Red flag raised at White Salmon River

Debris from Condit Dam breaching can pose a danger

By Kathie Durbin, Columbian staff writer

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Stay away.

That’s the message PacifiCorp, local law enforcement officials and experienced river guides are delivering regarding the White Salmon River both above and below Condit Dam in the wake of the dam’s dramatic breaching last Wednesday.

The river remains an unsafe place to be, said Tom Hickey, PacifiCorp’s project manager for the Condit project. An estimated 2.7 million cubic yards of sediment had built up behind the dam over nearly a century. That sediment, and everything that was buried under it, is on the move.

“Everyone saw the force of the river last Wednesday,” Hickey said in a statement Tuesday. “Now, downstream wherever the river narrows, there are logjams. In the former reservoir above the dam, the river is cutting through the sediment creating unstable slopes and moving debris such as buried logs. Transported sediment is also building up in downstream areas. Working with our contractors, we have plans in place to deal with these obstructions, and they all require that everyone stay out of harm’s way and a safe distance from the river.”

“We are still a long way from anyone attempting to boat the White Salmon River within the project area or downstream,” said Thomas O’Keefe, Pacific Northwest stewardship director for the recreation organization American Whitewater. “Those of us who know the river well urge everyone to stay safe and out of this river area until next fall when PacifiCorp has had a chance to complete the channel restoration work and address the severe hazards affecting navigability.”

The entire area from the Northwestern Lake Road Bridge to the mouth of the White Salmon River continues to be an active construction zone, said PacifiCorp spokesman Tom Gauntt. The company may use cranes, yarders or even explosives to clear debris, he said.

The condition of the river is not worse than expected, said PacifiCorp project manager Todd Olson. “It’s just more visual — everyone can now see the logs and sediment in the project area and lower river.”

In general, the dam decommissioning plan allows for woody debris to move through the project area and downstream, Olson said. PacifiCorp will monitor log jams and manage them based on the degree of public risk, unwanted sediment retention or the potential for the sediment to cause fish passage problems.

Kathie Durbin: 360-735-4523; http://www.twitter.com/col_politics; kathie.durbin@columbian.com.