The Elwha River Flows Free Again!

A fascinating change is happening just to the southwest of Vancouver: the removal of two dams on the Elwha River on the northeast tip of Washington State’s beautiful Olympic Peninsula, near Port Angeles.


Photo from the The Elwha Project.

For more than 100 years, two hydropower dams (the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams) blocked passage of migratory fishes to many kilometres of otherwise pristine habitat beginning about 6 km upstream from the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The Elwha River was famous for productive runs of all five species of Pacific salmon and of steelhead trout and bull trout (more than 400,000 fish and some Chinook salmon from the Elwha River exceeded 100 pounds!).

In a massive ecosystem restoration project costing more than $300 million dollars (and lots of dynamite!) both dams have now been removed (over the last three years) releasing more than 11 MILLION cubic metres of accumulated sediment into the river and the delta downstream. It is the biggest dam removal project in the world. The return of the river involves many aspects of watershed and ecosystem restoration from sediment management to marine ecology. Fish (bull trout being the first species!) have already probed there way past the former dam sites and entered the pristine upper Elwha River (“Take it down and they will come!”).


Photo from The Grab.

The story of the return of the Elwha River and the restoration of the river’s biodiversity can be followed from webcams – the demolition “blasts” are really neat – and a series of short and very interesting National Park Service “webisodes.”

The story of the Elwha River is inspirational and great news for the fishes, other animals, and plants of the watershed, as well as for the Klallam peoples to whose creation story the Elwha River is a central aspect. Run, Elwha run!


Photos: [banner] Elwha River by Flickr user USGS_PCMSC_ElwahCams

[thumbnail] The Elwha Project.