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.
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.
Orca Network’s annual “Ways of Whales Workshop” on Whidbey
Island Saturday has lined up some great speakers this year.
The cost of the daylong workshop is $30, or $25 for students and
seniors. If you register right away, you can buy lunch for an extra
$10. Visit the
website for registration and additional information.
Peter Ross, a researcher with Canada’s
Department of Fisheries and Oceans, will discuss toxic pollution
and whales in a talk titled, “Of Whales and Men: Ocean Pollution in
the 21st Century.” Peter is a leading researcher in the effort to
determine why killer whales in the Northwest are among the most
contaminated mammals in the world.
Other speakers include Don Noviello of the
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, who will discuss plans
to protect marine mammals from the threat of an oil spill;
John Gussman and Jessica Plumb,
who are documenting in film and photos the restoration of the Elwha
River; Steve Mashuda, an attorney for Earthjustice
who will review legal attempts to remove the Southern Resident
killer whales from the Endangered Species Act; and Howard
Garrett of Orca Network, who will present a theory about
why male orcas stay with their mothers for life.
Sustainable Cinema Series
Another event worth noting is the film “The Pacific Rim:
Americas” about the dynamic geology of the West Coast.
The film will be shown Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the Dragonfly
Cinema in Port Orchard. Jim Bolger of the Puget
Sound Partnership will lead a discussion during the event. A $5
donation is suggested. See Kitsap County’s news
release for details.
The film is being shown as part of the Sustainable Cinema
Series, sponsored by Kitsap County Commissioner Charlotte
Garrido, who hopes the films will stimulate discussion
about environmental issues.
From childhood, U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks was destined to become an
advocate for salmon and ultimately a champion for the entire Puget
Sound ecosystem, according to recent comments from his family and
Most people know that Norm — whose home lies in southern Hood
Canal — will leave office at the end of this year. Recognizing his
efforts on behalf of salmon, the Pacific Northwest Salmon Center
recently named him to its “Wild Salmon Hall of Fame.”
Neil Werner, executive director of the salmon center, said Norm
embodies all the criteria for hall of fame inductees, such as a
passion to restore wild salmon, a willingness to share knowledge
and much success in making things happen. Listing the criteria, he
said, is like describing Norm Dicks himself.
I won’t list all the accomplishments that Neil cited during an
induction ceremony two weeks ago, but they included Norm’s
leadership in obtaining congressional funding for a variety of
programs to restore salmon in Puget Sound, to heal the Puget Sound
watershed (including federal lands) and to increase our
understanding of how the ecosystem works.
As a result, salmon have regained access to 900 miles of stream
habitat, including the nearly pristine watershed above two dams on
the Elwha River.
“We will see the benefits of what he has done for an awfully
long time, if not in perpetuity,” Neil said. Continue reading →
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:
“No matter how you spell it or how you pronounce it, H2O is a
wonder: a beautifully simple, simply beautiful element that, when
all is said and done, means nothing less than life.”
Thus begins the introduction to a collection of historical
photographs titled “In Praise of
Water,” which includes mostly amusing pictures from 1936 to
1968. The collection was put together by Life magazine in
recognition of World Water Day last month, but I just stumbled on
it last week. Please click on the link to take a look. (For the
chemists among us, we’ll have to forgive the term “element,”
because water is actually a compound.)
To bring the wonder of historical photos back home to Washington
state, I pulled this fabulous photo of Eleanor Chittenden fishing
on the Elwha River in 1907. It’s from a collection managed by the
Washington State Historical Society.
Eleanor, 15 in this picture, was the daughter of famed engineer
Hiram Chittenden, who worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
in connection with the Port of Seattle. The photo, by Asahel
Curtis, was taken during an expedition to the Olympic Peninsula
with The Mountaineers. Eleanor was no doubt proud of her catch, a
very nice steelhead. Of course, this was many years before a dam
was built on the Elwha.
Bob Royer wrote a nice piece about “The
Girl and the Fish” in the Cascadia Courier, a blog that relates
history to present-day events.