After 80 years, Powerdale Dam in Hood River is no longer cost effective to operate and is set to be removed in 2010.
The small electric plant, owned by PacifiCorp, was built during severe winter storms in late 1922 and early 1923. It began operating years before the U.S. Corps of Engineers constructed major hydropower operations along the Columbia River. Dave Kvamme, PacifiCorp spokesperson, said in the early stages of its operation, Powerdale generated so much power that about half of its production was sold on the open market.
“It was a state of the art dam for its time,” Kvamme said.
However, during the next eight decades the consumer demand for electricity grew and the maximum output of six megawatts at Powerdale began to lag behind that of larger structures.
In addition, Kvamme said the aging plant required a multi-million dollar overhaul of its fish ladder and screens to better protect endangered salmon runs. Those pending expenditures were coupled with the need to make other capital improvements to extend the dam’s predicted lifespan of 2018.
“The dam is not really putting out enough power at this point to justify those costs,” Kvamme said.
Instead of seeking to re-license the project, PacifiCorp began settlement negotiations in 2000 for the dam’s removal, These dicussions included state and federal agencies, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, local river users and environmentalists.
Under that agreement, the company isn’t required to install new fish facilities while operations continue. Instead, PacifiCorp has offered to halt turbines between April 15 and June 30 each year, when juvenile steelhead, chinook and other salmon are migrating to sea. More water will also be released into the river while the plant is running.
Under the settlement, PacifiCorp will transfer 465 acres of the property along the Hood River to a yet-unknown public or private entity and provide more than $150,000 in funding for long-term preservation of the land for habitat and public recreation. The state will take over water rights and commit them to instream flow.
Currently, Powerdale and Condit Dam, its sister operation in Klickitat County, Wash., share four employees. Kvamme said within the next eight years, three of these individuals will be eligible for retirement.
He said the remaining worker will be able to transfer to another project since Condit is also slated for removal in 2006.