Oregon Field Guide: The White Salmon River Runs Free

What happens when a dam disappears and a river returns? Watch this special edition of Oregon Field Guide about the historic removal of Condit Dam.


1859[1]In 2012, the 100 foot-tall Condit Dam was removed from the White Salmon River in southeast Washington, making it the largest dam in the world ever removed. The goal was simple: Restore habitat for threatened salmon. This first-ever project tested the ingenuity of those tasked with the massive project. But it may also represent a turning point. In a region built on hydropower, is removing dams for threatened salmon the new norm?

Producer & Director of Photography – Andy Maser
Editor – Nick Fisher
Associate Producer – Hayden Peters
Additional Video – Michael Bendixen, Hayden Peters, Nick Fisher, Todd Sonflieth, Brian Lippy, Andy Johnson-Laird & Sylvain Chancel
Stock Material – Steve Stampfli, Zach Zoller, Ralph Bowman, Ryan Scott, Kevin Felts, Sam Drevo, Oregon Historical Society, Daniel Dancer, PacifiCorp,
Special Thanks – Jaco Klinkenberg, Wet Planet Whitewater, Heather Herbeck, Sam Drevo, Todd Olson of PacifiCorp, Tom Gaunt of PacifiCorp, Rod Engle of USFWS, Larry Moran of JR Merit, Tony Washines of Yakima Nation, Ed Jahn, American Rivers, American Whitewater

Appeared in episode: The White Salmon River Runs Free: Breaching the Condit Dam

For more information:

Andy Maser Films

White Salmon Timelapse Project

ODFW Fish Passage Task Force to meet in Salem

SALEM – Oregon’s Fish Passage Task Force will meet in Salem on Friday, Feb. 1 to consider current statewide fish passage issues. The meeting will be held at the Oregon Department of Forestry office at 2600 State Street, Bldg. C.

The meeting will be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is open to the public. The agenda includes Task Force member updates, review of fish passage approvals, waivers, and exemptions, fish passage barrier prioritization, fish passage initiatives, and other Task Force business.

The nine-member Fish Passage Task Force meets quarterly to advise ODFW on fish passage policies and issues. Task Force members represent water users, fisheries and conservation interests, and the general public.

Response from ODFW on fish passage at Mirror Pond

The issue of fish passage at Mirror Pond has come up again recently…in short, I do not think that a roughened channel or natural type fishway would work at this site. I am not familiar with the site, so I wouldn’t want to say 100%, but typically these types of solutions only work in cases when the obstruction is less than 5 or 6 feet tall. In the case of Mirror Pond Dam, my information says its around 20 feet tall. Generally at such a large obstruction there is not enough space downstream to effectively provide passage with a roughened channel or another type of “natural” solution. For example, NMFS guidelines for a roughened channel is max 150 feet long, and maximum 6% gradient. That means that even at these maximums, which may not provide very good fish passage, the maximum “height” the roughened channel could be is 9 feet. Couple that with the natural channel gradient in the stream, which on the Deschutes is likely 1-3% (which gives you a drop of 1.5 to 4.5 feet over 150’), then the roughened channel would only be overcoming 4.5 to 7.5 feet of the 20 foot barrier. In addition, typically roughened channels become very unstable at heights above 5 or 6 feet.

If and when stakeholders and interested parties go down the road of developing and implementing fish passage at Mirror Pond, we will have all options on the table, and will investigate all possibilities for passage. The ultimate goal will be to develop a project that meets the needs of the native migratory fish on site, and meets the needs of all the stakeholders at the site.

I appreciate your participation, interest, and questions in this matter, and do feel free to let me know if you have any other questions.

Thank you, and take care.
Ken Loffink
ODFW-Assistant Fish Passage Coordinator

The Reply to: question-to-odfw-on-natural-type-fishways

Response from ODFW on fish passage at Mirror Pond

verticalslot1My apologies for not getting back to you on your request sooner. I have attached examples of fish passage facilities that have been used at sites similar to the Mirror Pond site. The first two pictures are of “vertical slot” fishways, which would be my first choice given the fish species and hydrology in the Deschutes at that site. This style of fishway allows fish to “swim through” rather than jump over each step of the ladder, and tends to perform well on larger river systems. For a dam structure that is 13-15 feet tall I would expect a vertical slot with at least 17 to 30 steps.

The second two pictures are of pool and weir fishways, which require fish to leap over each step. These pass fish rather well, especially in low water situations but require a little more maintenance versus the vertical slot because the “weirs” need to be adjusted as the river flows go up and down. Vertical slots are self adjusting. Given fish species in the Deschutes the max “jump height” at each step would be 6 inches, therefore a pool and weir solution would have anywhere from 26-30 steps to provide adequate passage over the dam at Mirror Pond.

That is just some basic information and assumptions on possible fish passage solutions, and when the time comes for passage the site will be thoroughly poured over to ensure the correct solution is selected to provide fish passage. If you have any questions, please let me know.

Thank you for your interest and community involvement, take care.

Ken Loffink
Assistant Fish Passage Coordinator
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

vertical slot

Middle Falls- Middle Creek 12

Morgan Creek STEP 3

Deschutes River Subbasin Summary

The only impoundment created by a hydroelectric facility in the upper subbasin is Mirror Pond on the Deschutes River within the City of Bend. Mirror Pond has become one of the primary attractions of Bend as a park for a variety of recreation and local events.

However, this impoundment has created a settling basin for sediment being carried in the river and has been dredged on one occasion at a high cost both in dollars and environment disruption of the stream channel. A smaller impoundment created by the North Canal dam downstream of Mirror Pond has also created a settling basin for sediment and loss of the natural stream channel (ODFW 1996d).

Full Document: Deschutes River Subbasin Draft

FERC to ODFW: “We need more information”

Washington DC 20425

Project No. 2643-091-Oregon
Bend Hydroelectric Project
PacifiCorp Electric Operations

Mr.Randy Fisher, Director
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
2501 SW First Street
P.O. Box 59
Portland d, OR 97207

Dear Mr. Fisher:

In a letter dated January 14, 1994, you commented on our Draft Environmental Assessment (DEA) for the Bend Hydroelectric Project, No. 2643-001, dated August 31, 1993.

We’re in the process of addressing all comments received on the DEA and will be issuing a final EA in the near future. To adequately reevaluate the issues you’ve commented on, we need more information concerning your analysis and recommendations. our questions (in schedule A) concern (1) your efforts to require upstream fish passage at the North Canal Dam (2) your assessment of the Bend Project’s effect on trout, and (J) the status of the habitat improvement projects on the upper Deschutes River.

Please file your response with the Secretary of the commission within JO days of the date of this letter. If you have any questions concerning this request, please call Joe Davis at (202) 219-2865.


John H. Clements
Acting Director, Division of Project Review

Schedule A

1. You say the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has the statutory authority to require upstream and downstream passage facilities at dams, and you have instructed your staff to pursue and achieve installation of upstream passage facilities at the North canal Dam and Bend Hydro Dam.

Please tell us the schedule for installing upstream passage facilities at the North Canal Dam.

2. You estimate that either 14,674 or 18,026 wild rainbow and brown trout (page 2 and 16 respectively, of your Jan. 14, 1994 letter) moved downstream past the Bend Project from January through October, 1990, and a total of 170,961 fish migrated past the (Central Oregon Irrigation District) COID project between April 1 to October 31, 1990. Following installation of screens at the COID project, you estimate that 17,515 trout will pass the Bend project.

Your analysis is based on sampling data of fish movement and size distribution in the Deschutes River at the COID diversion. We need the assumptions and computations on which these estimates are based to complete our analysis.

Therefore, please provide one copy of the sampling data used and the assumptions on which these estimates are based.

Please describe all backup and intermediate computations and explicit and implicit assumptions at each stage. If a computer spreadsheet was used, please provide a copy of the spreadsheet (both hard copy and DOS floppy disk), with the formulas and any linked or associated files or sheets on which the computations are based.

3. You compute spill at the Bend Project using two different methods (Tables 1 and 2 in your January 14, 1994 letter).

Please provide copies of the flow data and computations used in developing these tables. If a computer spreadsheet was used, please provide a copy of the spreadsheet (both hard copy and DOS floppy disk), with the formulas and any linked or associated files or sheets on which the computations are based.

4. You determined that the sweep velocity across the face of the vertical plate screen would be between 3 and 4 fps. We need the assumptions and computations on which these estimates are based to do our analysis.

Therefore, please provide the spreadsheets computations and assumptions on which these estimates are based.

5. You indicate that many habitat improvement projects have been completed in the upper Deschutes River and plans exist for future projects. Please provide more information on the following:

(a) The Bureau of Reclamation’s Upper Deschutes water Conservation Project, which includes canal lining, proposed off-site storage and reregulation reservoirs, etc. Have funds been appropriated for any of this work? When will enough water be conserved to begin increased flow releases below the North Canal Dam?

(b) You say that letters have been sent to all operators of water diversions in Oregon that divert more than 30 cfs, notifying them of the need to provide intake screens and respond with their plans for complying with the screening requirements. Please provide the expected completion date of screen installation for each facility located on the upper Deschutes River.

(c) Please tell us when the following projects are scheduled to be completed:

  • Installing natural materials, such as logs, at Dillon Falls
  • Rebuilding the existing ladder at Cline Falls
  • Installing a vertical slot fishway at the Colorado Street Bridge Dam

Document: ODFW-additional-comments

Critics say hydro plant should be turned off

The aging power plant on the Deschutes River in downtown Bend is a money-loser, a fish-killer and an eyesore, and the community would be better off if it were shut down, critics of a plan to relicense the facility said Wednesday.

However, PacifiCorp officials said the hydro facility that ushered the electric age into Bend eight decades ago can be revitalized and made to safely churn out electricity for decades to come.

“It is old and tired, but there is nothing to preclude it from operations for another 30 years,” said Randy Landolt, a member of PacifiCorp’s hydro division.

PacifiCorp, the parent company of Pacific Power, is seeking a new 30-year federal license for the so-called Bend Project, the dam and power plant built by the now-defunct Bend Water, Light & Power Co. on the east bank of the Deschutes in 1910.

PacifiCorp officials held an all-day meeting in Bend Wednesday to gather comments of various local, state and federal agencies. The government leaders urged the utility to either retire the power plant or make major improvements in the facility.

Critics of the relicensing plan insisted that the utility take steps to reverse longstanding environmental problems, including damage to fish runs, problems created by ice buildup behind the dam and the sedimentation of Mirror Pond.

However, utility officials warned that the small hydroelectric project—which generates enough power to provide electricity to only about 400 homes—is not profitable enough to merit spending millions of dollars on fish screens and other improvements.

“This project cannot in and of itself support every improvement that people want to see,” Landolt said.

PacifiCorp officials sparred with Deschutes County Commissioner Tom Throop and other local government leaders over the question of whether the power plant is responsible for the heavy sediment buildup in Mirror Pond.

The sediment, which comes from eroding banks and other sources on the upper Deschutes River, is deposited in Mirror Pond when the river is slowed at the PacifiCorp dam.

“If the dam wasn’t there, and the power plant wasn’t there, there wouldn’t be a sedimentation problem in Mirror Pond,” Throop said.

“If the dam wasn’t there,” Landolt replied, “there wouldn’t be a Mirror Pond.”

PacifiCorp also was criticized for concluding that fish screens and other measures that would allow fish passage of the dam were simply too expensive to construct, given the limited production at the power plant.

A PacifiCorp study last year concluded that about 40,000 fish—including 1,200 to 1,400 rainbow trout—are swept into the powerhouse turbines each year.

However, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists said the study occurred at the tail end of a four-year drought, when fish populations were at perhaps an all-time low. In fact, biologist Ted Fies said, the number of fish that enter the powerhouse could be more than 100,000 a year.

Rich Kruger, another ODFW biologist, noted that a major effort is under way to improve fisheries in the upper Deschutes, including the stretch of river in the urban area.

“There is a lot of money being poured into this region to improve things. This is of a major importance to us,” Krugar said. “The Department (of Fish and Wildlife) is not going to back down on this.”

Dennis Canty, a National Park Service analyst, noted that PacifiCorp admitted that in the future the Bend Project will cost more to operate than it will produce in revenues. He said the power plant should be retired and the turbines removed, allowing for fish passage.

“This is a fundamentally inefficient project,” Canty said. “I don’t think the public is well served by pursuing licensing for another 30 years. How can you justify this?”

Landolt said PacifiCorp wanted to relicense the powerhouse because it would cost the utility more to shut it down than to keep it operating. “The alternative is a major capital expenditure for retirement with absolutely no revenues to offset it,” he said.

PacifiCorp’s application for relicensing will be presented to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in late December. The agency, which must balance the need for power against the environmental costs of operating the plant, could take several years to issue a ruling on the matter.

The Bend Project’s current license expires in December 1993.

Source: The Bulletin ©1991

Fishways Work To Start Soon

Construction Planned to Open Entire Deschutes to Salmon–
Screening of Ditches Ordered to Save Trout of Central Oregon.


Preparatory to the installation of fish ladders for salmon in the Deschutes river, provided for by appropriation by the last legislature, Master Fish Warden R. E. Clanton and State Game Warden Carl D. Shoemaker will, in company with Deputy District Warden W. O. Hadley, make an inspection of the fishway sites about the end of the present month, Mr. Hadley announced here this morning. They will also take steps to have the ladder at the C. O. I. dam thoroughly overhauled.

The building of fish ladders at Cline falls, Steelhead falls and Big falls has been advocated for several years past by Mr. Hadley, who saw the need of increasing the available spawning grounds for salmon, and at the same time filling the Deschutes river with the great food fish. The construction of ladders will in effect, remove the natural obstacles which have kept the salmon from coming into the upper river.

High Water Hinders.

High water has prevented a careful study of conditions at the falls, necessary before the exact location and specifications for the ladders can be decided on, but by the end of the month it is believed that the river will be low enough to permit an inspection by state officials. Construction is to start shortly afterward. One ladder large enough to permit the passage of salmon has already been constructed by the Bend Water, Light & Power Co. at the power dam in Bend, and Mr. Hadley expressed himself as being well satisfied with the new fishway.

Another way in which the resources of Central Oregon’s streams may be protected is by the careful screening of irrigation ditches, and within a few days the state ditch superintendent will arrive in Bend to look after this phase of the work. Probably the greatest need is on the Squaw Creek ditch, Mr. Hadley says.

New Law Important.

Mr. Hadley emphasized particularly the need for sportsmen to familiarize themselves with the 1919 fish and game laws. …

A number of copies of the synopsis of the 1919 laws have been left at The Bulletin office, and may be secured here by sportsmen as long as the supply last.

Source: Bend-Bulletin-5-22-1919

New Fish Ladder is Being Built


In compliance with a request from the state fish and game commission, the Bend Water, Light and Power Co. yesterday commenced work on a large fish ladder at their power dam in this city. The new work is necessitated by the plan for making the river open to salmon coming up from the Columbia to spawn, and the fishway already installed at the dam was insufficient in size to allow the passage of the big fish.

The ladder now under construction will cost in the neighborhood of $500, Manager T. H. Foley estimates.

Source: Bend-Bulletin-5-01-1919-p5