article photo 1

Countdown to Elwha Dam Removal Underway (WA)

Posted: 12/15/2010
by Thomas O'Keefe

The final countdown for the Elwha River restoration project has begun, and the largest dam removal in U.S. history is set to begin in September 2011.

Built in the early 1900s, prior to the establishment of Olympic National Park, the 108-foot high Elwha Dam and 210-foot high Glines Canyon Dam have blocked the Elwha River’s once-legendary salmon runs for nearly a century. Removing the dams will free the Elwha River and allow all five kinds of Pacific salmon, plus steelhead, sea-run cutthroat and bull trout, to return to more than 70 miles of high-quality habitat protected within Olympic National Park. Recreational users will be able to experience a free-flowing river all the way from the wilderness backcountry of the Grand Canyon of the Elwha to the ocean. With access to high quality habitat, salmon populations are anticipated to grow from their current levels of approximately 3000 fish to as many as 400,000 fish. For the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, who have lived along the river since time immemorial, the returning salmon and restored river will bring cultural renewal. And as reservoir levels drop, tribal members will regain access to sacred sites now inundated, allowing cultural traditions to be reborn. The National Park Service and the Tribe are primary partners in Elwha River Restoration.

American Whitewater has actively supported this restoration effort for the past two decades and we are excited to see it finally get underway. While the dams were important in the economic development of the Olympic Peninsula, they produce a very small amount of energy relative to their environmental impact.

The following list provides an overview of recent and upcoming milestones:

* October 2009 – The new park native plant greenhouse and nursery were dedicated and now serve as the hub for propagation of hundreds of thousands of native plants to be used in the long-term revegetation program that will begin as the reservoirs are drained.

* April 2010 – Two major water quality protection facilities were completed and will protect area drinking and industrial water supplies from increased sediment loads during and after dam removal.
* August 2010 – The $26.9 million contract for removal of both dams was awarded to Barnard Construction of Bozeman, Montana.
* October 2010 – Contractors cleared over 40 acres of alder trees and excavated a 1,100-foot long pilot channel through sediments in the upper reservoir to maximize the river’s erosive capacity as dam removal begins.
* November 2010 – The project logo and tagline were unveiled and are being made available to area partners interested in developing logo products.  This is part of an overall communications strategy designed to promote national and international awareness of Elwha River Restoration.

* May 2011 – A replacement hatchery on the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe’s reservation will be finished.  It will help maintain existing stocks of Elwha River fish during dam removal and play an important role in fish restoration.
* August 2011 – Modifications to the second of two levees near the mouth of the river will be completed and will provide continued flood protection to private landowners and the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe’s reservation.
* September 2011 – The largest dam removal in U.S. history will begin.  The removal process, carefully timed to protect the river’s remaining fish, will take two-and-a-half to three years.
* September 16-18, 2011 – Park staff is working closely with area partners to organize a major destination event to engage youth, families and diverse audiences in learning about and celebrating the beginning of dam removal and restoration of a river and ecosystem.

For more information on this landmark project including announcements, news releases, photos, project updates and more, visit Olympic National Park’s Elwha River restoration page, or join ‘Elwha River Restoration’ on Facebook.

Thomas O'Keefe
3537 NE 87th St.
Seattle, WA 98115
Phone: 425-417-9012

Associated Projects

Elwha Restoration (WA)
The Elwha River will be restored by removing two dams that have blocked salmon and degraded recreational opportunities on one of the Pacific Northwest's most spectacular rivers.

Associated Rivers

Elwha WA
Elwha WA