Reflections on the Condit Dam

On Wednesday, October 26, 2011, engineers blew a hole in the base of the Condit Dam releasing the White Salmon River. 

The White Salmon River, located in south-central Washington, originates on the southwestern slope of Mount Adams, then runs through Klickitat and Skamania Counties, finally draining into the great Columbia River.  In 1913, the Condit Dam was completed, providing hydroelectric power to local industry, but at the same time, creating a significant obstacle to spawning grounds for both native salmon and steelhead.  

The Condit Dam had a good run and served its purpose by providing the area with energy for many years. But, having become no longer cost-effective or useful, a relic of sorts, it was time for the dam to go.  This dam removal, coming weeks after the beginning of the Elwha Dam project, is the latest in a series of major removals taking place across the Pacific Northwest.   

I have family members who live very close to the White Salmon River, and I know it well. I’m certainly not a river guide, but I have fished the now drained Northwestern Lake, rafted the white water above the dam and have even walked the pipe downstream.  I am looking forward to watching how the basin changes in the coming days, months and years.

Quick Facts: 

  • Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife estimates that the dame removal could open 33 miles of habitat for steelhead, 14 miles of salmon habitat and could eventually allow reestablishment of 700 steelhead, 4, 000 spring Chinook, 1,100 fall Chinook and 2,000 Coho salmon.
  • The more than 12-story Condit Dam on the White Salmon River is the second-tallest dam to be demolished in U.S. history.
  • Its two turbines produce about 14 megawatts of power, enough for 7,000 homes, but its owner, Portland-based utility PacifiCorp, elected to remove the dam rather than install cost-prohibitive fish passage structures that would have been required for relicensing.

Watch a great timelapse video via National Geographic.

And White Salmon Restored: A Timelapse Project