FERC to consider dam removal, "As this intervention proceeds, one of the questions considered will be the balancing of power generation against the benefits of restoring the White Salmon to its historic free-flowing condition." American Whitewater recognized that dam removal and it's associated recreational and fishery benefits far outweighed the power generation value from the project.

The settlement discussions focusing on dam removal were largely the result of the outcome from the regulatory relicensing process. In October 1996, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the federal agency overseeing licensing of private hydropower dams, issued a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) outlining the environmental mitigation and enhancement measures necessary to ensure adequate resource protection in a new 30 year license for Condit. The FEIS imposed $30 million of license conditions primarily consisting of construction of fish ladders and screens. PacifiCorp determined that these new requirements would make the project uneconomic to operate over the life of the 30-year license. In January 1997, PacifiCorp petitioned FERC to halt the licensing proceedings for Condit and initiated settlement discussions with the intervenors in the licensing process.

The principal goal for the negotiations was to find a middle path acceptable to all parties. The resulting agreement allows PacifiCorp to continue generating power for an additional seven years without the costly FERC mandated requirements. During this period, funds generated by the project operations will go toward dam removal, engineering, permitting, a fisheries enhancement fund and a fund to enhance a traditional Indian fishing site at the mouth of the White Salmon River. The overall costs will not exceed $17.15 million. For all parties, this agreement gives strong assurance about dam-removal responsibilities and costs at Condit. Without the agreement, PacifiCorp customers and shareholders would have faced making continued investments in an uneconomic project while the environmental community would have faced uncertainty in the future regarding parties ultimately responsible for funding and completing dam removal.

Katherine Ransel, spokesperson for American Rivers and legal counsel for the 13 other conservation groups, commended PacifiCorp for taking a business-like approach to resolving this case. "The agreement is a good result for the company's customers because it is based on a sound financial plan and avoids protracted litigation, and is clearly the best result for the White Salmon River." In addition to American Whitewater and American Rivers, other environmental organizations signing the agreement were the Columbia Gorge Audubon Society, Columbia Gorge Coalition, Columbia River United, Federation of Fly Fishers, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, Friends of the Earth, the Mountaineers, Rivers Council of Washington, The Sierra Club, Trout Unlimited, Washington Trout, and the Washington Wilderness Coalition.

During the fall of 2006, a large hole will be drilled in the base of the dam, and through it the reservoir will be drained fairly rapidly. Most of the sediment will be flushed when the dam is breached. The dam will then be taken down in pieces, and once again this federally designated wild and scenic river will be completely free flowing for its 43-mile length from the flanks of Mt. Adams to the confluence with the Columbia River.

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.