After nearly a century of serving PacifiCorp customers, Condit Dam on the White Salmon River in south central Washington will start to be removed this fall, fulfilling a multi-party settlement agreement signed in 1999.
Decommissioning the hydroelectric project is now moving forward after receipt of an essential sediment management permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the final major regulatory step.
On Dec. 16, 2010, PacifiCorp received a surrender order from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission providing for dam decommissioning. The commission modified the Surrender Order on April 21, which, with the Corps permit, provides the regulatory certainty PacifiCorp needed to proceed to remove the 125-foot high dam.
Earlier this month the commission completed review and approval of requisite project removal design and resource management plans.
"We have notified our contractors to move forward," said Todd Olson, program manager for PacifiCorp. "The project has been in the planning stages for more than a decade. These recent regulatory approvals enable us to now move forward with the commitment we made to the settlement parties to remove the dam as soon as feasible."
Dam removal was determined to be less costly to PacifiCorp customers than the fish passage that would be required for operation as part of the federal dam relicensing process. The cost of decommissioning Condit is currently estimated at about $32 million, including funds already spent during the planning process.
"While we move forward on this complex task with determination, it will be sad to see Condit go," Olson said. "It has been supplying low-cost, renewable and emission-free power for our customers since 1913, long before those phrases were even in use."
Yakima Tribal leaders expressed their satisfaction that Conduit Dam is finally being removed.
"The decommissioning of Condit Dam represents a momentous and long-awaited day," said Virgil Lewis of the Yakama Nation Tribal Council, one of the parties to the 1999 settlement.
"This is an essential step in restoring the ecosystem's resources and rebuilding the natural balance that supported the Yakama people and a significant tribal fishery for millennia. We are excited to welcome home the salmon, steelhead and lamprey that have been absent from the White Salmon River over the last century."
American Rivers, a leading national conservation organization advocating for clean water and healthy rivers, pointed to the cooperation behind the decommissioning.
"After years of hard work, we will soon celebrate one of the nation's biggest and most exciting river restoration projects," said Brett Swift, Northwest regional director of American Rivers.
"Condit Dam served a useful purpose, but now the time has come to remove it and restore a healthy, free-flowing White Salmon River," he added. "We applaud PacifiCorp for its leadership. It isn't every day that we get to witness a river coming back to life."
Plans call for a summer full of meticulous preparation before a carefully planned breach in October releases Northwestern Lake through a 13-foot hole blasted out near the base of the dam. Steps to be completed before the breach include the initial excavation of the 90-foot long drain tunnel, dredging the upstream side of the dam at the drain tunnel, work to strengthen a bridge that crosses Northwestern Lake and relocating a water pipeline that crosses the reservoir.
"Safety for everyone involved is a key priority," said Tom Hickey, PacifiCorp's project manager. "People working on the project will be taking special care, and PacifiCorp will also implement a public safety plan. It will be important for people in the area to abide by closure signs and stay out of the project area."
After the initial breach and draining of the reservoir in October, demolition of the remaining portion of the dam is scheduled to begin in spring 2012 and be completed by Aug. 31, 2012. Restoration work throughout the former reservoir area is planned to be completed by the end of 2012.
Throughout this time, PacifiCorp will continue to work with county officials and local residents on access restrictions and other safety measures as the project progresses. Timely public notices will be posted concerning any closures.
For general information on the Condit project, visit: http://www.pacificorp.com/es/hydro/hl/condit.html.