The operator of the Condit Dam in southeastern Washington recently concluded that what's good for the salmon is also good for the company's bottom line. On Sept. 22, it agreed to demolish the dam by 2006.
In 1996, the federal government told dam operator PacifiCorp that a new license for the dam would require more than $30 million worth of fish ladders and other protections for the river's salmon. Since the 85-year-old dam only provides enough electricity to power 13,000 homes, says spokesman Dave Kvomme, the renovation "doesn't even come close to penciling out as an economic resource for our customers." The dam will cost about $17 million to take down.
Environmentalists are thrilled. "I think (the agreement) says it's possible to get together with dam operators and arrive at solutions that meet everybody's needs," says Katherine Ransel of American Rivers, a nonprofit group that for eight years has spearheaded efforts to remove the dam.
Ransel says the Condit sets an example for her organization's new goal: to remove four federally owned dams on the lower Snake River. She's not the only one who says this could be the first domino to fall. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt gushed to the Seattle Times that the Condit Dam "has become the Northwest's epicenter of hope."
As part of the agreement with PacifiCorp, the Yakama Nation, which has historically used the watershed for fishing, will receive over $1 million to reestablish new salmon runs. "It's time to return the river to the public," says Steve Parker, a fishery biologist for Yakama Nation. "The public needs the salmon right now more than it needs the electricity."