“Last Drink” — New Time-lapse Video

A number of people have asked for more time-lapse products related to the Condit Dam decommissioning.  Here (https://vimeo.com/85659994) is a very simple but interesting time-lapse video constructed from some 7,000 images taken over a 6 hour period (one image recorded every 2.5 seconds) on blast day (26Oct11).  The 6 hour time period is compressed into 11 minutes of video.  The camera was situated on the upper deck of Cabin 69 (Cyphers), 0.4 miles mile upstream of the dam on the west shoreline.  View is to the south, and toward the dam.

The video begins by showing a black dog wandering down to the shore for a drink, and then beating a fast retreat at the exact time of the explosion.  He may have even felt the shock wave of the explosion in his tongue, although nothing was visible to those of us along the lake.  The dog wore a surprisingly guilty expression during the remainder of the day, as he had wrongly assumed responsibility for a catastrophe.

The rest of the video speaks for itself.  The first several minutes of the flush were characterized by the movement of relatively clean reservoir water through the drain tunnel.  This was soon followed by large masses of non-suspended slurry derived from bank collapses moving forward and being discharged along with increasingly turbid erosional reservoir water.  Later, when most of the reservoir water was drained, the flushed material seemed to be dominated by river water carrying a full sediment load, plus a heavy non-suspended bed-load moving in dune-like fashion below the surface.  This form of bed-load movement was visible 2-3 hours into the flush (see about 4 minutes into the video) in the form of “sand waves” travelling upstream.  The slow upstream progression of sand wave dunes (actually the expression of downstream movement of sand and other particles) is visually accelerated using time-lapse.

During most of this period, I was standing on the west shore just upstream of the emerging Jaws canyon section (above the mouth of Little Buck Creek and ¼ mile above the dam).  Looking back to about 15 minutes into the breach, I noticed that the entire lower reservoir surface began flowing upstream for perhaps 5-10 minutes (beginning about 40 seconds into video).  This coincided with the appearance of the first turbid surface water.  This upstream surface flow was occurring despite the very steady and fast drawdown of reservoir level at the dam, and not what I would expect to see if the mechanics were as simple as unplugging a bathtub.  My best explanation is there may have been a layer of dense slurry moving fast along the reservoir bottom, which was displacing the lower-density and slower moving surface water, thus forcing surface water back upstream.  Perhaps someone has modelled this or similar situations, and can better scientifically explain the complex movements of water, bed-load and slurry happening that day.  Comments are welcomed.  We would also welcome guest posts, if anyone wants to jump in with meaningful information on this or other aspects of the Condit decommissioning.




On Saturday, January 25, 2014, a group I was touring with along the west shoreline of the White Salmon River noted that a recent landslide had occurred on the vertical canyon wall approximately ¼ mile above the Mill Creek confluence.  The site was visited again today to get photos and the estimated size of the slope failure.


This photo, taken from an upstream vantage, shows the rust-stained surface of the newly exposed basalt, and tell-tale absence of the horizontal lines that betray the old Northwestern Lake water level (click on image to enlarge).  In the river is the conical pile of rock rubble that now slightly restricts river flow.  The estimated height of the pile is 15+ feet, and the diameter is 50 feet.  Assuming these dimensions are fairly close, the size of the landslide was about 300 tons.

Such an event obviously leads to speculations of cause.  Three ideas all relate to the current absence of Northwestern Lake.  First, the cliff rock was buoyed by reservoir water prior to 2010.  Since the weight of rock is much less underwater, the downward and outward forces that can lead to slope failures are much higher now that the reservoir is drained.  Second, it’s possible that water in the hillside is still adjusting to the reservoir’s absence, and hydro-static forces once balanced by the pooled water may still be pushing the rock outward.  Third, the rock face is now subject to freezing and thawing that can pry and destabilize the rock (see Dan McShane’s comment on this post).

Regardless of cause, landslides and other types of earth movement are very common geologic events, which can be harmful if people and structures are proximate.  Increasingly though, watershed and fisheries studies have shown that landslides are important sources of mineral and organic matter entering rivers and streams.  Input of these materials is important to providing adequately sized spawning gravel for fish, and nutrients for aquatic plants and animals.  The addition of these materials through landslides and other mechanisms is also critical to the proper functioning of floodplains, which are vital to regulating peak flows during floods.  In this way, landslides and other types of geologic mass movements may protect human lives and property.

Pre-Dam Removal Aerial Photo Showing January 2014 Landslide Location

2014 Landslide JPEG snip version

Great “Pre-Slide” Oct13 Photo of Rock Wall by Darryl Lloyd — Thanks Darryl


Condit Dam Removal Complete!

Barely a year after the breach of Condit Dam, all of the concrete has been removed and the White Salmon flows freely.  By all counts the dam removal has been a success–salmon have returned and spawned above the site, rafters and kayakers are regularly paddling the river, and the whole effort happened without major incident.  A huge congratulations to the contractor, JR Merit, is certainly in order.  Nicely done!


The most striking thing about the Condit Dam site today is the lack of evidence that the dam was ever there.  It’s almost disorienting–the dam and its related infrastructure was a fixture of the landscape for as long as anyone can remember.  When I walk around the site today I almost find myself getting lost.  It’s weird and really fantastic.

Through the Notch

While paddling through the site of the former dam is certainly an incredible experience, it’s really the salmon recovery that makes the dam removal truly exciting.  When I pressed most biologists to predict when salmon might return to spawn, I usually got a conservative 3-4 year estimate.  But salmon had already started spawning above and below the former dam site before crews had even finished removing the last of the concrete.  The lower river sufficiently recovered from the sediment bomb of breach day for salmon to spawn downstream and upstream habitat remained in great shape.  The biggest thing we’ve learned from this process?  If we get out of the way and let nature do it’s thing, recovery will happen incredibly quickly.  But, hey, don’t take my word for it.  Ask this guy…


So what happens next?  Crews still need to finish wrestling with the log jam in the Narrows and tree planting will happen in the former reservoir area.  There’s lots on monitoring left to do and lose ends to tie up, but this dam removal’s just about wrapped!

Now, I know what you’re wondering.  Yes, we have the complete timelapse footage of the dam removal processed and ready to go.  And no, you can’t see it.  Yet.  (Sorry!)  I’m producing a special for PBS about Condit and the timelapse footage will premiere with the show sometime this spring.  Once it has aired, we’ll put both the complete show and the timelapase footage here on the site.  In the meantime, just keep rewatching the footage from breach day…

Stay tuned–more updates to come!

Condit Dam Removal Update #6

As most folks know, this August marks the last month of Condit Dam’s existence.  That really hit home this morning, as I rounded the final rock outcrop on the precipitous trail leading to the west-side Station 1.  The demolition contractors were within about 10 vertical feet of intercepting the drain tunnel, and were well below the elevation of the old Cameron Bridge.  In a later conversation with Garth Wilson of Kleinfelder, he explained that only 3,000 of the original 30,000 cubic yards of concrete remains to be removed.  While a positive figure (i.e., 90% of the material has been removed), work space is becoming more limited as the dam recedes, and there are challenges relating to how the remaining material can be removed from the deepest part of the canyon.  To do the job, it sounds like the company will be using carefully controlled explosives to fracture the lowest portion of the dam into large chunks that can be lifted out with a clam-shell bucket mounted to a large crane stationed on the original Cameron Bridge terrace.

Also today, I attempted with some success to use a Canon T2i camera for shooting some video of the ongoing work.  It’s not pretty (I am not a video man by any stretch), but if nothing else, it will give folks some understanding of the current work.  Of some interest is the third clip from the start, which shows the toppling and breaking of the final section of spillway apron wall.  If interested, check out the Vimeo link below…


Condit Dam Removal Update #5

The timelapse camera at Station 1 below the dam has been woozy since late June, which has required repeated trips to reprogram, change batteries, and just today replace the power converter circuit.  Thanks to Mark at Harbortronics in Ft. Collins, we have new parts installed that will hopefully solve the problem and get things running.

In the meantime, work on both dam removal and restoration of the old reservoir is happening fast.  I figure I’ll use the rest of this cloudy morning in Husum to provide some mid-July progress updates.  Here they are… and remember you can click on images to enlarge…

Two weeks ago I was given the opportunity to cross the dam and go through the  demolition area with Stephen Caruana of Kleinfelder and Associates (prime engineers on the project).  This photo was taken from the west hillside, and shows the ramp that leads to the original wooden flow-line route, where concrete from the demolition is being placed in the trench for later recontouring, retopsoiling and revegetation.  

This second photo was taken today (7-14-12) from Station 1, and shows how much of the dam has been busted, loaded and hauled to the spoils location along the old flow-line route.  I’d hazard a guess that 30% of the dams original height has been reduced so far.  I also noticed that Merit seems to be doing a good job of preventing the broken concrete from entering the river above and below the site.  This picture shows them using three hydraulic excavators (with jackhammer heads) to precisely break the cement into chunks that can be handled by the loaders and off-road dump trucks.  If drilling and blasting methods had been used, the difficulties with containing the broken concrete would have been much higher, and there would have been more likelihood of impacting downstream water quality and aquatic life.  

This third photo shows the White Salmon River immediately downstream of the currently breached dam.  As such, this reach was the first to feel the impact of last October’s (2010) breach.  Surprising is the fact that it has not changed much from the pre-October condition.  Note that turbidity in this section, and in the now exposed reservoir reach, is visually almost back to normal, except during days when the contractor is actively pushing reservoir sedments into the river during regrading operations (see below).  The same thing can’t yet be said for the lower river, where the gradient shallows prior to entering the Bonneville pool.  The lower river’s sediment transporting ability is still adjusting to the high sediment load, although the two are coming close to a balance.

In my way of thinking (as a person who used to earn his buck doing mined land reclamation in the Black Hills of South Dakota), this view of the old reservoir about 1/2 mile above the dam shows the most exciting aspect of the rapid-flush river restoration method employed at Condit.  The Condit rapid-flush method is interesting given that it relies on the power of water stored behind the dam to complete the first and most important phase of restoration, that being the removal and regrading of many of the near shore and low-wall sediments. The success, at least in this reach, is evident at the bottom of the photo, where sloughing of reservoir sediments to the original ground surface has occurred.  Note the 100 year old and well preserved stumps!   Above this level, where hillside gradients are shallower and sediments were more stable, thick terraces of reservoir sediment still remain.  Providing for the long-term stability of these upland terraces (to minimize erosion, sedimentation, and water quality degradation), therefore, came to be recognized as the most important component of restoration surrounding Condit Canyon.  Restoration at Condit (and all other landscape restoration projects) primarily involves “kick-starting” processes that lead to improvements in a) hydrology, b) topography, c) soil mantles, and d) vegetation.  By far, the most important targets for this work are riparian (stream side) areas and hillsides, as opposed to river channels themselves.

The active restoration seen in the background and foreground is bulldozing to regrade the perched sediment veneers back to more stable slope angles.  A small side channel has also been regraded to restore the hydrology, and enable establishment of a permanent plant cover.  Seeding and planting will occur in fall 2012 and spring 2013.  The photo also shows where the company has placed logs salvaged from the reservoir.  Logs were recently placed both horizontally and vertically on the slope, to provide sites for plant germination, shading, colonization by invertebrates, and habitat for cavity nesting birds.  

As a final note… just as PacifiCorp is successfully using very old cable logging technology and local knowledge to accomplish important aspects of the dam removal, it will be vital to use established, time-tested revegetation methods and plant materials for regenerating the forests that once occupied the slopes around the canyon.   Local foresters, natural resource specialists and nurserymen have, for the past 50 years, developed proven methods of reestablishing forests… something that is vital to addressing weed colonization, soil erosion, river sedimentation, loss of stream shade, and insufficient large wood recruitment for fish habitat.  To ensure restoration success, it will be important for the company to put high emphasis on establishing the climax forest vegetation types as quickly as possible, which is something the old-timers found a good method of doing.  

Adios Coffer Dam, Exciting News

Well, there you have it–the coffer dam has been completely removed.  Last month, crews cut a steep road down to the river and, with brute force, pulverized it.  Pretty wild how well preserved and structurally sound it was after 100 years under Northwestern Lake.

And now for a few items of BIG NEWS…

– The current prediction for the river being fully open for recreation is Labor Day 2012.  Mark your calendars and get your raft/kayak ready because this is going to be really fun.    Obviously, this whole dam removal process is a big experiment so things could still happen to delay or advance this date.

– Steve and I were recently awarded a grant to help us continue documenting this project.  We’re not getting rich yet, but we may have recouped our costs to this point!

– I’ve been tapped by Oregon Public Broadcasting to produce a half-hour episode for a program called “Field Guide” about the removal of Condit.  I’ll shoot through September or October and the show will likely premiere in February.  It will be available online after the premiere.

Filming deconstruction activities for an upcoming episode of Field Guide.


Stay tuned for more updates…

Early Spring Dam Removal Update

Winter has turned to spring on the White Salmon and crews are now steadily chipping away at the concrete structure of Condit Dam.  The major event now is the removal of the coffer dam–crews are working right now to remove it before spring fish runs begin making their way into the White Salmon and up towards the dam site.

Downstream, the river has eroded a meandering channel in the sediment deposits and is starting to look like a natural stream again.  Healthy sediment deposits have been restored and the river is quickly cutting through much of the surplus deposited during the breach and settling into its path.

Upstream at the Northwestern Lake Park, crews are working to have a boaters’ takeout ready in time for Memorial Day–something I’m sure the commercial rafters and recreational boaters alike are excited about.

On the timelapse front, our cameras have been steadily clicking away all winter and won’t be stopping anytime soon.  Expect photo updates from Steve and I throughout the spring and summer, but I don’t plan to put together another timelpase clip until late summer when the dam has been completely removed.  Have to save the video updates for milestones in the dam removal process!

Thanks for following our site during the slower winter times.  As soon as the action picks up again, we’ll be sure to increase the frequency of our updates.

Condit Dam History – Part 8

About 15 years ago, the pioneering White Salmon River whitewater outfitter Phil Zoller hypothesized that the White Salmon may have once harbored a population of what he called “June hogs”.  June hog was the term used by early European inhabitants of the Columbia basin for an almost mythological run of summer or spring Chinook salmon that once migrated far up the Columbia past Kettle Falls and on to British Columbia.  These fish grew to almost 100 pounds and over 4 feet in length.  Phil based his belief on the large river cobbles that characterize the White Salmon’s bed, and reasoned that only a large 50+ pound fish would be capable of churning the heavy rock into a spawning bed.  The 85 pound “June hog” pictured above was caught at Astoria in 1925 (photo courtesy NWCouncil.org). Compare this to fish possibly caught in White Salmon River below.

Fifteen years ago was also the time that tribal, state and federal fish managers began discussing what fish might be suitable for recolonizing the White Salmon after dam removal.  Although I was only peripherally involved these discussions through our local White Salmon River technical committee, we all continued to share Phil’s wonder as what fish may have been in the river before the dam, and whether June hogs may have been part of the mix.

Somewhat unexpectedly, in 2004 a gentleman in The Dalles, Oregon named Bill Kreps shared a collection of his family photographs showing construction of the dam.  It turned out that one of Bill’s relatives was actually the original superintendent at the dam, and had photographed aspects of his job, and also his fishing expeditions.  After scanning Bill’s collection, I examined them with fish biologists who were working on the issue, including Larry Marchant (manager of the USFWS Spring Creek Hatchery) and Brian Bair (fish biologist with USFS).  A few images from the Krep’s collection are included below.  The first shows a huge “June hog” next to a young boy, probably near the superintendent’s house.  The second shows men who were likely connected to Condit, shown with steelhead males.

Today, White Salmon fish managers are pretty certain that the river above Condit Dam once held populations of steelhead, fall Chinook, spring Chinook, coho and Pacific lamprey.  Although the Kreps photos show tantalizing evidence of what fish may have found a home in the White Salmon, we can’t be 100% certain that the fish pictured were actually caught in the river.  Perhaps the answer will never be known, but if anyone reading this article has any additional information (identity of the people pictured, scenes, other photos related to fishing on the river, etc.), posting that information to this site would be appreciated (or email me at stampfli@gorge.net).

Condit Dam History – Part 7

My interest in photographically documenting the removal of Condit Dam began about 8 years ago, during a year-long project sponsored by US Fish & Wildlife Service and PacifiCorp.  The goal for the year was simply the expansion of public knowledge surrounding the decommissioning.  During that time, Gail Miller and Arianne Poindexter of PacifiCorp provided me with an amazing collection of photos from the company’s archives, which documented most phases of the original construction.  Here were images of the Greek immigrants who built the dam, their housing in great tent camps, the original equipment, and many other aspects of construction.  The photos were likely a tool used by Northwestern Electric Company to monitor implementation of the project by their contractor Stone & Webster of Boston,  Massachusetts.   It’s also likely that they were photographing the work for posterity sake, knowing that their work was shaping the future of the Northwest.

In my work, it soon became obvious that the builders were documenting dam construction using an early “time-lapse” photo technique.  For all its modern complexities, time-lapse is simply the process of taking a sequence of pictures over time from the same vantage point.

Using topographic maps, I was able to roughly determine where their main photo point must have been.  It seemed that their main station had been on the very steep basalt slope above and west of the dam.  Armed with the original photos,  I set-off hiking one morning, starting at the original rock quarry and rock crusher site, and proceeded down the route of the old rock chute to the dam.  After scrambling down and across 100%+ gradient slopes, I found a bare, east facing rock knob, that seemed to provide the original vantage used by Northwestern Electric almost a century before.

The work being done today by Andy and me is centered on documenting the removal of Condit Dam, charting the rapid changes in the reservoir sediments, and capturing a record of vegetation recovery in the recently uncovered “Condit Canyon”.  This is largely being accomplished via photography from the historic west dam photo point (current “Station 1”).

The video below represents a first attempt at compiling a time-lapse sequence of pictures taken at Station 1 over the past 99 years. The first historical image gives a good overview of the canyon’s appearance in  August 1912, and even a glimpse of the exact location of the upstream coffer dam.  The series continues through the date the reservoir filled and water first spilled over the top on March 21, 1913.  It concludes with recent images taken in late October 2011, when the dam was breached.

Removal of Condit Dam is scheduled for completion in fall 2012… some 100 years plus a few months after the very first work began…

Deconstruction Begins


I hiked out to check on the timelapse cameras yesterday and snapped a few photos of crews chipping away at the dam.  Significant progress has already been made–in this photo you can see that the flow line from the dam to the powerhouse has been removed, the building that housed the flow controls is gone and a significant chunk of the concrete structure of the dam has been removed.  Stay tuned for updates as deconstruction continues!