Wednesday, April 26, 2017

PacifiCorp's Condit Dam Removal White Salmon River Restoration and Dam Explosion!

I was excited to get to visit the White Salmon River, in Washington.  My partner Scott and I raced and won the whitewater team trials here in 1998.  The section we raced is upstream of this picture of Husum Falls.  It is a thoroughly unpleasant whitewater run.  You put in quite literally in the middle of a Class IV rapid, and take off.  There's one corner where you come around blindly into a giant wave which was big enough to stop our C-2 racing canoe.  The wave would surround you and wash over your head, and because the water is literally ice-cold glacier water coming from Mt. Adams, one of the snow-capped volcano mountains, you'd get a wicked ice-cream headache that took a few moments to shake off....while you blindly went through the next rapid. 

I was telling Karin how weird it is on this river - it's an ice-cold gut-check.  You're wearing ALL your paddling clothes and freezing.  You'd get done with a run and be shivering, scared, tired, and cold.  Then you'd see the people up on the shore, mowing their lawns in shorts and drinking iced beverages.  Weird.  Here's a picture of the White Salmon at Husum Falls.

So, happy to not be paddling, and excited to see the river restoration effort from where the downstream Condit Dam was removed just five years ago.  The dam was owned by PacifiCorp, and was removed during the FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) permitting process.  In essence, PacifiCorp was going to be required to put in a fish ladder to allow fish to make it up to their former habitat on the White Salmon River.  This was very expensive, so instead of doing that, PacifiCorp, in partnership with a lot of state, federal, and non-profit agencies, removed the dam.  This freed up some 75 miles of stream habitat for Salmon and other migratory species.  

Here's what the dam and lake looked like.  According to the kiosk, the dam was built in 1913, was 125 feet high, and generated 15 MW of power.  The lake was about 1.7 miles long.  For you water resources students, this is a concrete gravity dam.  You can also see the spillway structure.  According to the PacifiCorp website, removal was completed in 2012.

The take out for the lower easier whitewater run was at the head of the lake.  We'd make our whitewater run, and take out at this boat ramp, which would be about half under water.  Now it is dry and blocked off with rocks.

This bridge was the race finish line.  The lake water level was up around where the white of the concrete posts meets the darker steel posts.  That gravel path on the left is a new take out.

Looking downstream, you can see the new river bed, and the green which is plants growing on the old lake bottom.

 This was cool.  These are the old stumps from the trees that were cut in 1913 when the dam was built and the lake formed.  Preserved by the ice cold water for over a hundred years.

This fellow had a lake front house.  You can see the old dock hanging.... You can also clearly see the "bath tub ring" from where the top of lake used to be. Watch for this throughout the pictures.

As part of the restoration process, thousands of plants were planted.  We couldn't identify most of the sticklike trees, but there were a lot of pines and they seemed kind of closely spaced together. As far as low growing plants are concerned, other than grasses we saw mainly achillea and lupines.

More plantings, and more "lake front" houses.

If you look in the front left of this house, you can see the old posts that led to this fellow's dock.  All of these environmental remediations are a compromise and don't come without cost to someone.  The environment and the fishery gained a lot, but I bet this fellow wished he still had the lake.  It was a beautiful alpine lake.

Just upstream of the actual dam site. 

More of those old, old stumps and more replanted area near the dam site.

And here it is, the dam site.  See how to the right is the "bath tub ring" of the old lake, and the replanted area, while to the left is the native vegetation and steep gorge area.  Dam developers typically put dams in places that are easy and inexpensive.  This one was already partly completed by nature with the narrow rock formation.  To my eye, this seems like an uncommonly good job of removing a huge man-made project with a lot of concrete and steel.  Now, mother nature just needs a little time.

Now you see it....

Now you don't...

a remediation success!

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