Since 1913, a 200 ft wall has held back our beautiful White Salmon River in Washington state. While designated Wild and Scenic upstream of this barricade, the river pours into Northwestern Lake and comes to a dead stop at the high wall of Condit Dam.

Despite applying for decommission 14 years ago, the Condit Dam still stands.

However, on October 12, 2010 the last major obstacle disappeared with the completion of Washington Department of Ecology’s Water Quality Assessment.

Salmon jumping will return to White Salmon RiverNow, A free-flowing White Salmon River might just be your Christmas gift next holiday season.

Obviously, this process has not been easy.

What is taking so long?
Where are we at now?
And finally, what does this mean for the kayaking and rafting on the White Salmon River?

Let’s clear up some of the confusion.

What is taking so long?

It began 14 years ago when PacifiCorp 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.

Since then, numerous obstacles arose…and were overcome. Some included…

1. Klickitat and Skamania County’s opposition to deconstruction. Claiming that lake-front property would be lost and that PacifiCorp was just taking the easier route, the counties long opposed the dam’s removal.

The counties have reached a settlement with PacifiCorp regarding these issues and are giving a GREEN LIGHT to the project. Plus, who wouldn’t want White Salmon River-front property?

2. Environmental concerns regarding downstream aquatic life due to sediment overload.

After extensive environment assessments, the sediment load has been determined to be only a short-term drawback. Long-term benefits to the aquatic ecosystems include presence of larger fish species and less mercury build-up in the stagnated waters of a lake. Another GREEN LIGHT.The massive fish block: Condit Dam

3. Loss of wetland and lake habitats.

The dam’s removal will restore the river valley back to its previous nature, restoring species that had lived in the region long before dam construction. GREEN LIGHT from the environment.

4. Water Quality Assessments by Washington Department of Ecology.

After a several year wait, the Department of Ecology issued water quality certification under section 401 of the Clean Water Act, giving a much bigger and long awaited GREEN LIGHT.

Where are we at now?

The final step (yes, I said FINAL) to confirming demolition of Condit Dam involves FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, issuing the final decommissioning order.

That’s it, just one more little “order” from the government.

If FERC can accomplish this before spring, the targeted October 2011 date will remain. If longer, however, the demolition will need to be pushed off another year to allow assignment of contracts for the deconstruction work.

What does this mean for the rafters and kayakers on the White Salmon?

Now all you avid White Salmon kayakers and rafters, rest easy. Your voice is heard.

As a part of the settlement between the Klickitat and Skamania counties and PacifiCorp, the Northwestern Lake river access will remain the property of PacifiCorp. If property transfers, a 10-year easement will be in effect, insuring access to your favorite Washington river.

A new boat ramp to the river’s edge will be constructed out of gravel and dirt, as motor craft will no longer need the concrete entrance currently used at the lake.

However, the process will not be entirely easy for us river folk. River restoration is complicated, after all.

Bridge reconstruction must take place just above the take-out ramp at Northwestern Lake. The structure was designed to stand in still water and must be adapted to the new river that will flow past its abutments. PacifiCorp maintains that boater access will continue during this time.

A new section of the White Salmon River soon to comeIf unforeseen obstacles arise (since they are draining a huge lake in record time and can not be exactly sure what might happen), they have discussed constructing an alternate take-out point.

Bottom line: PacifiCorp does not want individuals getting any closer to the construction site than necessary. Thus, they insure that a take-out point will be established.

So boaters, be patient.

The long and hard journey is almost over. Slight inconveniences might occur through the demolition process, but the counties and PacifiCorp aim to maintain our access to the river.

And just think, for the 2011 holiday season a new stretch of incredible Washington white water rafting may just be under the tree!

Stay tuned for more updates on the project here on the Wet Planet Whitewater Blog!

Susan Hollingsworth, blogger and kayak instructor, looks forward to watching the lake drain in only 6 hours!