Tag Archives: Glines Canyon Dam

Stay connected during demolition of Elwha dams

I’m looking forward to watching the two dams on the Elwha River being dismantled — and I won’t have to leave home.

In this July 9 photo, water was pouring through the spillway gates of Glines Canyon Dam. Since then, the reservoir has reached a low of -18 feet pending demolition, and the spill has declined.
Photo courtesy of Robert Dashiell

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 around.

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 removal.

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.

For ongoing information, there is Facebook, a blog and general information about the dams and dam-removal project.

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! website.

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.

Research divers to watch arrival of Elwha sediments

In a report last night on KING-5 News, Gary Chittim offered a visually rich account of the studies taking place at the mouth of the Elwha River, where nearshore and delta areas are expected to receive huge loads of sediment after the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams come out.

He noted that divers from The U.S. Geological Survey and Environmental Protection Agency have been fighting strong currents as they conduct a spacial survey of the plants and animals in the nearshore area.

Gary quoted Sean Sheldrake, dive unit officer for the EPA:

“Just yesterday, we were diving on a beautiful kelp forest with a variety of fish and plant life, and the hope is through this reconnection of the Elwha to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, it will not only continue but thrive.”

And in a news release last week from the U.S. Geological Survey, Sheldrake was quoted as saying:

“Until now, we’ve focused most of our attention on the effect this project will have on the river, salmon habitat and salmon recovery. But with this survey, we will have a more complete and much clearer picture of the effects on the nearshore ocean environment.”

More than 19 million cubic meters of sediment — enough to fill 11 football fields the height of the Empire State Building — has accumulated behind the Elwha River dams, according to the news release. That sediment is expected to create turbidity for a time, but in the long run could be beneficial for a variety of plant and animal species in area.

Documents for further reading:

Proceedings of the 2011 Elwha Nearshore Consortium Meeting (PDF 1.3 mb)

Nearshore function of the central Strait of Juan de Fuca for juvenile fish… Executive Summary (PDF 906 kb)

Elwha Nearshore Update, Summer 2011 (PDF 333 kb)

Nearshore substrate and morphology offshore of the Elwha River (PDF 4.5 mb)

Nearshore restoration of the Elwha River through removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams (PDF 308 kb)

Bull trout in Elwha River given temporary refuge

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.

Bull Trout / Photo: Olympic National Park

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 two dams.

The bull trout averaged 14 inches long, and some were as big as 24 inches.

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 River.

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 say.

“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.

According to the “Bull Trout Protection and Restoration Plan” (PDF 1.6 mb), turbidity will exceed 1,000 parts per million for extended periods and may periodically exceed 10,000 ppm.

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 death.

Bull trout were moved by helicopter to the upper Elwha River. / Photo: Olympic National Park

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 waters.

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 watershed.

The relocation effort fulfills a requirement of a 2000 revision to the 1996 biological opinion for bull trout by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“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 agencies.

“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 trout.

If you’d like to read more about the Elwha Dam removal, check out the story I wrote for the Kitsap Sun Sept. 4, 2010, or visit Olympic National Park’s “Bull Trout” page.

The tagging of captured bull trout took place on Lake Mills. / NPS photo by John Gussman

Anticipation is running high for Elwha dams removal

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.

Glines Canyon Dam is the larger of the two dams to be removed on the Elwha River.
Photo courtesy of National Park Service

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 ago.

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.

Read my stories by clicking on the following:

Elwha Project Expected to Blast Open Nature’s Door to Bountiful Fish Runs

Elwha Restoration: Where Will 400,000 Young Plants Find a Place to Live?

Elwha Restoration: Will We See the Legendary 100-Pound Chinook?

Elwha Restoration: Bringing Back Habitats and Culture

Rebuilding specific stocks of salmon, steelhead and trout, along with dam-removal process

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.

Also check out the Elwha page on Olympic National Park’s website, where another page lists studies and other documents.