Great day on the White Salmon

I wanted to share a little about what it was like to be on the White Salmon yesterday for the blast at Condit Dam. It was an amazing celebration and so special to share in person with so many colleagues and friends.

It was a beautiful fall day. I think when I look back on the day I’ll remember the colors most vividly. The dark gray river silt – the exposed former reservoir, the muddy gush flowing downstream. And the gold – the yellow October foliage along the river – alders and maples. And… a friend’s bright yellow hard hat falling off, as he leaned over the spillway for a look, the hat bounced, bounced, bounced down the dam, landed in the gray, and the river carried it away.

There were two main events today – the dam owner PacifiCorp hosted an official recognition event. Brett Swift, our NW regional director, was there, along with other leads on the dam removal project.  The rest of us were at Wet Planet, a whitewater outfitter a couple miles up river from the dam. It was a homegrown party with free beer thanks to New Belgium, and commemorative stainless steel pints from Klean Kanteen.  So many volunteers pitched in to make the party happen and amazingly it went off without a hitch – we had 300 people.

A colleague texted me when our DC office had gathered in the conference room, right before noon pacific time, to watch the live stream of the blast. At that moment I was panicking because all of our screens in the tent were showing an error message. But our heroic IT guy got everything working and finally, yay, we saw the dam on the screen. But then a little more standing around, waiting.

Rich Bowers of the Hydropower Reform Coalition stood up and said someone from the PacifiCorp event texted him – looks like the blast will be in 3-5 minutes. So all eyes went back up to the screen – and at that very moment – BOOM! Actually, we didn’t have the audio, but wow, the visual!

If you missed it, watch it now:

Everyone erupted into cheers. In case you’re wondering what it was like from other vantage points — folks from the PacifiCorp event said they could both hear and feel the boom (800 pounds of explosives), because they were much closer to the dam than we were (but still watching it via live feed for obvious safety reasons).

One of my colleagues was at the mouth of the river. He said right before the blast he saw salmon rolling — like a good omen — and then he watched as eventually the river clouded with sediment and a lot of wood and debris came down.

I have to admit, my first thought when I saw the blast wasn’t ‘yay, the river is free’ but ‘yay, our filmmaker’s cameras are working!’ (Andy Maser, we love you) We were amazed at how fast the reservoir drained. We had been told it would take six hours, but it looks like it happened in just one.

After a while a bunch of us got to go to the dam, shuttled by the Wet Planet bus. We donned our hard hats, safety glasses, and orange vests, and got a look at the former reservoir – a gray shiny river carving through steep eroding banks of dark gray sediment. Old stumps and logs. A couple people remarked on the smell – the rich wet sediment smell in the chilly air.

We walked through the dam, past the old-fashioned gears and wheels, down some steps/scaffolding, out on to the spillway. We leaned over and saw the hole that was blasted earlier in the day. And flowing through the hole, the beautiful, muddy White Salmon River! (It will take until spring 2012 for the whole dam to be fully removed)

Everyone kept asking me today, so where’s the next old dam you’re tearing down! Elwha, Condit, …? I just said there will be many more!