This is a special year for our river community. The month of October, 2021 marks the 10-year anniversary of the removal of the Condit Dam! The first blast represented the beginning of a new era for the White Salmon River. At the time, it was the second highest hydropower facility to ever be removed, once standing at 125 ft tall. It was a truly momentous feat, not just for the White Salmon River and surrounding community, but nationally.
Often forgotten is the process that led to the removal, as well as the time it took to reopen the river after the blast. To celebrate 10 years, we’re reminiscing on that process, revisiting the events through the eyes of rafters and kayakers via blogs from past Wet Planet guides who wrote about the events as they were happening, both in the years before and after the removal of the Condit Dam.
1913 – A massive, 125-foot concrete wall is resurrected on the White Salmon River. The construction of the Condit Dam affected the people of the community as well as the biological habitat in many ways, just as its removal would 100 years later.
In the years leading up to the removal, conservationists and river stewards fought for a free-flowing river.
1996 – PacifiCorp, the owner of the Condit Dam, found the construction of a government required fish ladder unprofitable. They decided that decommissioning the dam was the best option and began the application process.
1999 – Pacificorp, signed an agreement with more than 20 parties, including conservation groups, the Yakama Nation, government agencies and recreation groups to remove the dam.
November, 2008 – Wet Planet assists with mapping the Lower White Salmon River. The mapping was ordered by Pacific Corp, owners of Condit dam, the company responsible for the decision to remove Condit Dam and restore the White Salmon River to its natural state. At this time, the dam removal was tentatively scheduled for the winter of 2009.
December, 2008 – A first assessment of salmon restoration to the upper stretches of the White Salmon River. Wet Planet guides worked closely with Fish & Wildlife biologists to track the adult Chinook Salmon in an effort to begin to understand the effects of re-introduction of Wild Salmon into the upper reaches of the White Salmon River system.
October 12, 2010 – There were many obstacles in the decommissioning process. With the completion of Washington Department of Ecology’s Water Quality Assessment, the last major hurdle in the removal process was cleared.
December 16, 2010 – The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued the final order for the decommission of the Condit Dam on the White Salmon River; removal of the dam is scheduled for October, 2011!
January, 2011 – A small misunderstanding of dates leaves stakeholders on the edge of their seats. The October, 2010 Water Quality Assessment was not received on time, and PacifiCorp has a laundry list of daunting projects that must take place before setting an official date for the removal. Despite this, PacifiCorp expect to have plans approved before April, 2011.
February, 2011 – The clerical error with the submission of the Water Quality Certification has still not been resolved. We asked the public to submit comments to FERC asking for the acceptance of the certification, and tried to keep our hopes up that PacifiCorp would still be able to stick to the 2011 timeline for demolition.
April, 2011 – FERC comes through! Just in the nick of time, FERC accepted PacifiCorp’s request for rehearing, resolving the Water Quality Certification issue. But in the same breath, FERC pushed the removal date back to 2012, recognizing that PacifiCorp may need more planning time. Yet again, we hold our breath and try to maintain optimism that they will keep the 2011 timeline.
May, 2011 – PacifiCorp plans to begin deconstruction in June, 2011, temporarily limiting access to the river from Husum to Northwestern Park. Whitewater enthusiasts brace for a summer with a little less boating – a small sacrifice for a lifetime of access to a free-flowing river.
May, 2011 – KATU news covers the Condit Dam story, and we reflect on how the changes will affect the community, reconciling with doubt, tension, and opposing viewpoints.
June 4, 2011 – Community members join Hood River Watershed Group, Columbia Land Trust, and a PacifiCorp representative on a tour of the Powerdale Lands. This is where the Powerdale Dam was removed from the Hood River in 2010, and we took the opportunity to learn from previous hydropower removal projects.
June 13, 2011 – The October removal is official! In order to take out the dam safely and smoothly, PacifiCorp had to approve 18 different management plans and work with several outside entities. A press release confirmed that they expect everything to line up for an October removal. The project gets covered in detail in The Columbian.
July 1, 2011 – With the river closure beginning on July 5th, the river community, local landowners, and whitewater outfitters were growing anxious that there would be no access to the Lower White Salmon River. Luckily, the Forest Service and PacifiCorp worked together to solve the problem, and a local cabin owner saved the day, allowing a temporary take-out to be established on his property!
July 5th, 2011 – Construction begins – construction teams must reinforce the bridge at Northwestern Lake Park prior to the removal of the dam. Wet Planet begins using the new take-out.
August 9, 2011 – A month of construction went by, and we take the last opportunity to float on the soon-to-be gone Northwestern Lake prior to the Northwestern Lake closure.
August 10, 2011: Northwestern Lake was lowered approximately 6 feet from full pool level.
August 15, 2011: The tranquil waters from Northwestern Lake bridge to Condit Dam closed to all forms of watercraft. Water level began to draw down to prepare for tunnel construction.
September, 2011 – Salmon are transported above the Condit Dam construction zone using the Wet Planet river access point in Husum to release the Salmon. The US Fish & Wildlife Service attempts to relocate at least 500 Thule Chinook Salmon prior to the anticipated October 26th removal date.
September, 2011 – Deconstruction continues at a rapid rate. Andy Maser and Steve Stampfli, Watershed Coordinator for Hood River Watershed Group, chronicle the process in their blog: White Salmon Restored: A Timelapse Project.
October 4, 2011 – Wet Planet escorts Fish & Wildlife Service down the river to assess the number of salmon nests, or “redds,” above the dam. Excitement is in the air as we see monster Chinook Salmon jumping above the river’s surface, and Bald Eagles flying above the river with salmon in their grasp.
October, 2011 – Anticipation and excitement continue to build throughout the month of October!
Featured in a film by Andy Maser, local paddler & Wet Planet guide Heather Herbeck and White Salmon resident and river advocate Phyllis Clausen reflect on their relationships the river and anticipates what it will be like when the Condit Dam is breached and the river beneath Northwestern Lake is uncovered.
Fish excitement: Seeing so much spawning as a result of fish transport efforts throughout the month brings hope to biologists, fisherman, and river enthusiasts.
Parties, parties, parties – the Gorge was buzzing with excitement and there were multiple options for viewing parties that were screening the live video feed of the breach!
October 20, 2011 – PacifiCorp releases safety closures near the dam site to ensure that no one gets hurt during the deconstruction.
October 23, 2011 – Wet Planet’s Susan Hollingsworth, fish biologist Rod Engle and Yakima Nation’s tribal elder Tony Washines spoke about their excitement for the river to return to its natural state, featured in the Oregonian.
October 26, 2011 – BLAST DAY!
12:00pm – The moment we had all been waiting for! The dynamite blew, releasing a plume of water from the base of the dam. The entire crowd of over 300 people at the Wet Planet Blast Party erupted into cheers, and we raised a toast to the newly freed White Salmon River with friends and river lovers from all over. The event at Wet Planet was hosted by some of the nation’s and the region’s most influential river conservation organizations. Representatives from American Rivers, American Whitewater, Hydropower Reform Coalition, Trout Unlimited, Friends of the White Salmon, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, and Columbia Riverkeeper were there to celebrate the success of decades worth of work. Also in the crowd were major sponsors whose long-term support have made moments like this possible.
1:00 PM – Expecting the lake to take 6 hours to drain, the crowd was taken by surprise when the new stretch of river emerged in just under an hour.
For the next 3 hours, excited kayakers, rafters, conservationists, guides, writers, lawyers, teachers, doctors and more watched the river evolve.
October-November, 2011 – The removal of the Condit Dam was covered on every major news source, and footage of the landmark river restoration event was cast nationwide.
November-December, 2011 – We watched closely as the river changed.
Northwestern Lake take-out was closed; wood bridge pilings embedded in the sediment presented a hazard to river users. PacifiCorp and JR Merit maintained the closure until the pilings could be removed.
January, 2012 – Just three months after the big breach of the Condit Dam, a stretch of the White Salmon River reopened for hatchery steelhead fishing.
April 19, 2012 – Northwestern Park take-out reopened to boaters! Wet Planet ran some of the first trips down through the used-to-be lake!
May 6, 2012 – Wet Planet hosts River Network’s annual River Rally on the newly freed section of the White Salmon River below Northwestern Lake, including a tour of the dam deconstruction site.
August, 2012 – Construction is completed on the new permanent take-out ramp at Northwestern Park, and NW Park take-out reopens to the public for both private and commercial use.
September 6, 2012 – Wet Planet is contracted by JR Merit, the general contractor for the removal of the dam, to provide river expertise, advise on log removal, and evaluating general boating conditions. Wet Planet gets a first look at the section of river below the Condit Dam and assess its viability for private and commercial boating, including a first exploration of Steelhead Falls and finding a log jam in the Narrows Canyon, which is expected to be removed by September 15th.
September 14, 2012 – JR Merit informs us that there is a delay in the removal of the log jam in the Narrows. They are making progress, but need more time to remove it past September 15th. Boaters will have to wait a little longer to paddle the Narrows.
September 18, 2012 – Russ Howison from PacifiCorp inform outfitters and local paddlers that the dam removal is officially complete! However, they are still working on slope restoration and debris removal, so the section of river below Northwestern park remains closed.
September 27, 2012 – Wet Planet and Fish & Wildlife survey the fish on the Lower Lower White Salmon River for the first time after the removal of the dam.
October 15, 2012 – River closures are announced for the Lower White Salmon River (Husum to NW Park) for maintenance of a newly exposed natural gas pipeline that was previously buried in Northwestern Lake.
November 5, 2012 – Over a year after the blast, the Lower Lower White Salmon River officially opens to rafting and kayaking!
November 7, 2012 – Northwest Pipeline updates river closure days for pipeline work near Northwestern Lake Park.
November 11, 2012 – The White Salmon River community gathered for a community paddle down the newly freed Lower Lower White Salmon River. The event was featured on OPB in Exploring the Undammed White Salmon River at Last by Amelia Thompson.
November 20, 2012 – Williams Northwest Pipeline updates December river closure days again for pipeline maintenance on the Lower White Salmon (Husum to NW Park).
December 3, 2012 – More updates on the river closure of the Lower White Salmon. After these closures, Williams Northwest Pipeline was able to finish the maintenance on the exposed pipeline, rerouting it to make the river safe for boaters again.
July 10, 2013 – Wet Planet hosts the 8th annual White Salmon Riverfest. This is a special Riverfest as it’s the first year the Lower Lower White Salmon River opened to boating, and was the first Riverfest Community Float on the newly freed section of river.
September, 2013 – Wet Planet starts offering daily Full-Day Trips on the Lower Lower White Salmon River, where guests can experience the exhilarating class III-IV whitewater of the Upper, and the stunning beauty of the Narrows Canyons on the Lower Lower.
September 29, 2013 – Wet Planet participates in Sense of Place Lecture Series, hosting local residents on the Lower Lower White Salmon River. The lecture series began in 2010 as a means to build a dialogue among community members about some of the issues and historical events that both connect us and divide us.
January, 2014 – Major rockfall occurs on the Lower Lower White Salmon River, evidence that the river is still evolving and changing after the removal of the Condit Dam.
May 17, 2014 – Stakeholders meet to discuss recreation on the Lower Lower White Salmon River.
September 21, 2014 – Wet Planet hosts the second annual Sense of Place Lecture on the Lower Lower White Salmon River. Jeanette Burkhardt, a watershed planner for the Yakima Nation Fisheries, educated participants on the challenges the White Salmon Basin faces, such as climate change and increasing development.
October, 2014 – Wet Planet assists Fish & Wildlife in assessing the Salmon run, now two years after the dam removal. At LEAST 50% of the fish sampled were Native, if not 75%. This season, spring salmon were seen spawning in the pool above Rattlesnake, jumping up Husum, spawning below Sharks Tooth rapid, and attempting to jump up BZ Falls (all above Steelhead Falls on the Lower Lower.
November, 2014 – Meetings about Fish Habitat Conservation on the Lower Lower continue.
January, 2017 – An update on the recovery of the White Salmon River, and the native species that are returning, such as Pacific Lamprey. Filmmaker Brendan Wells creates a video for community education.
March 18, 2021 – Wet Planet is featured in OPB’s Oregon Field Guide, ”Condit Dam 10-Years Later”, with an update on the recovery of the White Salmon River 10 years after the blast.
October 26, 2021 – The 10-year anniversary of the blast!
From the Native Americans whose ancestry is linked to the White Salmon for generations, to the fish biologists who live to see salmon spawning, to the whitewater kayakers who intimately know every drop of water that flows from the glaciers on Mt Adams all the way to the Columbia, the removal of the Condit Dam was a truly momentous feat. On the 10-year anniversary, we are taking the time to remember and be grateful for the tireless efforts by everyone who had a part in the removal, the truly incredible feat it was to physically complete the job, the anticipation of exploring a new section of whitewater, and the joy and excitement when it finally happened. We remain forever grateful to now see a free-flowing river right in our backyard, sustaining the life of our community and the ecosystem. Cheers to 10 years!
To experience the free-flowing White Salmon River firsthand, join us on a full-day rafting trip on the White Salmon River!