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Environmental reporter Christopher Dunagan discusses the challenges of protecting Puget Sound and all things water-related.
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Posts Tagged ‘Dam removal’

Celebrating freedom for the Elwha River

Monday, September 1st, 2014

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Elwha Prigge

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I want to recognize the Kitsap Sun’s editorial cartoonist Walt Prigee for capturing the feeling of the moment last week when the final piece of a dam on the Elwha River was blown up. See Water Ways, Aug. 27, 2014.

The video below was recorded on that same day by Anne Shaffer of the Coastal Watershed Institute while snorkeling in a kelp bed in western Freshwater Bay, not far from where the Elwha River flows into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Watching this video and the large number of herring gives me a feeling of optimism, although I recognize there is no scientific basis for this. Someone please tell me the herring are doing better.

“We couldn’t think of a better place to be the day the last dam went down,” Anne said in an email to members of her listserv.

The Coastal Watershed Institute has been monitoring the nearshore area, where the Elwha River has been dramatically transforming the delta. Sediment, unleashed by dam removal, pours out of the Elwha and builds up in the estuary.

Tom Roorda, an aerial photographer, has been documenting the transformation with thousands of pictures he has taken over the past several years.

Tom Roorda of Roorda Aerial photography captured this image showing the ongoing buildup of sediment at the mouth of the Elwha River. Photo by Tom Roorda

Tom Roorda of Roorda Aerial photography captured this image showing the ongoing buildup of sediment at the mouth of the Elwha River. // Photo by Tom Roorda


Blasts punctuate anniversary of Elwha Dam project

Friday, September 21st, 2012

The folks at Olympic National Park who keep us informed about the Elwha River Ecosystem Restoration Project could not have described it better: “It has been an explosive week at Glines Canyon Dam,” they said in their “Dam Removal Blog.”

Blasting this week at Glines Canyon Dam. Click on image to start video.
Video courtesy of Olympic National Park

The “salmon window,” designed to protect migrating fish, has now closed, allowing work in the river to begin again. This week, four big blasts blew out large sections of the dam on Saturday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, as the reservoir level dropped from 489 to 476 feet, according to the blog. Click on the image to start the video of the blasting.

After an upcoming blast on Sunday, a 14-day waiting period will begin to allow the river to erode laterally.

The remote cameras at both the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams are useful for observing environmental and structural changes in the areas around the two dams. An unexpected use came into play Thursday, when an average person looking at the Elwha Dam webcam noticed a fire burning at the edge of the picture.

Someone noticed a fire on the Elwha Dam webcam and was able to call in firefighters before it got out of hand.
Photo courtesy of Olympic National Park

Firefighters from Clallam County, the Washington Department of Natural Resources and Olympic National Park were able to extinguish the blaze before it could burn more than half an acre. The cause of the fire is under investigation. Read the news release about fire danger in the national park.

Click on image for video showing the first year of Elwha River restoration work.
Video courtesy of Olympic National Park

It’s worth noting that we have just passed the first anniversary of the start of dam removal. The Elwha Dam is gone and most site work is complete. Glines Canyon Dam is about 60 percent removed. And salmon have been observed swimming upstream of the Elwha Dam. Click on the image (lower right) to start the video, which shows what has happened over the past year.


Contrasts emerge at Glines Canyon Dam

Saturday, August 18th, 2012

In-water demolition pauses at Glines Canyon Dam. / Photo courtesy of Tom Roorda

The delta and shoreline above Glines Canyon Dam provide a stunning contrast to the surrounding forest in this photo take yesterday by Tom Roorda.

Work in the Elwha River stopped Aug. 1 for the “fish window,” which will halt all in-water work until Sept. 15. During this time, steps are being taken to reduce flows of sediment, which can harm migrating salmon. Salmon are being trapped downstream for transport into clearer waters above the dams.

As you can see, the reservoir level has come down at Glines as more of the delta is exposed and the river seeks multiple routes on its downstream course.

Tom Roorda, owner of Northwestern Territories, has taken aerial photos of the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams and their sediment plumes since the beginning of dam removal. Check out his website, Roorda Aerial, which contains a slideshow of some interesting and beautiful aerial photos.

As we have discussed, the lower Elwha Dam has been removed and the river is flowing at historical levels. Massive amounts of sediment are moving downstream and into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The finer sediments that have reached the Strait so far tend to disperse rather than accumulate.

During the fish window, work crews at Glines are preparing to demolish the intake tower, which is no longer in the river. A blast at the base will drop the tower onto its side, allowing a jackhammer attached to an excavator to break up the concrete.

In July, six controlled blasts lowered Glines Canyon Dam by 24 feet to the current elevation of 490 feet. About 90 feet of the original 210-foot-tall dam remain, according to the “Dam Removal Blog,” written Olympic National Park staff.

The two final blasts on July 29 and 31 notched the dam the final six feet to elevation 490 feet. Videos of three of the blasts can be viewed below in these explosive shots provided by URS:

July 15 blast at Glines Canyon Dam

July 29 blast at Glines Canyon Dam

July 31 blast at Glines Canyon Dam


Elwha Dam: Keeping an eye on sediment flows

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

Removal of the Elwha Dam and drawdown of Lake Aldwell behind it have gone faster than originally planned, and now the story of the Elwha River restoration becomes a story of erosion. Experts are watching the sediment movement very closely.

Taken today, this photo shows the sediment once impounded by the Elwha Dam but now free to move. The drawdown is on hold to allow the river to redistribute the sediment.
Elwha Dam cam, Natonal Park Service

The Elwha Dam has been entirely removed down to the river bed (see photos below), and the river is now flowing in its original channel, where it will remain. The river is being held back mainly by a “check dam” of boulders. At the moment, the drawdown has been halted at 133 feet elevation for a scheduled two-week holding period.

Andy Ritchie, restoration project hydrologist with Olympic National Park, says the pause in drawdown will allow the river to snake around to redistribute the sediment more evenly across the valley. The final target elevation for the river bed is 100 feet.

Drawdown of Lake Mills, behind the upper Glines Canyon Dam, also is on hold at the moment. Even more sediment is trapped behind that dam. While project managers have largely lost control over the movement of sediment behind the lower dam, the upper dam remains intact enough to control migration of sediment from farther up the canyon.

As the weather improves this spring (or at least we can hope), it may be time for many of us to visit the former lake beds at the two dams. We can walk out onto the deltas and see the new vegetation starting to grow. Lake Aldwell’s delta can be reached from the old boat launch. For Lake Mills, take Whiskey Bend Road, which has been reopened, and you will come to Humes Ranch trailhead with access from there.

(more…)


Elwha work resumes as structures disappear

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Work resumed yesterday on the Elwha Dam site after biologists determined that the annual chum salmon migration had ended. The work originally was to be delayed until Jan. 1.

The Elwha Dam site on Sept. 17 (Click to enlarge) / Elwha web cam

Work in and near the river stopped on Nov. 1 to protect fish runs from heavy sediment, as scheduled in a work plan adopted several years ago. Three work stoppages — known as fish windows — are planned each year.

Adult chum salmon were captured as they returned and were transferred to the fish hatchery operated by the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, according to a news release from Olympic National Park. Offspring of those chum will be released into the river in the spring.

It’s been awhile since I posted photos from the demolition site. As you can see from the pictures on this page, the change since mid-September is dramatic.

Elwha Dam site today (Dec. 20) (Click to enlarge) / Elwha web cam

Most of the Elwha Dam powerhouse has been removed, and work is scheduled for completion at the end of this month, according to the park’s Dam Removal Blog. Materials from the old power plant are being recycled.

All the old power lines and poles associated with Elwha and Glines Canyon dams have been removed.

The 120-foot-tall surge tower was pushed over Thursday.

The river was diverted back into the right channel yesterday, as water levels behind the dam continue to go down.

Revegetation of the two reservoir areas started in November and continued into December with the planting of about 12,000 plants. Another 18,000 plants are planned for January and February.

If you’d like to watch the entire demolition of either dam to date, go to the Elwha River Restoration Project webcams and click on “Java” for any of the cameras. The fastest way to watch the entire time-lapse series is by putting the delay on 0.


Researchers poised for Elwha ecosystem studies

Monday, September 19th, 2011

The Elwha watershed promises to be an outdoor laboratory for the revival of an ecosystem after two dams are removed from the Elwha River.

Elwha Dam construction begins. (Click on image for webcam page.)
Olympic National Park photo

Dam removal began Thursday at Glines Canyon Dam, as I traveled to Port Angeles for a conference of more than 350 scientists and other interested persons. This group came together to learn about baseline studies conducted to date and to hear about anticipated changes in the ecosystem. Check out my story in Sunday’s Kitsap Sun.

Meanwhile, a controversy over a fish hatchery operated by the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe threatens to erupt into a lawsuit. Several environmental groups have issued a 60-day notice to sue under the Endangered Species Act, saying raising steelhead from another area — Chambers Creek — could imperil the recovery of threatened chinook salmon and bull trout in the Elwha. See reporter Lynda Mapes’ story in the Seattle Times.

Will Stelle of the National Marine Fisheries Service, which oversees federal protections for salmon, said discussions about the hatchery are ongoing, but federal treaties assure the tribes a right to fish, and those rights cannot be ignored. A five-year moratorium on fishing has been imposed, but tribal officials say they may need hatchery-reared fish when fishing resumes.

About a year ago, I briefly described the restoration plan for each species — including salmon and steelhead — in a package of stories for the Kitsap Sun. See “Elwha Project Expected to Blast Open Nature’s Door to Bountiful Fish Runs.”

As for last week’s Elwha River Science Symposium, it was a remarkable group of researchers who discussed all aspects of ecosystem restoration, from physical processes like water and sediment, to all kinds of plants and animals. To get a taste of the presentation, read through the conference abstracts (PDF 584 kb).

I mentioned a few of the presentations in Sunday’s Kitsap Sun, and I could talk about them for hours. There was one presentation about birds that surprised me, and I wanted to share some of the conclusions with you.

John McLaughlin of Huxley College at Western Washington University explored the question of how birds might help restore vegetation in the reservoirs and flood plains associated with the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams.

Of 39 major native plants in the watershed, 23 have their seeds dispersed by birds. That’s 59 percent of the plants of interest. If managers could get the birds working for them, they might not need to plant as much vegetation by hand.

That 59 percent is higher than most temperate regions of the world, where normally birds disperse seeds from 25 to 40 percent of the plants, McLaughlin said. But it’s a lower percentage than for most tropical regions, where birds may disperse up to 90 percent of all the plants in the area.

By watching birds fly from vegetated areas to more barren areas and collecting samples of their scat, McLaughlin found that robins disperse more seeds than all other birds combined. In fact, the total was close to 100 percent for robins. While there are plenty of other bird species in the ecosystem, most typically do not fly from one habitat type to another, McLaughlin told the gathering.

He also found that most of the seeds deposited by robins ended up in and near logjams and piles of woody debris.

“Birds are agents of restoration,” he told the group, “but for them to work with us, you have to give them what they need, and that’s large woody debris.”

If one wants to use birds to replant the forest, the first step is to consider which plants you want to disperse, he said. Then downed trees and limbs could be pulled together into a pile, or one could simply leave existing piles in strategic locations. The woody piles must be located far enough from the desirable plants that the birds can make a difference in dispersing seeds. But if the piles are too far away, the birds may not cooperate with the plan.

As for the concern about birds dispersing invasive plants as well as desirable ones, many of the undesirables were removed from the area around the dams in preparation for dam removal. The concern about invasives is reduced further by understanding that only five of the 20 invasive plants are dispersed by birds.


Chipping away at historic Glines Canyon Dam

Friday, September 16th, 2011

The contractor for the Elwha dam removal project jumped right into the job yesterday, pounding away at the upper Glines Canyon Dam with a hydraulic hammer mounted on an excavator, which was sitting atop a barge.

By this morning, a good-sized chunk of concrete had been eaten out of the dam, as you can see in the photo below. This picture was taken by one of six webcams that are focused on the two dams. As I mentioned in Water Ways on Aug. 16, this could be the best seat in the house for the deconstruction of the two dams.

Webcam at Glines Canyon Dam / Olympic National Park photo

On the Elwha River Restoration Project webcam page, click on “slideshow” below “Glines Canyon Dam” to get a time-lapse video of all the shots beginning Sept. 4, about two frames per hour during daytime.

At slide 213, you will see the first chunks taken out of the dam yesterday at 10:18 a.m. Use the controls at the bottom to slow down the slideshow to one frame per second, or march through the slideshow frame-by-frame to get a good view of the action.

While these photos will be fun and interesting for everyone to follow, they are an essential part of the monitoring program to ensure that sediment trapped behind the two dams erodes according to plan. I’ll talk a little more about this plan in a story I’m writing for Sunday’s Kitsap Sun.

Olympic National Park’s “Dam Removal Blog” describes the chipping process, including the use of shears to cut steel rebar inside the dam. Workers will chip away a few feet of concrete at a time until reaching the water line. At that point, notching will begin to carefully control the lowering of the water level.

Reporter Tom Callis of the Peninsula Daily News does a nice job describing the start of the actual work. An accompanying video provides the sounds at the start of this historic demolition project.

Also, if you haven’t heard, a formal ceremony to commemorate the removal of two dams on the Elwha River will be shown in a live webcast beginning at 11 a.m. tomorrow.

The ceremony itself, which will be held near the Elwha Dam, is limited to 400 invited guests. But anyone may watch from a big screen at the Port Angeles City Pier or on a special web page accessed through the Celebrate Elwha! website. The webcast is sponsored by the law firms SNR Denton and Perkins Coie.

Speakers at the ceremony will include Gov. Chris Gregoire; U.S. senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell; U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair; Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar; Lower Elwha Klallam Tribal Chairwoman Frances Charles; and Olympic National Park Superintendent Karen Gustin. Musicians also will be featured.

Activities will continue Saturday and Sunday in Port Angeles as part of a weeklong celebration. Live music, artists, food and educational activities will be featured. For a full schedule of events, visit the website Celebrate Elwha!


Stay connected during demolition of Elwha dams

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

I’m looking forward to watching the two dams on the Elwha River being dismantled — and I won’t have to leave home.

In this July 9 photo, water was pouring through the spillway gates of Glines Canyon Dam. Since then, the reservoir has reached a low of -18 feet pending demolition, and the spill has declined.
Photo courtesy of Robert Dashiell

Sure, I’ll try to make a few trips to Port Angeles and up the Elwha valley to see what I can see at various times. But webcams placed in strategic locations may actually be the best view around.

We won’t be able to judge the quality of the view from the webcams until they are installed later this month. At least that’s the proposed timing, according Olympic National Park officials who are doing their best to help people share the experience of dam removal.

I outlined the options for viewing and information gathering in a story in Sunday’s Kitsap Sun. In addition to webcams, park officials are working to find ways for people to stay connected with the project, both in person and on-line, as I describe in my story.

For ongoing information, there is Facebook, a blog and general information about the dams and dam-removal project.

Not to leave out fun, culture and education, a weeklong celebration is being planned about the time the contractor gets the go-ahead to work in the river on Sept. 15. For a calendar of events, go to the Celebrate Elwha! website.

Meanwhile, reporter Lynda Mapes of the Seattle Times was able to capture the sites and sounds of the changing environment as the declining water levels reveal conditions never seen before without scuba gear.


Columbia River salmon still wrapped in legal battles

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

When I heard that U.S. District Judge James Redden had, for the third time, rejected a biological opinion designed to protect Columbia River salmon from extinction, my mind leaped to this ongoing question: Will this decision move us closer or further away from removing dams from the Snake River?

After reading Redden’s opinion (PDF, 1.1 mb), I’m not sure. But I can understand why various sides of the debate must be feeling a mixture of hope and frustration from a legal battle that has continued for more than 10 years.

Redden was clear that NOAA Fisheries (National Marine Fisheries Service) could not conclude that salmon are on their way to recovery by relying on undetermined and unplanned habitat improvements proposed from 2013 to 2018 — not so very far in the future.

Quoting from his own opinions upheld by higher courts, Redden wrote in a fairly straight-forward way:

“The ESA (Endangered Species Act) prohibits NOAA Fisheries from relying on uncertain and speculative actions that are not ‘reasonably certain to occur.’ Mitigation measures may be relied upon only where they involve ‘specific and binding plans’ and ‘a clear, definite commitment of resources to implement those measures …’

“Mitigation measures supporting a biological opinion’s no-jeopardy conclusion must be ‘reasonably specific, certain to occur, and capable of implementation; they must be subject to deadlines or otherwise-enforceable obligations; and, most important, they must be address the threats to the species in a way that satisfies the jeopardy and adverse-modification standards.

“Here, NOAA Fisheries improperly relies on habitat mitigation measures that are neither reasonably specific nor reasonably certain to occur, and in some cases not even identified….

“It is one thing to identify a list of actions, or combination of actions through adaptive management to reflect changed circumstances. It is another to simply promise to figure it all out in the future….

“Coupled with the significant uncertainty surrounding the reliability of NOAA Fisheries habitat methodologies, the evidence that habitat actions are falling behind schedule, and that benefits are not accruing as promised, NOAA Fisheries’ approach to these issues is neither cautious nor rational.”

In a footnote, Redden said he is troubled that the agencies have been unable to come up with numerical predictions for salmon survival based on the habitat improvements proposed.

Redden said he would keep the biological opinion in place, flawed as it is, to ensure that NOAA Fisheries will “get out of the courtroom and get to work for the next two and a half years.”

By 2014, Redden wants a new biological opinion that thoroughly discusses the mitigation efforts but also addresses “more aggressive action, such as dam removal and/or additional flow augmentation and reservoir modifications….

“As a practical matter,” he notes, “it may be difficult for federal defendants to develop a long-term biological opinion that relies only on mitigation measures that are reasonably certain to occur.”

That last sentence about the difficulty of relying on mitigation measures keeps the door open to a future court order involving dam removal — but Redden clearly understands that he cannot replace a biological opinion with a legal ruling.

Will Stelle, regional director of NOAA Fisheries put a positive spin on the ruling. He told Scott Learn of The Oregonian that adding more detail to the biological opinion should be enough satisfy the judge.

“He ordered us to tighten up on the habitat program after 2013, and that’s fine,” Stelle was quoted as saying. “We were intending to do it anyway.”

Environmental and fishing groups celebrated the judge’s ruling, as they explained in a joint news release (Scribd). The following comment is from Zeke Grader, executive director of Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations:

“Now is the time for the Obama Administration to walk the talk on real salmon solutions. As this ruling highlights, the federal government has spent nearly 20 years spending enormous sums of money foolishly by doing all the wrong stuff.

“Facing the problem squarely, including potential removal of the four fish-killing dams on the lower Snake River, will create many thousands more jobs, revive the fishing industry, save billions of dollars for taxpayers, and lead in the development of clean, renewable, more efficient energy.

“What we need most now is for this administration to lead us to those solutions, not just bury its head in the sand in denial as has so often happened in the past.”

Other news stories:

The News Tribune

Seattle Times


Bull trout in Elwha River given temporary refuge

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

As demolition time draws near for the two Elwha River dams, 82 bull trout were recently captured in the middle portion of the river and moved upstream out of harm’s way.

Bull Trout / Photo: Olympic National Park

Scientists used their skills with hook-and-line fishing as well as the more direct electroshock treatment to take adults and juveniles from waters in and around Lake Mills at the upper Glines Canyon Dam, as well as from the section of the river between the two dams.

The bull trout averaged 14 inches long, and some were as big as 24 inches.

The fish were held in net pens in Lake Mills for up to 10 days. They were measured and sampled for genetic characteristics. Radio transmitters were implanted in 31 fish to track their movements. Then they were transported by helicopter to two locations upstream, one near Elkhorn Ranger Station and the other at the mouth of Hayes River.

The protective action is considered important, because removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams is likely to dislodge an estimated 24 million cubic yards of sediment that has collected behind the dams since they were built, according to estimates by the Bureau of Reclamation. Most of that sediment will come from a delta at the south end of Lake Mills. Bull trout caught in the sediment-laden river probably will not do well, researchers say.

“Using the best available science, we’ve taken steps to protect the bull trout population and given them immediate access to high-quality, pristine habitats in the upper river through this relocation project,” said Sam Brenkman, fisheries biologist for Olympic National Park.

According to the “Bull Trout Protection and Restoration Plan” (PDF 1.6 mb), turbidity will exceed 1,000 parts per million for extended periods and may periodically exceed 10,000 ppm.

Even at 50 to 100 ppm, bull trout may stop feeding, suffer from gill abrasion and experience stress that can reduce their fitness. Greater levels of turbidity can lead to reduced health and possible death.

Bull trout were moved by helicopter to the upper Elwha River. / Photo: Olympic National Park

It was assumed for planning purposes that fish remaining in the river would die. That’s why a priority was placed on maintaining access to high-quality areas upstream as well as tributaries and off-channel areas that can serve as refugia from the murky waters.

In addition, the demolition schedule includes “fish windows” when construction will cease and the river will clear up to a safer level, allowing for salmon and trout to migrate and spawn. These fish windows are scheduled for November-December to aid coho and chum migration into the Elwha; May-June for hatchery out-migration and steelhead in-migration; and Aug. 1-Sept. 14 for chinook and pink salmon in-migration.

Bull trout were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1999. Over the past five years, fisheries biologists have surveyed the river to find out where the fish hang out, tracked them with radio telemetry and conducted genetic studies to understand their population dynamics.

Based on this work, researchers estimate the adult bull trout population at less than 400 fish, less than 3 percent of the entire Elwha River fish community. Between 60 and 69 percent are found downstream of Rica Canyon, which lies just above Lake Mills.

Moving the fish upstream will allow them to find the most suitable habitat following dam removal. A unique characteristic of bull trout is that some individuals in a given population may migrate to the ocean, while others stay in freshwater their entire lives. Some may move into tributaries or lakes, while others prefer the main river.

Biologists believe bull trout once occupied the entire Elwha River system before the first dam was built in 1910. Following dam removal, the landlocked population above the dams will be able to move all the way downstream. The anadromous population that can’t get above the Elwha Dam will be able to utilize the entire watershed.

The relocation effort fulfills a requirement of a 2000 revision to the 1996 biological opinion for bull trout by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“We are pleased that we met our objectives,” said Pat Crain, fisheries biologist for Olympic National Park. “And this project, designed to protect a threatened species, would not have been possible without close collaboration among the various agencies.

“During two weeks of field work, more than 20 biologists — from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Student Conservation Association — assisted with and monitored the capture and relocation effort.”

The relocation work was completed June 17.

Other projects that should help bull trout include a culvert replacement on Griff Creek, a middle tributary of the Elwha, and an evaluation of the competition that occurs with nonnative brook trout.

If you’d like to read more about the Elwha Dam removal, check out the story I wrote for the Kitsap Sun Sept. 4, 2010, or visit Olympic National Park’s “Bull Trout” page.

The tagging of captured bull trout took place on Lake Mills. / NPS photo by John Gussman


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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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