Oregon-based electric utility PacifiCorp has opted to remove the 38m high, 86-year-old Condit dam in the US. Rather than install fish passage facilities, the utility has decided to remove the dam, which is on the White Salmon river in the state of Washington. The agreement, reached by the utility with the state of Washington, still needs approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), prior to demolition of the dam.

PacifiCorp chose to pay the US$17M cost of removing the dam rather than come up with the estimated US$30M in fish friendly changes that would have been required for the company to renew its federal licence to operate the dam.

The dam, which generates 14MW of power, contributes very little to PacifiCorp’s total generating capacity of 8600MW, which includes 1100MW from hydro power. PacifiCorp signed the agreement to remove the dam, saying the alternative to demolition was costly litigation.

The company was forced to the bargaining table by FERC in 1996, when the agency ordered the company to construct fish ladders and screens as a condition of renewing its operating licence. Under the deal, the utility will be allowed to operate the dam for seven years and to use the revenue from that operation to pay for dam removal.

Condit, the only dam on the White Salmon river, blocks the passage of migratory fish to about 21km of spawning grounds, as well as to several White Salmon tributaries such as Spring Creek and Rattlesnake Creek. Two early attempts to construct fish passages round the dam failed, and the initial owner of the dam, Northwestern Electric, was allowed to pay for a fish hatchery rather than come up with a way for wild fish to pass the dam.

Environmentalists are optimistic that as many as 10,000 salmon will return to the river once the dam is removed. It is also hoped that restoration of the fish runs would make the upstream river more attractive to fish-eating bear, osprey and bald eagles.

The Yakama Nation, an aboriginal group which has treaty rights to sites along the river, will help manage the fishery after the dam is removed.