CONDIT DAM – WHITE SALMON – WASHINGTON
by Stephen Messenger, Porto Alegre, Brazil on 10.30.11
There may be no more potent symbol of our propensity to manipulate nature than a dam — and perhaps no greater testament to changing attitudes than in knocking them down. For nearly a century, Washington’s Condit Dam strangled the White Salmon River, forming a lake which profoundly reshaped the landscape and tipped the local ecosystem’s delicate balance, that is, until last week. In what may be the most dramatic dam removal operation ever caught on film, engineers blew a hole in the Condit Dam, unleashing a torrent water and setting the stage for the river to return to normalcy.
Built in 1913, the Condit Dam was designed as a hydroelectric facility to power a nearby paper manufacturing plant — but it came with a hefty cost for the surrounding environment. Although the resulting lake formed by the backed-up river became a popular tourist destination for boaters and swimmers, its impact on salmon, birds, and other aquatic species dependent on a flowing waterway was immeasurable. After the dam’s operators were told they’d have to add fish ladders to make the river passable once again, they realized it would be cheaper to just scrap the whole thing. So that’s what they did.
Engineers initially breached the dam by detonating explosives, sending a tremendous rush of water and silt downstream. The lake created by the dam was emptied in around two hours, one witness told National Geographic. The Condit Dam was just one of several in the region slated for decommissioning by the National Parks Service.
Check out some dramatic footage from the dam’s breaching: