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.
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.
Guided tours of the empty reservoir behind Elwha Dam near Port
Angeles will be offered on Saturdays beginning Aug. 3 and
continuing through Sept. 7.
Rangers from Olympic National Park will lead the tours and talk
about the massive dam-removal project. This will be a wonderful
service for visitors who wish to get up close and understand one of
the largest ecosystem-restoration projects in the world.
Instead of wandering aimlessly in what many would consider a
wasteland, visitors will gain an appreciation for the shifting and
eroding sediments and understand how the gravel is moving as the
river reclaims its channel. They will view newly established
vegetation and hear what it takes to restore native species to the
area. They will stand alongside the mighty stumps of old-growth
trees buried within the lakebed until the sediments began washing
The hour-long walks will begin at 1 p.m., leaving from the boat
launch at the end of Lake Aldwell Road. Turn off Highway 101 just
west of the Elwha River Bridge. Explorers should wear boots or
sturdy walking shoes and plan for windy conditions with no shade.
For information, contact the Elwha Ranger Station, (360)
Meanwhile, officials at Olympic National Park posted a new entry
to the Dam
Removal Blog yesterday. It describes how aerial surveys are
being used to measure changes in the sediments during this period
of low flows on the river. The entry also discusses the
revegetation effort, pointing out that sediments along the river
are drying out faster this year than last.
When my editor, Kim Rubenstein, asked me to write a story for
people who wish to check out the Elwha River restoration, it seemed
like a good idea. After playing the role of tourist for a day, I’m
convinced that many visitors will have a good time learning about
this once-in-a-lifetime event.
Learning about the natural features of the Elwha River watershed
is an important part of the experience. Before you leave home, I
recommend that you view a series of “webisodes”
on the Olympic National Park website. I’m told these videos by
Wings Over Watersheds are a sampling of what will eventually become
a longer video production.
A more complete story about the Elwha Restoration Project,
including a history of the two dams, has been captured in a new
book by Seattle Times reporter Linda Mapes. I wrote a
review of her book, “Elwha: A River Reborn,” to accompany my
visitor’s guide to the area.
I think kids and adults alike will enjoy playing around with a
Glines Canyon at Feiro Marine Life Center, where one can pull
out the dam and watch the sediment move downstream.
Randall Walz, director of education and volunteers at the
center, told me about misconceptions that some people have. Many
believe that the sediment in the Elwha moved downstream and piled
up behind the dams, he said. Instead, most of the sediment was
dropped off in the upper portion of the two reservoirs, where the
water slowed down as it entered the lakes.
The restoration work included digging a pilot channel through
the Lake Mills delta to form a new channel and guide the river
through the trapped sediment. The goal is not to move the sediment
downstream as quickly as possible, Walz said, but rather to
stabilize the deltas and allow them to erode over a longer period
If you want to see change, be sure to visit the mouth of the
Elwha River, which you reach from a dike trail at the end of Place
Road. Wherever you see sand, that’s change, because there was no
sand here before, said Anne Shaffer of the Coastal Watershed
The sandy habitat will better support the migration of juvenile
salmon and provide spawning areas for sandlance, a forage fish. The
decline of the rocky habitat could mean the end of tall kelp, but
researchers hope the new sandy habitat will support the growth of
eelgrass and a burgeoning community of diverse plants and animals.
Check out the
story I wrote in March, following a conference on the nearshore
changes taking place.
I have to say there’s not a lot of excitement to behold in the
upper portions of the two reservoirs unless you remember what it
was like when the lakes were in place or can visualize the enormity
of the change. The river now carves its way through a dry lake bed,
where one can see large old-growth stumps, which were either under
water or buried by sediment. Plants are coming back, some placed
there by restoration workers, others by natural processes.
With or without the dams, one can enjoy the escape into this
natural area, particularly as one moves into the higher trails in
Olympic National Park. Be sure to take time to enjoy the natural
surroundings, even if you need to cut out parts of your planned
If you want to observe the changes over time, I suggest you find
a vantage point and take a picture during your visit. When you
return the next time, take another picture for comparison. The
heavy gravel and silt seems fairly inhospitable at the moment. But
if you return again and again, I expect you’ll be amazed at the
transformation taking place over the next few years.
Changes are coming rapidly to the Elwha River, as massive
amounts of sediment shift around in the river channel and flow out
into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Over the past few months, researchers have documented the
formation of new beaches and the growth of the delta at the mouth
of the Elwha. I described these latest changes in a story in
Sunday’s Kitsap Sun.
The new information came out of an annual workshop of the Elwha
Nearshore Consortium, which has a special interest in the river,
especially its effects on the coastal reaches along the strait.
It’s exciting to hear about the transformation of the river, and
I would like to congratulate the scientists for the monitoring work
that allows us to talk about “before” and “after” dam removal —
although the “after” part will be an ongoing story for decades.
Many research organizations are involved in the Elwha, and I hope
their funding holds out to tell a more complete story from a
Meanwhile, many writers, photographers and videographers are
telling their own stories about the restoration in various ways,
and new books and documentaries are on the way. I’ve talked about
some of these in the past and will continue to do so as new works
The human connections to the river, particularly those of the
Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, have been widely recognized as an
integral part of the restoration story. Many Klallam elders have
been gracious in sharing their culture and traditions.
Although the Elwha Dam removal is far from the only restoration
effort taking place in Western Washington, it may be the one place
where nature is working at an extraordinary pace to put things back
the way they were.
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.
Work will continue on the removal of both Elwha and Glines
Canyon dam until the end of this month, when a “fish window” will
shut down operations on the water. Work will shift to demolition of
penstocks, powerhouses and other structures — work that will not
release sediment into the river, according to the Elwha
Blog provided by Olympic National Park. Construction in the
water can resume at the end of the year.
At the Elwha Dam, contractors are blasting away to remove the
left spillway foundation down into bedrock to form the downstream
end of a diversion channel. The diversion channel is scheduled to
be put into operation the week of Oct. 17, when the river will flow
through the channel at an increased rate, drawing down Lake
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!