The historic breaching of Condit Dam in the White Salmon River ends more than a dozen years of planning and legal wrangling. The carefully orchestrated blast opened up a PacifiCorp-owned dam that has blocked the river since 1913. It also entirely drained Northwestern Lake, the reservoir behind the dam.
WHITE SALMON — Davis Washines watched in awe, then bowed his head. He wiped tears from his eyes. The sight of the White Salmon River rushing freely through the base of Condit Dam — released for the first time in 98 years Wednesday by a ground-shaking detonation of 700 pounds of dynamite — set off a rush of emotion for Washines and dozens of others watching on a live video feed, just a short walk from the blast site.
Read The Columbian's live coverage of Wednesday's explosive breaching of Condit Dam.
On June 13, after 12 years of delays, negotiations and regulatory hoops, PacifiCorp pulled the trigger. The Portland utility announced that it had reached agreement with federal regulators on all issues and would proceed in late October with breaching Condit Dam. The window was tight. Threatened fall chinook salmon arriving in the lower three miles of the White Salmon River below the dam would have to be captured and transported above the dam, out of the path of a massive sediment surge and into their native waters. An estimated 2.7 million cubic yards of sediment had built up behind the dam in its 98 years. No one knew what lay beneath the sludge.
One day after the breaching of Condit Dam, the former reservoir behind the dam continued to offer a fascinating case study in how quickly an altered landscape can revert to its original form. Since Wednesday, when explosives opened a tunnel in the 98-year-old dam through which the reservoir drained in little more than an hour, sediment has continued to slough off the sides of the reservoir and also has built back up in places.
WHITE SALMON RIVER — Two dozen spawning fall chinook salmon took a ride home Friday to a place they’d never known. Fish biologists deployed boats, nets, weirs and truck-mounted tanks to move the husky spawners out of the way of the massive sediment plume that will be unleashed in late October, when 98-year-old Condit Dam is breached. These particular salmon were transported in tanks to the town of Husum, where they slid down a chute into the clear blue-green waters above Rattlesnake Rapid and, with a sweep of their muscular tails, swam away.
NORTHWESTERN LAKE — There’s no turning back now. After a dozen years of planning, the White Salmon River, dammed 3.3 miles upstream from its confluence with the Columbia River since 1913, is on its way to becoming a free-flowing river again.