Friday, July 27, 2012

Release the River: Notes on the Elwha

Last week I visited Lake Aldwell on the Olympic Peninsula. Only the lake is gone.

The former Lake Aldwell

No, Washington State is not having a drought like other parts of the United States. Lake Aldwell is no more because the Elwha Dam has been removed.

Former Lake Aldwell

The Elwha River has been set free. First the Elwha Dam has been taken out and the Glines Canyon Dam upstream is being taken down very rapidly.

Former site of the Elwha Dam

This YouTube is an advertisement for boots, but I like the version of the dam removal project and maybe I'll give the work boots a try.

Elwha dams and a rough boundary of the watershed that has been opened for salmon
The removal of the dams opens up the entire Elwha River watershed for salmon. Estimates are that the salmon population on the river will increase to 400,000 fish from the current 3,000. The river extends deep into pristine habitat with the majority of the newly available habitat being with Olympic National Park. timothy Egan has a write The Elwha Dam removals remind me of some personal history. Back in 2001 the Whatcom County Council had voted on sending a letter supporting the position of not removing dams on the lower Snake River. The Council letter included the line, and I am not kidding, “It is entirely possible that the dams’ net effect on salmon survival is positive”. I was on the Council at the time. Those were the glory days of my elected public service. I voted against sending the letter and kind made a big deal out of the letter. Turns out that line about dams having a net positive effect on salmon was lifted directly from a paper being presented at the time to those that were receptive to the idea that salmon were doing just fine. Besides the line that dams were good for salmon, the paper included “Removal of the dam on the Elwha River has not resulted in any return of salmon to that river”. I wrote an editorial in which I wrote "Mr. ***** (personally I think Mr. **** has suffered enough) is right, salmon have not returned to the Elwha River. Earth to Mr. ****: The dam is still there". A few political foes and friends felt I should have been more conflict adverse. Perhaps so, but I did like the line and the letter had politcal consequences that were favorable from my view. Personal history aside the movement of sediment from the upper part of the former Lake Aldwell was interesting to see. 
Elwha cutting into bank of former lake sediment
Exposed stumps exposed by river washing out sediment
(not gravel on top of stumps)
Stump being exposed along bank of newly freed river
Old growth cedar stump exposed on side of cut bank.
Shrinkage cracks within silts
The shrinkage cracks were interesting in that I measured one as being at least 4 feet deep.
A bright future for Elwha salmon
View up the Elwha into the heart of the Olympic Range

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