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Condit Dam Removal Takes Another Step Forward

Posted: 11/16/2010
by Thomas O'Keefe

We have witnessed some positive developments regarding the plan to remove Condit Dam and restore the White Salmon River over the last few weeks, and there are several details that we thought would be of interest to the whitewater boating community. After years of delay many may have wondered if this project would really ever move forward but while some key steps remain, major regulatory and political hurdles have been cleared that should result in some significant movement on this project.

State Approval Now Official

On October 12th the Washington Department of Ecology issued the water quality certification under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act--a sometimes cumbersome but necessary review process that was responsible for the last several years of delay. The appeal period has passed and no party is challenging the certification which means the state has formally given the project the green light.

Klickitat and Skamania County Agree to Drop Opposition to Removal

Meanwhile the Counties that have long challenged removal of Condit Dam--at one time threatening to take over the project--reached a formal settlement agreement this past week with dam owner PacifiCorp to no longer oppose dam removal. In reaching this agreement the Counties and PacifiCorp agreed to the following conditions:
- PacifiCorp will complete a bridge stabilization project that involves constructing new drilled shaft piers for the bridge at the head of Northwestern Reservoir. This is necessary because the current bridge piers are designed for the slackwater of a reservoir and not designed to handle the scour associated with a flowing river. This work could have implications for river runners this summer as construction activity at the bridge could affect the ability of paddlers to reach the usual take-out on the reservoir which is downstream of the bridge. We will provide more detail as it becomes available.
- The City of White Salmon waterline that currently crosses the White Salmon at the bottom of the reservoir will be relocated across the bridge.
- Clean fill generated by the removal (i.e. the concrete from the dam) will be deposited along the flowline from the dam to the powerhouse. Any debris that does not qualify as clean fill will go to the county land fill.
- PacifiCorp will pay the counties $675,000
- The water right associated with the hydropower project (Washington Water Right No. 85-21) will be transferred to Klickitat County but the county shall not use the water right to construct a dam or other diversion or impediment to fish passage at the Condit Dam site.
- PacifiCorp will continue to own and operate Northwestern Park at the head of the reservoir currently used by river runners as a take-out. In the event PacifiCorp elects to sell or transfer ownership of the park a 10-year easement (starting on the date the sale or transfer is closed) for public access shall be a condition of sale or transfer.

Final Step--Federal Issuance of Removal Order

The next significant step is for FERC to review the whole package and issue a final decommissioning order. They have already completed their environmental review but without the water quality certification and formal approval from the state to move forward they could not act on issuing the final order. It is our hope that FERC will be able to execute this quickly (in the next few months) in time to issue contracts for removal of the dam which is currently scheduled for October of 2011. If FERC delays their review into the spring then it is likely that the removal would need to be delayed until October 2012--the month of October is key given the goal of minimizing impacts to fishery resources.

Pulling the Plug

The proposed method for dam removal involves drilling and blasting a 12-foot by 18-foot drain tunnel in the base of the dam to within a few feet of the dam’s face. During the month of October, sediment and debris immediately upstream from the dam will be cleared to form a pathway and then the remainder of the tunnel will be blasted to drain the reservoir and flush impounded sediments out of the reservoir as rapidly as possible. Following the final tunnel blast, the drain tunnel will discharge at a rate of 10,000 cubic feet-per-second--approximately 25 percent of the estimated peak discharge during the February 1996 flood event on the White Salmon River. This will drain the reservoir in approximately six hours. Rapid draining of the reservoir is expected to mobilize much of the estimated 2.3-million cubic yards of sediment that have accumulated behind the dam since its construction. Once the reservoir is drained the work of dam removal and site restoration will begin. During this time public access to Northwestern Park will be minimal and only for boating takeout purposes. A temporary boat launch for white water rafts and kayaks may be installed in the park that extends to the new waterline, thus avoiding the need to install a new boat launch at a different site upstream from the park. The feasibility of installing the temporary boat launch is partially dependent upon river channel conditions and the amount of sediment that will need to be removed after the reservoir is drawn down, and the time required to complete these activities. The goal is to keep Northwestern Park partially accessible due to its roadway proximity and requirement to allow for boaters to safely exit the river prior to encountering the deconstruction site. Once deconstruction of the dam is complete and sediment has stabilized we all look forward to celebrating the opportunity to paddle another restored river in the Columbia Gorge. American Whitewater continues to be an engaged stakeholder and party to the settlement representing the voice of paddlers and all who enjoy free-flowing rivers.

You can learn more about this project by visiting the PacifiCorp Condit page which has all the various plans describing the details of decommissioning, site restoration, and future recreational amenities. The Department of Ecology Condit page also has additional information.

Thomas O'Keefe
3537 NE 87th St.
Seattle, WA 98115
Phone: 425-417-9012



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