Tag Archives: Elwha Dam

Final explosion frees Elwha River at Glines Canyon

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.

Tours will help people understand Elwha restoration

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.

The Elwha River flows through what had been the Lake Aldwell reservoir, fully drained after removal of the Elwha Dam.
The Elwha River flows through what had been the Lake Aldwell reservoir, fully drained after removal of the Elwha Dam.
Photo by Steve Zugschwerdt

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 away.

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) 452-9191.

Earlier this year, I wrote a story for visitors interested in the Elwha restoration. Given that the tours of Lake Aldwell will last about an hour, you may wish to visit some of the other viewpoints while you’re there. See “Visiting the Elwha: Explore a River Transformed.” Also, check out a few of my observations in Water Ways, April 30, 2013.

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.

Elwha River visitors guide

Here’s my guide for visiting the Elwha area

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.

Looking upstream where the Elwha River flows into an empty Lake Mills, the upper reservoir. Photo by Steve Zugschwerdt
Looking upstream where the Elwha River flows into an empty Lake Mills, the upper reservoir. / Photo by Steve Zugschwerdt

I wrote a story for Sunday’s Kitsap Sun that describes where you can go to see the river and various features of the restoration project. The area map we created for the newspaper can be downloaded and taken with you. Click here for map (PDF 438 kb).

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 model of 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 of time.

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 Institute.

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 trip.

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.

Elwha River transformation comes swiftly

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.

Phoebe Tyson, a Student Conservation Association intern, joins in planting efforts in the former Lake Mills to help restore a natural forest. Photo courtesy of Olympic National Park
Phoebe Tyson, a Student Conservation Association intern, joins in planting efforts in the former Lake Mills to help restore a natural forest. / Photo courtesy of Olympic National Park

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 scientific perspective.

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 are released.

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.

Blasts punctuate anniversary of Elwha Dam project

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

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

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.

Continue reading

Elwha work resumes as structures disappear

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.

Glines Canyon Dam shows off its new notches

“Deconstruction” of Glines Canyon Dam on the Elwha River appears to be progressing rapidly. A fourth notch in the dam was completed yesterday, and water is now pouring through all four of the gaps.

Alan Durning of Sightline Institute (blog) pieced together the video, at right, from still photos taken by a remote webcam at the dam. Check out the cameras on the Elwha River Restoration Project webpage.

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 Aldwell.

Elwha Dam / Olympic National Park webcam

Chipping away at historic Glines Canyon Dam

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!