I want to recognize the Kitsap Sun’s editorial cartoonist Milt
Priggee 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
“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.
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.
Roorda, an aerial photographer, has been documenting
the transformation with thousands of pictures he has taken over the
past several years.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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:
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
Most of the Elwha Dam powerhouse has been removed, and work is
scheduled for completion at the end of this month, according to the
Removal Blog. Materials from the old power plant are being
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.
The Elwha watershed promises to be an outdoor laboratory for the
revival of an ecosystem after two dams are removed from the Elwha
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
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.
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
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.
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
Water Ways on Aug. 16, this could be the best seat in the house
for the deconstruction of the two dams.
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
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
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!
I’m looking forward to watching the two dams on the Elwha River
being dismantled — and I won’t have to leave home.
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
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
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.
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!
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.
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?
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
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
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
“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.”
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.
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
The bull trout averaged 14 inches long, and some were as big as
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
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
“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.
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
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
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
The relocation effort fulfills a requirement of a 2000 revision
to the 1996 biological opinion for bull trout by the U.S. Fish and
“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
“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