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Elwha Restoration (WA)

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The Elwha Project (FERC P-2683) and Glines Canyon Project (FERC P-588) were two hydroelectric dams on the Elwha River that were barriers to salmon and whitewater recreation. 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 blocked the Elwha River's once-legendary salmon runs for nearly a century. Removing the dams frees the Elwha River and now allows 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 including 87% of the watershed protected within Olympic National Park.

Recreational users can experience a free-flowing river all the way from the wilderness backcountry of the Grand Canyon of the Elwha to the ocean. The lower dam buried a section of river with a gradient of approximately 38'/mile while the section behind the upper dam is 90'/mile. 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 bring cultural renewal. And as reservoir disappeared, tribal members regained access to sacred sites that were inundated, allowing cultural traditions to be reborn.

American Whitewater has actively supported this restoration effort since becoming directly engaged in 1992 with local member involvement prior to that. While the dams were important in the economic development of the Olympic Peninsula, they produced a very small amount of energy relative to their environmental impact. In 1992 the Elwha River Restoration Act was passed and authorized the Secretary of Interior to acquire and remove the two dams and restore the ecosystem and native anadromous fisheries. Appropriations of $29.5 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund between 1996-1998 enabled the federal government to acquire the dam and facilities as well as 1200 acres surrounding the Aldwell Reservoir and 40 acres around the Mills Reservoir from James River Corporation in 2000. It took another decade to secure funding for the project.

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.

Visiting the Elwha (WA)

08/26/2013 - by Thomas O'Keefe

While paddling the Elwha River is a fascinating way to experience restoration and recovery of a free-flowing river in action, it's not the only way to get a first-hand look at one of the nation's most ambitious and fascinating restoration projects.

The contacts below include staff and volunteers working on this project. Make sure you are logged in if you wish to join the group.

Title Name City
Thomas O'Keefe Seattle WA Details...
Rich Bowers Bellingham WA Details...

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.


Pacific Northwest Dam Removal Fact Sheets 5AUG2007 (8/5/2007)

Fact sheet on dam removals scheduled for the Pacific Northwest.

Elwha Wild and Scenic River Eligibility Report (4/12/2024)

This study report evaluates the eligibility and classification of the Elwha River for inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

Restore: Responsibly Reviving America's Rivers (1/7/2011)

A Special Publication of the Hydropower Reform Coalition on Dam Removal in the Pacific Northwest.

Elwha Project Lands Transfer Testimony (9/13/2022)

Supporting testimony for transfer of Elwha Project Lands to Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe.

Associated Rivers

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