Sunday, July 1, 2012

Sunbeam Dam Revisited

We've discussed Sunbeam Dam in another article.  (Click here to read it.)  In that earlier article, we noted there are two prevailing legends about the demise of the infamous dam--one touting vigilantes and the other saying game officials did it.  Sunbeam Village Proprietor Doug Fenn set us straight on the story.  Click on the photo of the clipping at left to see a larger, more readable version.  This pretty well settles the story about who was responsible.  The key point in the whole thing is that the dam itself was not dynamited.  Every story we've ever heard talks about how the dam itself was blown up.  Even the article at left infers the dam itself was blasted. Not so.  The river right area beside the dam itself was dynamited, allowing the river to bypass the dam on its right side.  Over the last 70 some years, high river flows have widened out the breached area.

Look closely at the right side of the dam in the photo below.  Note that it is perfectly vertical, providing compelling proof that no part of the dam itself was destroyed.  Fenn showed us other photos that leave no doubt about how the dam was bypassed.  Fenn's treasure trove of old photos also show conclusively that the dam you see today is precisely and exactly the same entire dam that existed "as built" over 100 years ago.  Fenn also scoffed at the prevailing legend that rebar lurks under the Class IV whitewater run through Sunbeam. What's under the water today is merely the jagged remnants of bedrock that remain from the blasting done decades ago.

Interestingly, in the 2008 IDFG salmon fishing video shown in an article below, you can see how small the initial 1930's breach was on the right side of the dam.  We make a screen shot from the video and it appears below the 2012 view of Sunbeam Dam. Note back then the breach was so narrow you might have been able to walk across it on that board shown in the screen shot. The chinook and sockeye salmon didn't need a wide area to swim past the dam.  Game officials simply created a small bypass and The Salmon River took care of the rest over the ensuing years.

The sad story of Sunbeam Dam will live forever as a reminder of the toll of poor planning in power, water, river and fisheries management.  The structure stands both as a monument to monstrosity and also as a monument to the courageous officials and public who stood up the fish and did the right thing by dynamiting a bypass around the dam.

Discuss history of dam

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