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Environmental reporter Christopher Dunagan discusses the challenges of protecting Puget Sound and all things water-related.
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Final explosion frees Elwha River at Glines Canyon

August 27th, 2014 by cdunagan

I believe it is important to commemorate the final day of the Glines Canyon Dam — even though only a relatively small chunk of the structure had been left in place since February, when flows in the Elwha River covered over the last 30 feet.

In a massive explosion on Tuesday, that last 30 feet of concrete was blasted away. Almost immediately, the river began to flow freely, at basically the same elevation it was before the dam was built in the 1920s.

The video above was shot by John Gussman, who has done an amazing job documenting the restoration of the natural river. See John’s Facebook page and check out a preview of the film “Return of the River.”

Olympic National Park officials say it will take several weeks to clear away the rubble dislodged by the final blast, but dramatic changes have been taking place downstream of the former Glines Canyon Dam — the second dam on the river, built eight miles upstream of the Elwha Dam.

Researchers are carefully monitoring sediment distribution and salmon migration, officials say. During the past three years, the Elwha River has experienced unusually low flows, so experts are waiting for more typical winter flows to move around some of the larger boulders in the stream.

Since last fall, salmon have been swimming upstream of the Elwha Dam site. The dam, built without a fish ladder, blocked salmon migration into some 70 miles of near-pristine habitat. Now, biologists expect all five species of Northwest salmon to recolonize the river.

In a story in today’s Peninsula Daily News, reporter Arwyn Rice quoted Robert Ellefson, restoration manager for the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe: “It’s a good day… It has been the dream of tribal members for a hundred years.”

The tribe will have something special to celebrate come next July, when members hold their annual welcoming ceremony, acknowledging the return of chinook salmon to the Elwha River.

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2 Responses to “Final explosion frees Elwha River at Glines Canyon”

  1. Howard Garrett Says:

    It’s a heart-warming and encouraging story to see how we can get out of the way and let nature restore herself. It will be exciting to see it happen over the next months and years.

  2. cdunagan Says:

    Thanks, Howie. I know you are interested in the removal of the Snake River dams.

    I can remember when I first heard the idea of removing the two dams on the Elwha River. It was an environmentalist’s dream to open up 70 miles of “pristine” stream habitat, but it really sounded crazy at the time.

    Now removal must be considered an option for all dams. They are not permanent structures. How many more dams will be removed in our lifetimes or the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren? How many new ones will be built? How do we make these decisions?

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"In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught."Baba Dioum, Senegalese conservationist

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