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WA's Condit Dam Comes Down, Starting Today

October 26, 2011

WHITE SALMON, Wash. - This fall marks a river renaissance for Washington, according to advocates for native salmon and outdoor recreation.

A hole is being blasted into the base of southern Washington's Condit Dam today, and Northwestern Lake - the reservoir behind it - is expected to drain in just six hours.

The dam-removal process - the third such project to begin in the state in the past two months - won't really begin until spring, but this is the start for which advocates for native fish and river recreation have been waiting for years. The dam has blocked the White Salmon River for nearly a century.

The river already has a reputation among rafters and kayakers, says Amy Kober, spokesperson for the group American Rivers, and they're hoping for even better adventures.

"It's going to be an amazing thing to watch this river come back to life, not only for the fish and wildlife, but the White Salmon is an incredible whitewater boating destination. I know a lot of paddlers are really excited to see what's revealed when the reservoir drains."

The dam removal will restore access to about 14 miles of salmon habitat and more than twice that for steelhead. Since the White Salmon runs into the Columbia River, Jeremy Brown of the Washington Trollers Association says it will benefit the overall restoration efforts for native fish.

"The Condit is important to us as fishermen because it will restore access for salmon to a significant area, not only just in terms of stream miles but in terms of the quality of that habitat."

The Yakama Nation is going to live-stream video of the blast to its tribal headquarters for all to witness. Chairman Harry Smiskin says the headwaters of the White Salmon start on Mount Adams, which is sacred to the tribe, and the dam has been a longtime source of contention.

"Oh, we have been concerned about it for many decades. I don't know if it's going to return to its original state; I suppose after a period of years, we'll see. We're hopeful that it will get very close to its original origin, though."

Condit Dam generated electricity in past years, but as with many older dams, its owner, PacifiCorp, decided it would be more costly to keep it running than to tear it down. As a public-safety precaution, all fishing and boating on the White Salmon have been prohibited until further notice.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA