The Olympic Peninsula's Elwha River is running free. Pretty much. The Elwha dam is down and the Glines dam is being chipped away (see the image above); it should be completely gone within a year or 18 months.
Still, you don't need to wait to get out your cigars. For the first time in about 100 years, salmon fry are hatching above the dams. These are the offspring of adult Coho salmon that were placed in the river last spring. The fry that survive should be making their journey to the Strait of Juan de Fuca by spring of 2013.
Starting today, crews are halting work that disrupts the water for the next two months, to give the fish a window of clear water, free of the high levels of silt and turbidity that dam removal causes.
You can follow all the action on the Olympic National Park's Dam Removal Blog or on the project's Facebook page. If you're a river and/or engineering geek, the images of the dam removal process—and historical shots that show the river pre-dams—are definitely worth your time. You'll see deltas emerge as the lakes, formed by the dams, begin to drain. Native American artifacts have already been uncovered.
This project, the largest dam removal in history, is especially important to the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, who depended on the hearty salmon and trout populations that once stretched along the river's length and that were limited to the first five miles of river, below Elwha Dam, after the dams were installed without providing any fish passage.
Check back later this month for an interview with Ben Knight, whose upcoming documentary DamNation will tell some of the Elwha's story but focuses on the larger topic of dam removal and river restoration across the country. Hopefully, we'll get a peak at the film trailer, too.
Meanwhile, here's a short film that American Whitewater and Andy Maser Films put together about Elwha restoration. And flyfishing.
--Mary Catherine O'Connor