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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book 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.
Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festivali
X
April 24, 2015 4:09 AM
Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Keeping Washington Airspace Safe Is Tall Order

Being the home of all three branches of the U.S. federal government makes Washington, D.C. the prime target for those who want to make their messages and ideas heard. Unfortunately, many of them choose to deliver them in unorthodox ways, including from the air, as a recent incident clearly showed involving a gyrocopter landing on the Capitol’s West Lawn. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.

VOA Blogs