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!

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.

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!

Condit Dam Breach: Before and After Images

In skimming through my images one day, I stumbled upon an interesting image I shot months ago from the top of Condit Dam.  The lightbulb went on, and I realized that I had this gem of a before&after sequence:

Enjoy these other shots taken over the course of the last 6 months.  Happy holidays everyone!


(This post scheduled in advance–I’m sitting on a sailboat in Baja right now.  Back mid January!)

Big Changes on the White Salmon

It’s been quite a dynamic 6 weeks on the White Salmon since the October 26th breach of Condit Dam.  Incredible amounts of sediment have moved out of the former reservoir as the river gradually find its way down to the bedrock and into its original channel.  Some of the current sights were predicted–like the emergence of the old cofferdam–others are a total surprise–like the speed at which the uppermost part of the reservoir has eroded.

If you haven’t watched the breach video yet, definitely check it out.  Even if you have seen it, watch it again!

Recently, I headed out to the White Salmon with Rod Engle, a biologist for the US Fish & Wildlife Service, to film a news clip for National Geographic.  That video will premiere online shortly, but I thought I’d share some of what we saw that day in the meantime.

The most surprising update is the amount of sediment downcutting that is happening around the Northwestern Lake Road Bridge.  In Rod’s words, erosion expected to take about a year has happened in only 6 weeks.  Check out these two before and after images by local resident and photographer, Michael Peterson:

Looking upstream from the NW Lake Rd Bridge
Looking downstream from the NW Lake Rd Bridge

You might remember that earlier this fall, the Fish & Wildlife folks rounded up hundreds of wild Tule Chinook Salmon below the dam and transported them upstream to spawn.  The goal was both to prevent them from creating redds (salmon nests) below the dam that would certainly be wiped out during the breach, and to jump start the species recovery process.  Their experiment was proven a success when tons of redds appeared in the upper White Salmon (which helps fuel the debate as to whether using hatcheries in these situations is really necessary–kudos to USFWS and the Yakima Tribe for opting not to go that route on the White Salmon…)

There’s just one problem though…the rapid downcutting exposed some of the redds.  Luckily though, 85% of the documented redds are upstream, out of the path of the downcutting.  It was strange digging around in a threatened salmon redd, but pretty cool to dissect one and really see how it works.


Not much action is happening down at the dam.  The Merit folks have been working on sediment monitoring and figuring out how much active removal will need to happen.  It sounds like the next priorities are to make the whitewater boaters’ takeout usable again and remove the cofferdam.  Incidentally, the takeout is closed both because of sediment and because the foundation of the original bridge was exposed by the downcutting–making the river pretty sketchy.  So, unless you have a friend with riverfront property somewhere upstream of the bridge, there’s really no way to raft or kayak the Lower White Salmon.

What’s happening next with the timelapse project?  Well, the cameras are on autopilot right now–snapping away as things gradually change.  They’ll be running for the next few years as the dam disappears and the landscape settles and revegetates.  Expect another update shortly when my next Condit news clip is released on National Geographic, but otherwise, I’m heading to Baja for some vacation!

Photos and Video from Condit Breach Day

Well folks, October 26th, 2011 is certainly a day that will go down in history. After the Blaster in Charge yelled “fire in the hole!” and ignited the charges, the White Salmon was explosively set free for the first time in 100 years.  The lake took less than 2 hours to drain, carrying an incredible amount of sediment and debris downstream to the Columbia.  Now, a more gradual process begins–the erosion of millions of cubic yards of trapped silt, the return of threatened salmon and ultimately the complete removal of Condit Dam.

Enjoy these photos and video from breach day and stay tuned for more updates as the sediment erodes and the White Salmon re-carves its course. And check out this National Geographic News story, where the breach video first appeared.

Big thanks to American Whitewater, American Rivers, Pro Photo Supply and Clif Bar for making this coverage possible!

Condit Dam Removal Video

What a powerful few days it’s been.  I’m exhausted, elated and very excited to see what’s in store for the White Salmon in the coming months.  While I finally catch up on some sleep, enjoy this video clip that I put together for National Geographic that includes video and timelapse imagery.


(10/30 update: see the more recent post for the video clip.  The National Geographic embed code doesn’t cooperate well with WordPress)

We have more than a terabyte of images from Wednesday, so stay tuned!

The White Salmon River is Freed With a Boom!

Yesterday was incredibly powerful and almost unbelievable. Within seconds of the blast, the White Salmon burst through Condit Dam and Northwestern Lake, the reservoir behind the dam, was drained within an hour — much faster than anyone had anticipated.

I spent much of last night and this morning wading through the incredible amount of images that I was able to capture with our cameras and my computers are still cranking through the rest. I’ll be posting more images and video later this afternoon, but until then here are a few photos to whet your appetite.

And you can see the livestream video from yesterday here…

Condit Dam Coming Down Today

We’ve been up since 5a.m. setting up the cameras. Working quickly because we only have a short time to make sure the system is ready to go… and because we’re so excited. Today’s the day. At noon Pacific, 3p.m. Eastern, crews will blast a tunnel into the base of Condit Dam, effectively freeing the White Salmon for the first time in a century.

We’ll be posting photos and video as soon as possible, so stay tuned… but you can catch the live stream of the Condit blast on the American Rivers website. Get excited. It’s a landmark day and it’s time to celebrate!