Condit Dam History – Part 4

As mentioned in the last post, Northwestern Electric Company’s preferred location for a dam on the White Salmon was at The Narrows.  Foundation (geotechnical) surveys under the direction of the company’s chief engineer Frank Walsh began in September 1911, to determine whether solid bedrock existed for the dam’s foundation. 

This photo shows the considerable “test hole” dug into the east bank, on property once owned by Charles Frick.  Early excavation was done via “hydraulic sluicing”, or the use of high pressure water jets to erode away the soil mantle.  Later, the company switched to tunneling.  The steam donkey pictured (essentially a large steam powered winch) was used to muck rock from the tunnel.  Suitable bedrock was never intercepted, and by early April 1912 the company’s evaluations shifted upstream to The Jaws and eventually Cameron Bridge.

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Condit Dam Removal Update #1

Today was an opportunity to visit Condit with two fluvial geomorphology students from University of Montana (), who are establishing 4 time-lapse camera units for tracking of sediment movement during the planned October flush.  One of their stations is located on the east bank below the dam, along the trail currently being used by JR Merit and their sub-contractors for accessing the area below the dam. 

This photo shows a group of workers installing scaffolds that will eventually support a walk-way and stairs leading to the drain tunnel at base of dam.  Note that all dam overflows are now being diverted around the work site via a pipeline that leaves the tunnel site high and dry for the crew now mobilizing.  Tunneling will start the week of 29Aug11 at the base of the dam, just to the right of the flush tube that is seen in the photo partially covered by a steel panel.

The photo below shows the front end loader that will be “flown-in” to the canyon via the now installed overhead cable yarding system.  The loader will be used by the Kiewit crew for mucking demolition debris from inside the tunnel as it’s bored. Remember, there is absolutely no road access to the area shown in the top photo (or to the west side of the dam), hence the need to fly-in all tunelling required equipment via the cable yarder. 

Condit Dam History – Part 3

The Northwestern Electric Company initiated work on what was to become Condit Dam in 1910.  The first step was the hiring of  B.C. Condit as project supervisor, and the dam design and construction firm Stone and Webster of Boston.  After detailed hydrologic investigations by Condit,  Northwestern Electric’s chief engineer Frank Walsh selected three dam site alternatives.  The Narrows (pictured left, and located just upstream of the current surge tank) was the best site for building a tall dam with maximum hydraulic head.  It remains today one of the most scenic reaches of the White Salmon.  Alternate sites were “Cameron Bridge”, where the dam was eventually located, and “Jaws”, a deep canyon just upstream of the current dam near the confluence of Little Buck Creek.  To gain rights to the Narrows, Northwestern Electric acquired 5 acres owned by German homesteader Charles Frick, who then returned to his homeland.

It will be fascinating to see the re-emergence of the Jaws canyon from Northwestern Lake in late October of this year.  The name itself captures your attention, and also the fact that one of the only two traumatic fatalities during construction happened here.  As reported in The Enterprise in spring 1912, a Greek laborer named Peter Drusete fell from a small bridge atop Jaws, smashed his head on the rocks below, and fell unconscious into the White Salmon.  His body floated downstream, never to be recovered.

Condit Dam History – Part 2

Before hydropower, irrigation diversions and commercial rafting, the main commercial use of the White Salmon (and surrounding rivers of the Columbia River Gorge) was for transporting logs harvested along the river corridor.  Several “splash dams” were constructed, as far north as the Trout Lake valley.  When collapsed, these dams would create surges of water large enough to carry logs downriver to mill off-load sites.  Logging and farming were mainstays of the pioneer White Salmon valley economy, as they are to a large degree today.

The scene shifted in 1910 with publication of a US Geological Survey professional paper, which reported on the department’s field assessment of the hydroelectric generating potential of the White Salmon, Little White Salmon, Klickitat and Lewis river basins.  That study by John C. Stevens (Water Supply Paper 253) concluded that the basins with the highest production potentials were the Klickitat, followed by the White Salmon and Lewis.    Concurrently, Herbert and Mortimer Fleishhacker of San Francisco were seeking ways to power their Crown Willamette Paper Mill in Camas, WA.  Harnessing the White Salmon via another of their financial interests, the Northwestern Electric Company, became a possible mode.

Condit Dam History – Part 1

When looking back over the human history that surrounds the White Salmon River and Condit Dam, it is easy to forget that the lower river had been used for thousands of years by Klickitat people (and their predecessors) for harvesting salmon, steelhead and perhaps Pacific lamprey.  Some historians have estimated the native American population at Nakipanic (the village site at Husum Falls, now Husum) was several hundred.  Given that, there were more people living in the Husum town center before 1855 (date of the Yakima Treaty) than there are today.  This concentration of people lends strong support to the presence of a large and vibrant community before homesteading… perhaps more vibrant than today’s.  While construction of Condit Dam in 1913 spelled the certain end of the fishery above river mile 3.2 (i.e., Condit Dam), it’s likely that the 1855 treaty that resulted in translocation of people north to the Yakama reservation, spelled the real end of the fishery and an early way of life on the White Salmon.  The photo at left (taken from Williams “Guardians of the Columbia”, 1912), shows Jacob Hunt, who was born and lived his life in Nakipanic.

Timelapse Cameras Finally Set Up!

After months of planning, Steve and I finally have our timelapse cameras in place and firing photos.  They’ll each be shooting one photo every daylight hour for the next few years, capturing the deconstruction of Condit Dam and the return of the White Salmon River to a healthy, freeflowing ecosystem.

The cameras are stationed in two spots–directly below the dam shooting upstream and 0.3 mi upstream of the dam shooting downstream.  We’ll be posting video clips as progress happens, so stay tuned!