White Salmon River Saved from Residential Sprawl!

photo courtesy of Jeanette Burkhardt, Yakima Nation

Less than a year after the Condit Dam was removed from the White Salmon River, Crag secured another big victory for citizens and fish that rely on this Wild & Scenic River.  Crag Law Center has been representing community-based groups Friends of the White Salmon River and Friends of the Columbia Gorge in a challenge against Kickitat County’s proposed plans to rezone over a 1,000 acres of riverside land for residential development.

In a case that was years in the making, Clark County Superior Court ruled that Klickitat County violated the Washington State Constitution protections for private property and state environmental laws. The violations are associated with a broad-scale rezoning that allowed residential sprawl on over 1,000 acres of land along the Wild & Scenic White Salmon River. If left unchecked, the sprawl would have likely added hundreds of homes on small two-acre lots.

The dam removal restored salmon to historic spawning grounds and by bringing this river back to its natural free-flowing state. The Court’s decision helps protect salmon and the astonishing recovery process. The decision protects the source waters that flow in the tributaries and sub-surface in this “gaining” river, which is a river that is fed by surrounding shallow aquifers, seeps, springs and tributaries in what is a highly leaky hydro-geologic system. These are the very values for which this Wild & Scenic River was designated.

Crag Law Center’s Ralph Bloemers took the case on for the plaintiffs in 2009 and pursued the case for almost four years.  The case was argued in February of this year and the Court ruled in favor of the Plaintiffs on all six claims.

photo courtesy of David Hammond

Pat Arnold, President of Friends of the White Salmon River, stated:

“The County failed to ensure that salmon and steelhead will be protected. Many stakeholders have spent countless hours and millions of dollars to return fish to the river, and we need to do everything we can to protect this valuable community asset.”

Plaintiffs challenged the county for passing zoning ordinances that spread development across the landscape from Husum down to the former dam site and on both sides of the river in and around BZ Corner. The decision would have allowed hundreds of new water wells and septic systems threatening water supplies with depletion and pollution. Arnold explained:

“This decision gives us an opportunity to actually address how to protect existing water supplies, private property and the key tributaries of the White Salmon River that are critical to fish and wildlife. Now local landowners, residents, business owners, and conservation-minded people can look forward to engaging with the County to develop a set of sustainable options to protect to farmlands, forestlands and water supplies for the local community and returning salmon.”

photo courtesy of US Fish & Wildlife Service

Congress designated the Lower White Salmon Wild and Scenic River in 1986 as part of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act and designated the Upper White Salmon as wild and scenic in 2005. The new Lower Gorge section of the river that was buried behind the dam has not yet been designated under federal law. The White Salmon is one of only three Wild and Scenic Rivers in the State of Washington.

Now shortly after dam has been removed, the famous White Salmon River shows us yet again what’s possible for rivers here, and everywhere. The future of this river now hangs in the balance and it is up to the local community to engage with the County and determine what the future holds.

Press coverage of the case:

OPB

The Columbian 

For maps of the threatened lands and photos from the area, visit Crag’s Flickr Gallery.