News / USA

Demolished Dams Make Way for Salmon

A salmon's travels to spawn are cut short because of two dams blocking its way along the Elwha River.
A salmon's travels to spawn are cut short because of two dams blocking its way along the Elwha River.

Multimedia

Audio
Tom Banse

In Washington state's Olympic National Park, the biggest dam removal in U.S. history is under way.

Tearing down a pair of tall hydropower dams along the river has been talked about for 25 years. Action is finally being taken.

Heavy excavators are digging a channel to re-route the Elwha River. The 72.4 kilometer-long waterway has been blocked by the Elwha Dam and Glines Canyon Dam for 100 years.

The dams have decimated the river’s abundant salmon runs. Removing the structures will allow the fish to return to their historic breeding grounds in the upper part of the river.

No way out

At the lip of Elwha Dam, one can hear the Elwha River gushing out of a spillway and crashing down 32 meters into an emerald, green pool at the base of dam. When the sun hits the water just right, you can see salmon in the pool - circling aimlessly at the foot of the dam - still looking, after all these years, for some way over.

It's been 100 years since Elwha Dam was constructed. It was built without fish ladders. Because of that - and those frustrated salmon below - the dam's days are numbered.

According to the National Park Service, the 64-meter-tall Glines Canyon Dam will be the tallest dam ever purposely torn down in the world.
According to the National Park Service, the 64-meter-tall Glines Canyon Dam will be the tallest dam ever purposely torn down in the world.

The preparations for dam removal are under way upstream and downstream. This September, contractors will dig a channel through a delta of lake sediment to help the Elwha River find its original course.

Olympic National Park spokesman Dave Reynolds watches a barge as it ferries heavy equipment for that effort across Lake Mills, the manmade reservoir behind the dam. The lake is gradually being drawn down.

Back to nature

"It is symbolic and it seems like a lot of people are really excited about it," says Reynolds. "This seems like the first major project right on the Elwha. It's changing the landscape. It's got a lot of people really looking forward to next year and the beginning of dam removal here."

There are people who will miss these two dams on the river and the lakes they created.

"I like the way it is set up right now. It's been this way so long," says sport fisherman David Mead as he casts for trout below Glines Canyon Dam. "I just personally don't see the need to tear those out when we've got so many other rivers for the salmon and the steelhead and everything."

However, Mead recognizes the debate about tearing down the dams is over. "Hopefully it's all going to be for the best when it's all done."

'We want our dammed salmon back'

The Lower Elwha Klallam Indian tribe set all this in motion back in 1986. That's when the tribe challenged the relicensing of 64-meter-tall Glines Canyon Dam and the 33-meter-tall Elwha Dam.

Robert Elofson stands on an eroded Lower Elwha Klallam reservation beach that he hopes will be repopulated with clams after it is nourished with river sediments now trapped behind two Elwha River dams.
Robert Elofson stands on an eroded Lower Elwha Klallam reservation beach that he hopes will be repopulated with clams after it is nourished with river sediments now trapped behind two Elwha River dams.

The rallying cry is stitched into a logo on tribal member Robert Elofson's jacket. It features a pun on a common oath.

"It says, 'We want our dammed salmon back.' That's d-a-m-m-e-d," says Elofson.  

Elofson directs the Elwha River Restoration Program for his tribe. He says dam removal will open 112 kilometers of river and tributary habitat. Salmon have a central place in the culture and diet of many Pacific Northwest tribes.

Signs of new times

On the Lower Elwha reservation, rumbling convoys of dump trucks signal the decades-long wait to free the river will soon be over.

The trucks also drive home what makes dam removal so expensive and complicated. Among other things, contractors are raising levees to protect reservation housing from a less controlled waterway.

"The river level will be higher, the groundwater level and the flood levels will be higher," says Elofson. "So the levee system has to be modified and expanded."

American taxpayers are also paying for a new fish hatchery. It will shelter the remaining Elwha salmon during the dam removal process.

"We've worked very hard to get where we are and to get this project done," says Elofson. "You know, we take a great deal of pride in the fact that it has been accomplished."

Lake Mills before its drawdown to facilitate the dam removal.
Lake Mills before its drawdown to facilitate the dam removal.

More to come

Actual deconstruction of the concrete dams starts next year.

Several other dams around the country are slated to be torn down next year as well. They include Pacific Power's 38 meter tall Condit Dam on the White Salmon River in southwest Washington State. On the East Coast are a dam on Maine's Penobscot River, a stronghold for Atlantic salmon, and Simkins Dam on Maryland's Patapsco River.

Supporters say removing outdated dams improves water quality and public safety while expanding recreation opportunities and benefitting fish migration.

The surge of activity prompted the environmental group, American Rivers, to dub 2011 'The Year of River Restoration.'

You May Like

US Imposes Sanctions on Alleged Honduran Drug Gang

Treasury department alleges Los Valles group is responsible for smuggling tens of thousands of kilograms of cocaine into US each month More

At 91, Marvel Creator Stan Lee Continues to Expand his Universe

Company's chief emeritus hopes to interest new generation of children in superheroes of all shapes and sizes by publishing content across multiple media platforms More

Photogallery New Drug Protects Against Virus in Ebola Family

Study by researchers at University of Texas Medical Branch, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals is first looking at drug's effectiveness after onset of symptoms More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebolai
X
George Putic
August 20, 2014 8:57 PM
While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls For Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid