March 17, 1996

Salmon Ladder Issue May Doom Dam

The Vancouver Columbian
 

After decades of study and mountains of paperwork, the federal government says fish passage should be provided at Condit Dam to allow salmon and steelhead back to the upper White Salmon River after a 70-year absence.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s preferred alternative for relicensing the dam calls for a $27 million package, including a fish ladder for upstream-bound adults and passage for young headed downstream.

It also calls for increases in minimum stream flows , more stable flows and adding spawning gravel in spots below the dam.

Terry Flores, hydro policy administrator for PacifiCorp, operator of the dam, says FERC’s fish passage recommendations would make Condit unprofitable. Unless there are changes, PacifiCorp may reject the license, she said.

No other company or agency has applied for Condit’s license. No one quite knows what will happen if PacifiCorp chooses to no longer operate the dam.

Condit Dam, 3.3 miles up the White Salmon, was built in 1913. The 125-foot tall dam produces enough electricity for about 13,000 homes. It has created a narrow, silt-laden 1.7 mile reservoir.

Condit’s wooden fish ladder was soon destroyed by spring run-off. A concrete ladder built in 1928 met a similar fate.

How many salmon and steelhead used the White Salmon River before Condit’s construction is unknown.

A consultant estimated under pristine conditions the river would produce 5,489 coho salmon, 625 chinook and 763 steelhead.

PacifiCorp’s application to renew its license for Condit proposed a variety of improvements, but not fish passage.

FERC’s preferred alternative calls for $27 million in improvements, mostly for fish. PacifiCorp’s Flores said the real cost is more like $30 million to $31 million.

PacifiCorp says it would lose money if it put in much more than $10 million in improvements.

PacifiCorp hopes to persuade FERC there are less-expensive ways to return salmon and steelhead, such as trapping adult fish and trucking them around the dam, officials said. The utility also would consider paying for habitat restoration elsewhere.

Another fish consideration is the resident trout population in Northwestern Lake upstream.

When the middle stretch of the White Salmon River was included in the federal wild and scenic rivers program, the resident trout population was deemed an “outstandingly remarkable value.”

As such, the U.S. Forest Service is required to protect it. Reintroduction of salmon and steelhead upstream of Condit is expected to lessen the trout population.

Don Schluter, Trout Unlimited’s hydropower coordinator, said a coalition of conservation groups wants to remove the aging Condit Dam.

“The number of megawatts it produces is minuscule compared to the potential for fish restoration,” he said. “There’s such a surplus of power the Bonneville Power Administration is giving it away.”

John Thomas of the White Salmon River Steelheaders said removing Condit would cause wild trout numbers to drop 30 to 90 percent if salmon and steelhead are introduced.


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