PORT ANGELES, Wash. – The biggest dam removal in US history is getting underway. In Olympic National Park Monday, heavy excavators begin digging a channel to re-route the Elwha River. The idea of tearing down a pair of tall hydropower dams has been talked about for twenty five years. Correspondent Tom Banse reports talk has given way to action in the Elwha Valley of northwest Washington.
Robert Elofson stands on an eroded Lower Elwha Klallam reservation beach that he hopes will be nourished with river sediments now trapped behind two Elwha River dams and then repopulated with clams. By Tom Banse.
Lake Mills before its drawdown to facilitate dam removal. By Tom Banse.
Glines Canyon Dam. By Tom Banse.
Tom Banse: “I’m standing at the lip of Elwha Dam. That’s the sound of the Elwha River in the background gushing out of a spillway and then crashing down 105 feet into an emerald, green pool at the base of dam. Because the sun is hitting just right now, I can see salmon. Actually, quite a few salmon...circling aimlessly here 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...this dam’s days are numbered.”
Sound: tugboat motor revs
The preparations for dam removal are underway upstream and downstream of here. This month, 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 ferry heavy equipment for that across manmade Lake Mills. He says the lake is gradually being drawn down.