Outdoors

Last days for Condit Dam; White Salmon to flow free

Condit Dam was built in 1913 on the White Salmon River, 3.3 miles upstream from the Columbia. It is 125 feet tall. Most of the river flow runs through a pipeline for three quarters of a mile downstream to a powerhouse, mostly dewatering that stretch of the river. But in the spring, when flows are up and water is spilled at the dam, there's enough to float that stretch. Once the dam is gone, that stretch will have enough flow to use a much greater time of year. (Troy Columbian / The Columbian)
Condit Dam was built in 1913 on the White Salmon River, 3.3 miles upstream from the Columbia. It is 125 feet tall. Most of the river flow runs through a pipeline for three quarters of a mile downstream to a powerhouse, mostly dewatering that stretch of the river. But in the spring, when flows are up and water is spilled at the dam, there's enough to float that stretch. Once the dam is gone, that stretch will have enough flow to use a much greater time of year. (Troy Columbian / The Columbian)

FREE-FLOWING RIVERS — After a dozen years of planning, the White Salmon River, dammed 3.3 miles upstream from its confluence with the Columbia River since 1913, is on its way to becoming a free-flowing river again.

Dam operators are letting the water pour out of Northwestern Lake, the 92-acre reservoir behind Condit Dam.

White-water rafters who put in at Husum and BZ Corners have been using a new takeout point upstream from the reservoir.

Workers will divert water around the dam. Fish in the pool, mainly trout and steelhead at this time of year, will be caught and released downstream. The dam will be removed in pieces.

Breaching is scheduled for mid- to late October, after all wild fall chinook entering the lower river have been captured, transported and released above the dam.

Read on for more information on this historic effort.

Water remaining in the reservoir will begin flushing out about 2.7 million cubic yards of sediment that has accumulated behind the dam over 98 years. The sediment plume will enter the Columbia and travel all the way to Bonneville Dam. It's expected to temporarily obliterate a lot of river life on its way.

Final demolition of the dam, using concrete cutters, won't happen until next April or May.

Condit Dam, owned by Portland-based utility PacifiCorp, will become the second-highest dam ever breached in the United States

Glines Canyon Dam on the Olympic Peninsula's Elwha River, at 210 feet, will be the highest U.S. dam removed when it is breached in September.

Removal of Condit Dam will open up 14 miles of habitat on the White Salmon to threatened Lower Columbia chinook salmon. Mid-Columbia steelhead will regain access to 33 miles of habitat on the river and its tributaries.

PacifiCorp made the decision to take out the dam rather than install expensive fish passage structures, which would have been required as a condition of federal relicensing.




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Rich Landers

Rich Landers’ Outdoors blog


Rich Landers writes and photographs stories for a wide range of outdoors coverage, including a Sunday feature section and a Thursday column. He also writes the Outdoors Blog.


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