Friends of the White Salmon (FWSR) has been involved in the Condit Dam removal process since it began in 1991, when PacifiCorp filed for relicensing of the dam. FWSR has been involved as an early commenter of the relicensing application, as a party to the Settlement Agreement negotiations and as a signatory to the Agreement. We have also made numerous comments on agency actions through the years since 1991.
We rely on and cooperate with other signatories, such as American Rivers, American Whitewater, Friends of the Columbia Gorge and others, but we also represent a uniquely local perspective on Condit issues. In particular, we are concerned about two aspects not covered by the Settlement Agreement but of great important locally – what will happen to the land that is owned by PacifiCorp in the area of the dam and what will happen with the very large and very senior water right owned by PacifiCorp.
Removal is planned to take place in the fall when the smallest number of anadromous fish will be in the river below the dam. Fish below the dam will be trapped and held out of the river during the period of highest flow following dam breaching. They will then be returned to the river, probably within a day of breaching.
Our current (November 2009) estimate is that dam removal will occur in the fall of 2011. PacifiCorp needs to have all permits in place nine months before the removal date, which would mean having permits in place by January 2010 for removal in fall 2010.
We are very much looking forward to the day the dam comes out, although we understand that there is some loss involved for the local community, such as the loss of Northwestern Lake behind the dam, and that there will be problems to be solved after dam removal, such as how the very important river recreation activities will co-exist with spawning salmon. Removal will mean extra attention to water quality and shorelines protection, which is not always without controversy. We also have a great deal of respect for the skill and energy that went into building the dam, as seen through PacifiCorp archival pictures. It was an amazing feat.
Nevertheless, the removal of this dam will be historic and the thought of a free-flowing river only one Columbia River dam (and a lot of sea lions) away from the Pacific Ocean is thrilling.
It appears, from recent experience with the removal of the Marmot Dam on the Sandy River, the removal of the Hemlock Dam on Trout Creek in Skamania County, that the rivers themselves move the sediment along very quickly after dam removal, and that the fish waste no time exploring and using the new habitat.
Condit removal has one particularly interesting feature. Rainbow trout, which are genetically identical to steelhead, have been tagged above Condit for research purposes. Two of those tagged fish have been found downstream from Condit, one dead in an area where a lot of tern feed near Astoria Oregon, at the mouth of the Columbia, and one moving upstream over Bonneville Dam, indicating that it had made the trip to the ocean and was returning to its spawning place. Condit was built very rapidly in 1913, and presumable many salmon were trapped above the dam. Some of these appear to have adapted to a fresh water existence, but may be ready to adapt once again to an anadromous life cycle, thereby providing one of the few truly native species not affected by hatchery work.
The best source for factual information about the Condit Dam removal project is the website maintained by PacifiCorp, the owner of the dam. PacifiCorp has posted a large quantity of information, including the Settlement Agreement, a history of the project, sediment reports, all the management plans that have been prepared as part of the Environmental Impact Statement process, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) documents, and much more.