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Field Notes

Covering the natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest

November 9, 2012 at 7:00 AM

Now open after 100 years: the White Salmon River

PacifiCorp announced this week it has lifted all access restrictions on the White Salmon River, after having fully completed its removal of Condit Dam and its restoration of the area.

Condit Upstream View - Completed.JPG

White Salmon river, looking upstream toward former Condit Dam site.

Courtesy, PacifiCorp

The restoration got under way just more than a year ago, when the utility detonated a hole in the bottom of the dam. The reservoir drained within hours. Since then, the utility has been removing the dam.

The last remnants of the structure are gone, and access to the river is open, with all restrictions lifted, but for a few riverbank locations recently replanted with native vegetation.

Revegetation work is still underway, and the equipment and work zones for the job are being demobilized. But the river is already back. So are the fish.

Steelhead jumping at BZ Falls upstream of breached Condit CreditJeanette Burkhardt, Yakama Nation Fisheires.jpg

Steelhead jumping at BZ Falls, upstream of breached Condit

Credit: Jeanette Burkhardt, Yakama Nation Fisheries

Condit was the third-largest dam removal ever, after Elwha and Glines Canyon Dams on the Elwha River. The 125-foot high, 471-foot long dam was built 3.3 miles upstream from the Columbia River and lacked fish passage. Taking it down opens 33 miles of new spawning and rearing grounds for steelhead, and 14 miles for salmon in the White Salmon River basin.

In the summer of 2011 fish biologists moved more than 500 salmon upstream of the dam, which spawned in their new habitat that fall. Outmigrating juveniles, and returning adults already have been seen utilizing the new habitat.

Whitewater paddlers will be next: “The restoration of a free-flowing river is an exciting event for the whitewater boating community,” said Thomas O’Keefe, Pacific Northwest stewardship director for American Whitewater. “Paddling the restored reach will be a treasured, yet challenging experience.”

See what their excitement is about on this video. Thanks Tom O’Keefe, for providing.

Dam removal on the White Salmon was the work of many people, through a settlement agreement undertaken instead of seeking to re-license the dam. The settlement agreement was signed in 1999, and involved a diverse group, from long time volunteers in the local community to the Yakama Indian Nation, recreational and wildlife and conservation and fisheries groups, and state and federal agencies.

For more on the restoration, see my stories and posts in the Seattle Times.

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