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Condit Dam Removal Today, Watch it live

I flew down to Portland, Oregon and picked up the rental car and drove up to Hood River and checked into the hotel for the night.  It was still daylight so I drove across the bridge over the Columbia River and up the road to White Salmon and just above the Condit dam which will be breached Wednesday and Condit dam removal the White Salmon River restored its former natural, free-flowing, self. (Watch the breach live here at noon Pacific, 3pm eastern)  All the turnoffs from the road have been blocked so people don’t stack up and get too close to the where the dam will be dynamited. Signs are posted  at every turn off that goes toward the river – WARNING Condit Dam Removal, River Closed to all Boats. 

The Sierra Club was one of 15 groups that intervened in the mid-1990’s, along with American Rivers Northwest Office and the Yakama Indian Nation, when the federal permit for Condit expired and Pacific-Corp applied for a renewed license.  The river and watershed are part of the historic lands of the Yakama Indian Nation and part of their ancestral fishing grounds. 

The end result was a determination that it was more cost-effective to remove the dam than try to restore and maintain fish passage around the dam.  Removal of the Condit dam will restore about 30 miles of spawning grounds and habitat for Chinook and Coho salmon along with Steelhead.  The White Salmon River comes off the Southwest slopes of Mt. Adams and is fed by glaciers running down steep canyons, tumbling rapids and falls, and shrouded in forests.  These cold waters are ideal salmon habitat and particularly important in a climate warming world where these cold water fish will increasingly need to seek out cooler watersheds to survive. 

The breaching of the Condit dam follows on the heels of the river restoration ceremonies and the start of dam demolition on the Elwha River at the end of September.  It is a vivid reminder that dams aren’t forever and that rivers can and should flow again.  The four dams on the Lower Snake River – which make a lethal migration corridor for the remaining wild salmon and steelhead of Central Idaho, Southeast Washington, and Northeast Oregon – are now part of an extended litigation effort to restore these fabled salmon runs that Lewis and Clark described on their westward journey.  They too may join the remains of the concrete being removed to restore rivers and salmon. 

Above the Condit dam is an amazing stretch of whitewater that is a major draw to rafters and kayakers. My son guides for a commercial whitewater rafting company on this stretch of river during the summer. Removing the Condit dam will add another section of wild water for the boaters too, not just the fish. My son sent me an e-mail last night knowing I was coming down for the ceremony and breaching of the dam.  It simply said – ride the wave Dad.  I think I’ll watch it instead, and savor the thought of salmon and steelhead surging up those rapids in years to come as my son runs our boat down them.  I’m looking forward to riding the raft and throwing flies for the steelhead in years to come.

-- Bill Arthur, Sierra Club Deputy National Organizing Director 



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