The Washington Department of Ecology on Tuesday issued the Section 401 Water Quality Certification to PacifiCorp Energy which will allow the company to continue to move forward with its plan to remove Condit Dam on the White Salmon River.
The action follows a multi-year process to evaluate the environmental risks associated with removing the hydroelectric project on the White Salmon River, which borders Klickitat and Skamania counties in south-central western Washington. Condit Dam is located 3.3 miles upstream from the confluence of the White Salmon and Columbia rivers.
PacifiCorp is proposing, under a multiparty settlement agreement, to remove the dam, instead of renewing its Federal Energy Regulatory Commission operating license. License renewal would require fish passage upgrades. The dam, built in 1913, blocks passage of salmon and steelhead that once inhabited the river’s upper reaches.
Before receiving FERC approval to remove the dam, PacifiCorp Energy needed to obtain certification from the state agency that water quality standards and other water-protection regulations are met during dam removal and subsequent habitat restoration. The certification, required under the federal Clean Water Act, outlines the steps PacifiCorp must take to protect water quality during dam removal and habitat restoration.
"The issuance of the 401 certification makes it possible to remove the dam and meet the objectives of the Clean Water Act to restore and maintain the nation's waters" said Polly Zehm, deputy director for the state agency. "Removal of the dam will allow the river to return to its natural free- flowing state."
Ecology in January completed its “Second Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement” for The Condit Dam Removal Project to better understand the implications of releasing the sediments behind the dam during dam removal. Elevated levels of naturally occurring mercury were found in some of the sediments. Studies indicate, however, that the release of the material during dam removal would actually reduce risks from the mercury by making it less likely to accumulate in fish.
Ecology previously conducted an environmental review of the project comparing the effects of continued operation of the dam with dam removal.
The certification decision can be appealed to Washington’s Pollution Control Hearing Board. Any appeal must be filed within 30 days.
PacifiCorp will now review the document and then take the next step, the pursuit of a dredge and fill permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.
“The final step is the surrender order,” PacifiCorps spokeswoman Jan Mitchell said of a FERC decision allowing removal of the dam.
“We’re hoping to have everything in hand early in the new year,” Mitchell said. That would allow final plans to be drawn and contracting completed for an October 2011 start of the dam demolition.
The existing Condit Hydroelectric Project includes a 125-foot high concrete dam, an approximately 1.8-milelong reservoir, a 13.5-foot-diameter wood-stave pipeline of approximately one mile in length, a reinforced-concrete surge tower, two 650-foot-long penstocks (one steel and one wood), and a powerhouse structure housing two turbines with an installed capacity of 14,700 kilowatts.
Removal of the project would enable the river and watershed to return to the conditions of a free-flowing river. Originally completed in 1913, Condit Dam has since accumulated sediment and blocked fish passage. Removing the dam is expected to provide access to as much as 32.4 miles of river and tributary habitat for anadromous steelhead and salmon, and restore connectivity to foraging, spawning, rearing, and overwintering habitat for bull trout in the lower White Salmon River. The removal also would restore natural bed load movement processes in the river.
Combined with a stable and natural flow regime, dam removal would result in increased salmonid (steelhead, salmon, and bull trout) production potential, according to the SEIS.
The proposed action includes draining the reservoir through a tunnel that would be constructed through the dam, removing the dam, removing the wood stove pipeline, the surge tank and the two penstocks, and filling in the tail race at the power house to the extent that it does not fill in naturally. Concrete from the dam would be disposed of on property near the dam.
With the removal of the dam and old cofferdams within the river bed, Lower Columbia River chinook salmon will regain free and unrestricted access to about 14 miles of historic habitat, and steelhead will regain free and unrestricted access to about 33 miles.
PacifiCorp in 1991 filed an application with FERC to renew the project's license, which was to expire at the end of 1993. The project has been operating under annual licenses since that time.
But after reviewing FERC's 1996 environmental impact statement for the project the company decided that its terms and conditions would make operating the dam uneconomic. They included mandatory prescriptions issued by the NOAA Fisheries Service for installation of state-of-the-art fish passage facilities and higher in-stream flows and other requirements that would result in a cost of from $30 million to $50 million, according to the company.
Three years later PacifiCorp entered into a settlement agreement with intervenors in the licensing process that called for dam removal. The agreement caps the monetary exposure that PacifiCorp could incur for dam removal at $17.15 million in 1999 dollars. The settlement agreement was amended in 2005.
A copy of the certification for the Condit Dam Removal Project may be viewed on-line at the following link: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wr/cwp/condit.html