Condit Boom

Condit Dam moments after demolition charges were detonated.

Twenty years after PacifiCorp applied to surrender its license in order to tear out Condit Dam in southwestern Washington, the process is officially complete.

On Aug. 1, FERC issued a letter to PacifiCorp acknowledging that the surrender of license “is now effective” [P-2342].

“It’s been a long process, but everything is coming back nicely,” PacifiCorp spokesman Bob Gravely told Clearing Up. “It’s certainly rewarding to have it finished.”

Gravely said the total cost was $35 million, including planning and implementing the project and restoring and monitoring the site.

Located on the White Salmon River in southwestern Washington, the 125-foot dam was built in 1913 and produced 13.7 MW of power. PacifiCorp began steps to remove the dam in 2011. Decommissioning involved removing the dam and facilities, building new bridge piers for the Northwestern Lake Road bridge, and relocating a water line for the city of White Salmon. A historic powerhouse remains.

The dam blocked about 33 miles of Chinook, coho and steelhead spawning habitat.

PacifiCorp agreed to decommission and remove the dam in accordance with a multiparty settlement agreement, and began to take out structures in June 2011. Dam removal was completed in September 2012, and the reservoir area was revegetated the following spring.

According to PacifiCorp’s final report to FERC, the White Salmon River is now in a natural state. “River form and function processes are observed; water quality meets state standards; gravel and large woody debris are transported into and through the reach; and salmon and steelhead are populating project and upstream habitat.”

Among numerous surrender orders were plans to assess the quality of reservoir sediments; stabilize the dewatered reservoir bed and provide fish passage through the former reservoir area; and to relocate fall Chinook that spawn below the dam in the year of deconstruction.

PacifiCorp’s plan included relocating 679 tule fall Chinook upstream of the dam to prevent impacts of sediment movement. Monitoring revealed that 191 salmon redds were observed from the 310 female fall Chinook that were moved. “Overall, the 2011 translocation effort was considered a success,” PacifiCorp’s final report said.

In 2015, the U.S. Geological Survey published a study finding steelhead and spring Chinook had begun to repopulate the river, and fall Chinook below the dam had increased.

Gravely said the last few years have focused largely on restoring the reservoir area, some of which had to be redone after the 2015 drought.

K.C. Mehaffey covers fish issues for Clearing Up, and is editor of the NW Fishletter. She joined the NewsData writing team in February 2018. From lawsuits to scientific studies, she is enjoying the deep dive into the Columbia Basin's many fish topics.