By Shannon Dininny
YAKIMA, Wash. — PacifiCorp is one step closer to removing the Condit Dam on southwest Washington’s White Salmon River, following a decision Tuesday by Washington state regulators to issue a water quality permit.
Portland, Ore.-based PacifiCorp has planned for years to remove the dam rather than pay for expensive upgrades needed to relicense it, but the utility delayed removal while awaiting necessary permits. The dam, built in 1913, sits about three miles upstream of the confluence of the White Salmon and Columbia rivers.
PacifiCorp needed certification from the Washington state Department of Ecology that water quality standards would be met during dam removal and subsequent habitat restoration. Following a multiyear process, the department announced in a statement Tuesday it has issued that certification.The certification makes it possible to remove the dam and still meet the objectives of the Clean Water Act to restore and maintain the nation’s waters, said Polly Zehm, the Ecology Department’s deputy director.”Removal of the dam will allow the river to return to its natural free-flowing state,” she said.The White Salmon River borders Klickitat and Skamania counties. License renewal by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for the hydroelectric dam would require upgrades for fish passage.Once the dam and old cofferdams within the river bed are removed, lower Columbia River Chinook salmon will have unrestricted access to about 14 miles of historic habitat, and steelhead will gain unrestricted access to about 33 miles, according to the Ecology Department.PacifiCorp spokesman Tom Gauntt said the utility still needs permits from the FERC and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for removal, which is slated for fall of 2011.The utility serves 1.6 million customers in Oregon, California, Washington, Idaho, Utah and Wyoming, and is owned by MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., a unit of Warren Buffett’s Omaha, Neb.-based Berkshire Hathaway Inc. PacifiCorp operates as Pacific Power in Oregon, Washington and northern California.Earlier this year, PacifiCorp reached agreement with American Indian tribes, farmers, salmon fishermen, conservation groups and state officials for removal of four hydroelectric dams from the Klamath River in southern Oregon and northern California. The sides have been fighting over water there for a century.Removing the dams is widely seen as a key to restoring dwindling West Coast salmon runs, but removal is not scheduled to start until 2020.