The Craziest Dam Video Ever

A big explosion returns a river to its wild state
Staff Writer

What’s the craziest idea you’ve ever come up with? Running a Class V rapid without scouting? Paddling a Kevlar canoe standing up, gondolier-style? Not wearing a PFD?

For one band of conservationists—paddlers, fishermen and Yakama and Lower Elwha Klallam tribespeople—in the Pacific Northwest, that idea was to remove hydroelectric dams from the White Salmon and Elwha rivers in order to restore salmon spawning grounds. Along the way, they encountered deep-pocketed utilities, scads of bureaucratic red tape and omnipresent political inertia. It took 30 years to accomplish, but last fall the first dam came down with a bang.

The 125-foot-high Condit Dam shackled the White Salmon River for nearly a century, holding spawning salmon to a 3-mile stretch from the river’s confluence with the Columbia. Upstream, toward the river’s Cascade Mountain headwaters, 17 miles of spawning beds lay out of reach. In October, a huge hole was blasted through the base of the dam. Portland, OR filmmaker Andy Maser—who’d been following the story and produced The Craziest Idea, an award-winning documentary about the dam removal and its likely impact on the White Salmon and its users—caught the whole thing in this awesome time lapse:

Northwest Lake is gone now, and the river is slowly returning to its wild state. The rest of the concrete dam is being removed in a much less dramatic—though more environmentally friendly—way. The free-flowing river will open up miles of new salmon habitat and likely create some spectacular whitewater as it drops 125 feet over 1.8 miles. The White Salmon Narrows, a beautiful canyon section that was previously only accessible to boaters during dam releases, will be runnable year-round.

As for the Elwha, its two dams—the 108-foot-high Elwha Dam and the 210-foot-high Glines Canyon Dam—once located downstream of Olympic National Park were incrementally dismantled and are now gone. Biologists predict that the river’s salmon population could swell from its current number of 3,000 to almost 400,000.

These efforts are part of a larger dam removal plan aimed at restoring historical wild salmon runs across the Pacific Northwest.

Check out the trailer for The Craziest Idea, which one best pro documentary at this year's National Paddling Film Festival:

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