The prospect of removing Condit Dam on the White Salmon River moved closer to reality today in a
significant ruling from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioning formally ordering the removal
of the dam.
This past October the State of Washington gave their final approval for the project and shortly thereafter the local county governments settled their outstanding issues with dam owner PacifiCorp. With today's ruling federal regulators have now formally cleared the path for removal in October of 2011.
In today's project surrender order Commissioners of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission stated, "We conclude, based on the record of this case, that the benefits of dam removal to anadromous fish, wildlife, and whitewater recreation outweigh the costs associated with the loss of Condit dam and Northwestern Lake." They further stated that these benefits of removal "cannot be achieved if the dam is left in place."
Many partners from the river conservation, recreation, and fishing communities have worked on this project and while some steps remain we are excited to have a real schedule for this project.
"The rivers of the Columbia River Gorge represent some of the nation's most outstanding whitewater resources, and at the heart of the Gorge the White Salmon River is known worldwide for its scenic beauty and high quality whitewater", noted Thomas O'Keefe, American Whitewater's Pacific Northwest Stewardship Director. "Condit Dam was originally constructed a century ago for hydropower and at the time met a local community need. Now we recognize other values of the river and while the dam itself is big, the hydropower project is relatively small especially in light of its major environmental impacts--its time has passed." In 1999 American Whitewater joined a diverse group of stakeholders, including dam owner PacifiCorp, who all agreed that dam removal was the best alternative among those considered for the future of the hydroelectric project.
"While we did not envision a decade-long review of this agreement at the time, the final outstanding issues are quickly being resolved," said O'Keefe. "With final approval by the State Department of Ecology this past fall, a formal settlement with the local county governments last month that addressed their outstanding issues, and final approval from federal regulators, we are ready to remove the dam."
The 125 foot dam, will be one of the largest dams ever removed and we anticipate a high profile event in a dramatic draining of the reservoir. 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 2011 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.
There may be some disruption to recreational access on the stretch of the river that ends at the park on Northwestern Reservoir. This summer PacifiCorp will be rebuilding the bridge at the head of the reservoir that needs new supports designed for a river environment. PacifiCorp has committed to working with the whitewater community in an attempt to identify alternate access sites upstream of the bridge. Once the reservoir is drained they will work to provide a temporary boat access at the park that extends to the new waterline. American Whitewater will continue working with PacifiCorp throughout the process.
Restoration of this river is important for both fish and recreational users. Fed by the springs draining off Mt. Adams, the river is one of the more important tributaries in this reach of the Columbia River with consistent summer flows of cool water that provide year around boating for paddlers and critical cold water habitat for fish trying to escape the heat of summer.