On October 26, 2011, crews packed more than 700 pounds of dynamite into the base of Condit Dam on the White Salmon River in southwest Washington. Once detonated, the White Salmon River erupted through the hole, draining the reservoir behind the dam in less than an hour. One month earlier, the largest river restoration in history began on the Elwha River on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington. Either one of these events is momentous--both occurring in the same year is cause for celebration.
At the beginning of 2011, American Whitewater and American Rivers presented me a proposition--figure out the best way to document these historic river restoration events and get the message out to the world. The "Year of the River" series is what we came up with: 3 short films highlighting different elements of the project on the White Salmon and Elwha Rivers. The idea seemed to work--since the release of the first film in September, the series has gotten more than 3 million online views, has played at several international film festivals and has been picked up by TV networks in several countries. It also spun off into a 3-year timelapse project documenting the dam removal process from start to finish.
While the effort to get these dams removed has been raging for 3 decades, for me, it all started because I loved to paddle on the White Salmon. Never in history have we seen river restoration happen on this scale. I feel so fortunate that it happened in my backyard and that I was given the chance to share it with the world.
Huge thanks to American Whitewater and American Rivers for fighting the good fight, NRS, Dagger and Pro Photo Supply for supporting the documentary efforts, PacifiCorp and JR Merit for assisting with access to Condit, and all of the paddlers, fishermen, tribal members and river advocates that let me film with them.
This film concludes the Year of the River series, but stay tuned for more as the White Salmon gradually recovers to a healthy, free-flowing river.