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

Brutality Eroding IS Financial Support

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says IS's penchant for publicizing beheadings, other brutal forms of punishment hurts group’s bottom line More

Studies: Climate Change a Factor in Disasters in Syria, California

The studies point to the possibility of clear and present dangers from a threat often considered to be far in the future More

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees 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.
Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukrainei
X
March 03, 2015 3:11 AM
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video US, Cuba Report Progress in Latest Talks to Restore Ties

The United States and Cuba say they have made progress in the second round of talks on restoring diplomatic relations more than 50 years after breaking off ties. Delegations from both sides met in Washington on Friday to work on opening embassies in Havana and Washington and iron out key obstacles to historic change. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas reports from the State Department.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video NYC's Restaurant Week: An Economic Boom in Fine Dining

New Yorkers take pride in setting world trends — in fashion, the arts and fine dining. The city’s famous biannual Restaurant Week plays a significant role in a booming tourism industry that sustains 359,000 jobs and generates $61 billion in yearly revenue. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
Video

Video Brookhaven at Cutting Edge of US Energy Research

Issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking and instability in the Middle East are driving debate in the U.S. about making America energy independent. Recently, the American Energy Innovation Council urged Congress and the White House to make expanded energy research a priority. One beneficiary of increased energy spending would be the Brookhaven National Lab, where clean, renewable, efficient energy is the goal. VOA's Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More