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!
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.
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
news release from Olympic National Park says the logo was
designed to represent “the magnitude and importance of the Elwha
River Restoration project, which includes the largest dam removal
in U.S. history and will restore the river’s salmon populations
from 3,000 to nearly 400,000.”
“This is an environmental and cultural restoration project that
has already attracted national and international attention – and
it’s right here in our backyard,” remarked Park Superintendent
Studies about the future of the Elwha River, which snakes up
into Olympic National Park, have been going on for more than 20
years. Now that dam removal is about a year away, excitement is
reaching new heights.
I thought that this would be a good time to discuss the
restoration of the river and reservoirs behind the two dams. How
will the natural environment change? What kinds of plants will take
over? And what will be the future of salmon and steelhead that have
hung on in the lower river all these years?
These are subjects I touched on in a series of articles
published in Sunday’s Kitsap Sun. In one piece, I also mentioned
the special cultural significance of the Elwha River to the Lower
Elwha Klallam Tribe.
What I did not cover in this reporting project was the old
debate about whether the two dams should be removed. At $350
million, it’s an expensive project, and some people are convinced
that it is not worthwhile. Costs of protecting water quality for
the city of Port Angeles and replacing the power for the paper mill
are part of the public expense. But these issues were decided long
My intention in these articles was to show what could be
expected as the dams come down and the restoration moves into the
key areas behind the reservoirs.
For general information with links to related studies, visit the
Elwha Watershed Information
Resource, developed by the University of Idaho through a
cooperative agreement with the NOAA Coastal Services Center and in
partnership with the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, Peninsula College
and Western Washington University.
I have to admit that I was quite excited when I heard that
fishers released into the Olympic Mountains were having babies. A
camera placed near the den of one female captured her climbing down
a tree and moving her four kits, one by one, to a new den.
(See story in today’s Kitsap Sun.)
I immediately called Jeff Lewis, a biologist leading the effort
for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Jeff was
obviously excited, too. I truly enjoy it when researchers outwardly
celebrate their accomplishments, all the while keeping a more
objective eye on the data.
I’ve been covering this issue for years, but I met Jeff in
person during the fisher release near Lake Cushman in January, when
I wrote a
Kitsap Sun story (with a video) followed by a
Water Ways entry pondering whether these fleeing fishers could
find each in the wild and start a family. I also discussed what
role these animals might play in the ecosystem — which prompted a
lively discussion among readers.
Now we know the answer to the first question and can look
forward to more kits being born, eventually rebuilding the
population. Then maybe we will learn something about the second
question regarding what niche the fishers may fill within the
Olympic Peninsula ecosystem.
If you have an interest in the fisher story, I think you will
enjoy reading more. WDFW’s
“Fishers in Washington” is the place to start, and be sure to
follow the links.
The effort to reintroduce fishers into Olympic National Park
continues to be an exciting good-news story, but the implications
may be even greater than they seem at first glance.
We must wait to see whether the males and females among the 40
or more fishers will find each other. But biologists say there’s a
good chance they will, and researchers may discover some dens with
kits either this spring or maybe next year.
I had the privilege of seeing five fishers released yesterday
near Staircase Ranger Station in Olympic National Park. These were
the first animals to be released on the east side of the mountains.
For a description of their rapid escape into the woods, see my
story and watch the video in
today’s Kitsap Sun.
While on the outing, I talked to Jasmine Minbashian of
Conservation Northwest about the potential for unexpected results
from this experiment. As an example, she wondered about the
potential of a trophic cascade, such as seen in Yellowstone Park
after the introduction of wolves. In a chain of events, the wolves
have done a great favor for fish in the national park.
Wolves not only eat elk at times, but their presence frightens
away these animals that love to eat the shoots of aspen trees.
Without the elk browsing continuously, the aspens grow into dense
vegetation that can provide shade, cover and insects — all to the
benefits of fish and other creatures.
Chris Conway of the New
York Times does a nice job explaining this in a brief story
from Aug. 5, 2007. For a little longer version, see Science
Daily, which points out:
Prior to the re-introduction of wolves, scientists found there
were many small sprouting shoots of these important tree species,
and numbers of large trees 70 years old or more — but practically
nothing in between. High populations of grazing ungulates,
primarily elk, had grazed on the small tree shoots at leisure and
with little fear of attack.
But the ecological damage, researchers say, went far beyond just
trees. The loss of trees and shrubs opened the door to significant
stream erosion. Beaver dams declined. Food webs broke down, and the
chain of effects rippled through birds, insects, fish and other
plant and animal species.
For more information about trophic cascades, go to the Web site
of Oregon State
University, where this issue is being studied in depth.
As for Olympic National Park, the extermination of wolves on the
peninsula may have had a cascading effect on species that depend on
cottonwood and bigleaf maples. The Fall 2008 issue of
Island Geoscience (PDF 732 kb) tells it this way:
In 1890, members of the Press Expedition found the banks of the
upper Quinault River “so dense with underbrush as to be almost
impenetrable,” they wrote at the time. Logs jammed the rivers,
dense tree canopies shaded and cooled the streams, and trout and
salmon thrived, along with hundreds of species of plants and
“Today, you go through the same area and instead of dense
vegetation that you have to fight through, it’s a park-like stand
of predominantly big trees,” said Bill Ripple, a co-author of the
study and forestry professor at Oregon State University. “It’s just
a different world.”
“Our study shows that there has been almost no recruitment of
new cottonwood and bigleaf maple trees since the wolves
disappeared, and also likely impacts on streamside shrubs, which
are very important for river stability,” said Robert Beschta, lead
author of the study and professor emeritus of forest hydrology at
OSU. “Decreases in woody plant communities allow river banks to
rapidly erode and river channels to widen.”
Efforts to reintroduce wolves to the Olympic Peninsula are on
hold for the time being. But we have a lot to think about. What we
can learn from the fisher may be much more than the idea that we
should have a few more of the furry animals running around.