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.  

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5 thoughts on “Condit Dam Removal Update #5

    1. I am saddened to read comments or thoughts like this. For me, the loss is the original habitat, for fish and animals and forests that we displaced in our march towards greatness as a nation. I remember a science project one of our fellow students did during the late sixties with regard to pollutants dumped into the Columbia River at the Camas paper mill. A primary reason for building this dam was to electrify the Camas Mill. Thankfully much has been done in years since to rectify the poisoning of our rivers and streams locally by this mill and others, but at that time fish that were released for this science project in the area near the outflow pipes coming from the paper plant died within a short time of coming in contact with the river water laced with toxic waste in the area where afluents leaving that plant entered the river.
      When one looks at the damage dams have done to many runs of fish populations all along the west coast and inland and the damage that has been caused to the fishing industry as a result, it becomes clear that it is much more than a small group of people who are being pacified or who have been affected. While one dam being removed is no panacea, it is a start to a problem that will; take most likely billions to help rectify our salmon and steelhead fish populations which continue to dwindle. Dams are not the only problem facing environmentalists wishing to restore habitat. The Klamath River is an example of everything that could possibly be done to destroy a natural environment in one river system. Dams on the Klamath with no fish ladders which has stopped the spawning on the upper reaches of the river as well and its tributaries and no good way to retrofit, numerous piles of debris from abandoned mining left along the river banks and local streams entering the system, reservoirs that raise the temperature of waters and irrigation for farming siphoning off water upstream reducing flow greatly. The effect is the loss of one of the most important fish environments on the west coast. The same thing happened on the Columbia with the building of the Grand Coulee Dam which ended all upstream spawning habitats. A check into local histories of coastal fishing industries that have died, including the canneries and export industries, charter boating and loss of income to most communities along the west coast from companies that supplied a formerly robust fishing fleet that is but a shadow of what it once was is by no means a small percentage of people.
      Although, historically, they are rarely counted appropriately in the conversation, I would be willing to bet that the natives of this area thought that the real horrendous loss was done when this dam and others were built on the rivers that were the spawning areas that helped to populate their ancestral fishing areas. Maybe we should all take a closer look at the millions of pounds of fish that were collected with fishing wheels and nets, etc., at the turn of the century along the Columbia alone. In one year, 1906, it can be estimated that there was some 20 to 30 million pounds of salmon taken from fish wheels alone and this form of mass overfishing was not stopped until the thirties. This shows the nearsighted thinking that helped to allow the decimation of our ancient forests and fish stocks early in the twentieth century without any thought for what that might eventually lead to. It was as though no one had any idea that our recourses might be limited. For me, this dam removal is but a first baby step towards the eventual goal of trying to repair some of the damage that has been done to our environment for the sake of at first, robber barons and later, corporate profits. The horrendous loss, in my estimation, is that a good deal of our forests today are tree farms, where the original habitat is turned upside down or nonexistent, that the Columbia, one of the mightiest rivers on the west coast is no more than a series of lakes, that the Klamath river for all intents and purposes is a dead river, made so by our forefather’s greed and avarice. I know a number of Natives who still grieve the loss of the Celilo and Kettle Falls, both natural wonders and a place that northwest natives fished for centuries that were unfortunate enough to be in the path of the proper location for dams. This does not count the thousands of acres of former Native bottom lands that are now underwater. One of the few things the Natives had been left with through treaties, farmable lands and fishing rights, were eliminated to a great degree by the loss of these ancient fishing areas.
      I guess one could say, “What’s done is done”! Maybe it would be better said, “What’s done is now thankfully undone.” Thanks to that small percentage of people who cared enough to right a wrong and to the folks who have worked to document this process.
      Daniel

  1. All of the posts and photos on this blog are fascinating – thank you – but I’m particularly moved to comment on this one. Love that last paragraph, esp. Let’s hear it for time-tested technologies!

    1. Thanks for commenting Ana Marie. I better explain this paragraph a little more…As you know, forest land owners and managers have for many decades been responsible for reestablishing forest vegetation subsequent to clear cuts (which Condit Canyon represents, dating from 1912-13). Given this, local owners, local managers, local nurseries, universities,etc. etc. (including USFS and WA DNR) have done extensive research and development on the best ways to select seed sources, grow seedlings, establish seedlings in the field, and steward those seedlings until they are established as functional trees. Today, in our region, this has often resulted in close to 100% survival of whatever optimally suited forest species are planted.

      I have often observed that many restoration endeavors make use of specialty consultants (often landscape architects) in distant places, that don’t use local knowledge, have little appreciation of the importance of local seed sources and plant materials, and insufficient knowledge of forest regeneration. This has sometimes resulted in poor restoration success, continued erosion, influx of weeds, etc.

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