Biggest-Ever Dam Removal Frees US River
Salmon already returning to Washington's Elwha River
By Rob Quinn, Newser Staff
Posted Aug 27, 2014 4:07 AM CDT
Updated Aug 27, 2014 7:58 AM CDT
The Elwha River flows freely through what was Lake Mills and past the old Glines Canyon Dam, bottom, in Olympic National Park near Port Angeles, Wash.   (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

(Newser) – The biggest dam-removal project in history is complete and Washington state's Elwha River is running freely for the first time in more than a century. A blast yesterday destroyed the final 30 feet of the 210-foot Glines Canyon Dam, completed in 1927, on the Olympic Peninsula. The older, 108-foot Elwha Dam was destroyed last year as part of a project to restore what was once the best salmon river in the area. The restoration has been "the dream of tribal members for a hundred years," a spokesman for the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe told the Peninsula Daily News as the tribe celebrated.

The old dams lacked fish ladders and no longer produced significant amounts of electricity. Over the last few years of the restoration project, salmon have started returning to the river and more wildlife has followed. Millions of tons of sediment that had been trapped behind the dams have created new habitats for wildlife downstream. "We're seeing all sorts of different creatures. It's fantastic," a US Geological Survey spokesman tells National Geographic, which notes that hundreds of smaller dams have been removed over the last few years, but the American West's thirst for water means other large ones are unlikely to go anytime soon. (This "salmon cannon" could also be a lifesaver for fish.)

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Showing 3 of 84 comments
Sep 6, 2014 1:28 PM CDT
Addition to previous post I'm not sure of the balance between impact on wild life and power production. Reality is most of the older dams were built with the arrogant belief that to deal with the returning salmon, you just had to net them and transport them past the dam in sufficient numbers to keep a healthy return. This is not true. Subjecting the smolt to 100 foot of water pressure change is like popping pop corn. The air bladder literally pops killing the fish. The only fix is shallow water return for the smolt. Over shoot water wheels work but that creates other engineering problems. The Romans did this. Big dam projects in the north west are a disaster to migratory fish. The dams were built to control flooding, irrigation, navigation and power production at the cost of migratory fish. There is hope we clever little hairless monkeys have figured it out. Destroying dams is like burning down your house to save the environment. The best fix would be to leave dam intact and build a fish ladder and use an Archimedes screw type power plant. The fish ladder would be for returning migratory fish and the Archimedes screw type power plant would give the smolt a way to the sea. It will still do all the things the dam was built for. And like beaver dams the artificial lake produces habitat and eventually a meadow and high quality farm land.
Ulysses Noman
Aug 29, 2014 5:44 PM CDT
Washington Watermelons, Deconstructing Civilization one project at a time.
William Locke
Aug 29, 2014 1:09 PM CDT