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.”
Whitewater 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.
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.
The Condit Hydroelectric Project (P-2342), constructed in 1913, consisted of a dam that diverted flows from 1.1 miles of the White Salmon River and returned it directly to that river. The project works included a dam that impounded the river, creating Northwestern Reservoir, as well as a water conveyance system, a powerhouse, and other facilities. The White Salmon River flows into the Columbia River 3.3 miles below the Condit dam site, while Northwestern Reservoir extended three miles upstream of the dam.
The original federal license for this project expired at the end of 1993, and the project operated under annual licenses through 2011. PacifiCorp filed an application for a new license for the project in December 1991, and FERC staff prepared Draft and Final Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) addressing the relicensing proposal. In October 1999, PacifiCorp filed an application for amendment of license and approval of an offer of settlement that it had reached with various federal and state agencies, tribes, and conservation groups including American Whitewater. The settlement agreement envisioned extending the existing license term to October 1, 2006, then ceasing project operations and commencing removal of the dam and all other project works except the powerhouse, a process expected to take about a year. The settlement also provided that PacifiCorp could request renewal of FERC processing of its relicense application if one of a number of conditions specified in the settlement were not met. FERC determined that this filing was, in effect, an application to surrender the existing license and remove most of the project works.
FERC issued public notice of the October 1999 filing. The Final EIS from the relicense proceeding was incorporated into the surrender proceeding by reference, and FERC staff issued Draft and Final Supplemental EISs addressing the surrender proposal in 2002. In the Final Supplemental EIS, FERC staff recommended surrender of the license and removal of the project facilities in accordance with the surrender proposal, with additional FERC recommendations. Subsequently, PacifiCorp submitted filings extending the intended time for ceasing project operations and commencing project removal, largely on the basis that it had not yet received all necessary approvals, notably issuance of water quality certification from Washington Department of Ecology and final approval of its proposal by FERC. In September 2010, PacifiCorp notified FERC that it expected to begin project removal in October 2011, as long as all required permits and a FERC Surrender Order were obtained on terms consistent with the settlement and in final form by December 31, 2010.
By order issued December 16, 2010 FERC accepted the surrender of PacifiCorp’s license for the Condit Project No. 2342, authorized the removal of most of the project facilities, and dismissed PacifiCorp’s previously filed application for a new license. A technical issue remained with regard to the filing date of the water quality certification with Washington Department of Ecology, but on April 21, 2011 FERC issued an order on rehearing stating that the removal was subject to the conditions submitted by the Washington Department of Ecology under section 401 of the Clean Water Act. On October 26, 2011 the dam was breached following a powerful explosion that blasted a hole in the base of the dam (Watch Video). The reservoir drained in an hour restoring a free-flowing White Salmon River.
- May 2011: Mobilization
- June – September 2011: Water line relocation and bridge protection (access to take-out on Northwestern Reservoir potentially closed)
- August – October 2011: Site layout – setup and clearing staging areas, set up barge in reservoir
- August – September 2011: Construction of access roads including road to spillway slab below dam
- September 2011: Construct drain tunnel at base of the dam
- September – October 2011: Remove spillway gates and tailrace wall
- October 2011: Remove reservoir decks, docks, and log boom, clear sediment and debris upstream of drain tunnel
- October 26, 2011: Remove final drain tunnel plug and drain the reservoir
- October – November 2011: Remove upstream cofferdam
- November 2011: Demolish headworks
- November 2011 – September 2012: Demolish dam
- October 2011 – September 2012 Remove flowline, surge tank, penstocks, and powerline
- February – April 2012 Modify powerhouse and fill tailrace, as required
- September 2012 Demobilization for dam removal activities
- November 2012 River Opens!
On September 22, 1999 PacifiCorp signed an agreement to remove Condit Dam on the White Salmon River. 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 (read PacifiCorp's brochure on dam removal). Additional information is also available at whitesalmonriver.org.
Settlement parties hired a consultant to evaluate alternatives to dam removal and determined that quickly draining the reservoir and flushing sediments was the option most protective of aquatic resources. This method will remove the greatest amount of sediment as quickly as possible to minimize long-term effects. Several agencies have responsibility for independent evaluation of this approach and their reviews are provided as links below:
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.
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!!
11/03/2012 - by Megan Hooker
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)
09/07/2012 - by Thomas O'Keefe
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.