Elwha Watershed Restoration
Not so long ago, the Elwha River hosted some of the richest runs of salmon in the Pacific Northwest. Ten different runs of anadromous fish, including coho, pink, chum, sockeye and Chinook salmon, along with cutthroat trout, native char and steelhead, made this watershed their home.
One hundred years ago, entrepreneur Thomas Aldwell saw the river and its narrow gorges as an economic opportunity. He formed plans to build a dam to provide electricity for the surrounding growing communities. Construction began, in 1910 and by 1913 the Elwha Dam supplied energy to power the pulp mill in Port Angeles. As economics needs of the area grew, the decision to build another dam was formulated. By 1927, Glines Canyon Dam was built eight miles upstream. While the dams were providing electricity to the area, the failure to build fish ladders left the Elwha River with a mere five miles of available habitat for returning anadromous fish. The dams had a number of other serious impacts including sediment and silt blockage behind the dams, erosion of the river banks, and on the people who previously relied on the anadromous populations for sustenance.
In 1938 Congress creates Olympic National Park, which included parts of the Elwha River watershed. In 1940, the Glines Canyon hydroelectric site is included in the park's boundary expansion. By the 1980s, perspectives had changed and legal challenges and policy questions arose about licensing a dam in a national park. After several years of political processes, In October 1992, President George H.W. Bush signs the Elwha River Ecosystem and Fisheries Restoration Act (pdf). as Public Law 102-495. The Elwha Act calls for "full restoration of the Elwha River ecosystem and native anadromous fisheries."
Today, the National Park Service is working closely with Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and many other partners to restore the Elwha River and its ecosystem. The Elwha dam has been completely removed, only about 65 feet of the Glines Canyon Dam remains, with the dam to be completely removed by summer 2013. A number of related mitigation projects, including two water treatment plants, flood control levees, a fish hatchery, and a greenhouse facility, have been completed.
Want to learn more about the project and its location. Download this Brochure about the largest watershed restoration project in the United States history. (PDF 4.5 MB)
Find out more about the Elwha Watershed restoration project on the Olympic National Park website. Find links to closure maps, environmental documents, webcams, and activities taking place at and around the project site.
Did You Know?
During the summer months, rangers give demonstrations about gold panning at 10:00 am and 3:00 pm.