Dam Removal Blog

September 17, 2012
Celebrate Elwha: One Year Later
This week's post is a special anniversary edition video blog.

Glines Canyon Dam in September

September 12, 2012
Blasting to Resume at Glines Canyon Dam
With the August-September fish window almost over, work to lower the Glines Canyon Dam will resume this coming Saturday, September 15. Controlled blasts are scheduled September 15, 17, 19, 21, and 23. Each blast is expected to lower the remaining reservoir an additional 3 feet, from a starting elevation of 488 feet to a final elevation of 473 feet. A fourteen day hold will begin after the fifth blast. During the fourteen day hold all reservoir-lowering work will be halted to allow the river time to meander across the lake bed and erode additional sediments downstream.

Officials do not expect the upcoming blasts to release large amounts of water from what remains of Lake Mills. However, visitors to the area should be aware of the possibility of sudden increases in river flow and avoid low-lying areas near the Elwha River for up to five hours following each blast.

Excavator lifting rock

Courtesy of URS

Excavating the Last of the Material at Elwha Dam Site
Over the past week, work crews have been excavating rocks from the river just upstream of the former Elwha Dam site. The rocks being removed were part of a cofferdam built during the demolition process. Cofferdams are temporary diversions often used during construction to keep water away from work areas. During demolition of the Elwha Dam, cofferdams were used to direct the river from one side of the dam to the other, allowing workers to work 'in the dry' to remove sections of the dam.

Once the channel is clear, workers will only have final clean-up to do before completing work at the former Elwha Dam.


August 31, 2012
What's Swimming in the Elwha River

Sockeye salmon
A fisheries biologist with the Washinton State Department of Fish and Wildlife holds a sockeye salmon.

Photo courtesy of Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife.


This month Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife has counted bull trout, steelhead, Chinook, pink, and sockeye salmon in the fish weir on the Elwha River.

The weir is part of a multi-agency effort to monitor the influence of removing the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams on salmon and steelhead returns to the Elwha River ecosystem and minimize harm to steelhead and Chinook, both federally listed threatened species, during dam removal.

Each fish that passes through the weir is weighed, measured, and counted for the purpose of monitoring the fish populations. Depending on the species, the fish will either pass through and continue on its journey upstream or downstream or be collected and relocated to the clear waters of Little River, the state rearing channel, or the Tribal facility.

Glines Canyon intake tower demolition

A Quiet Week at the Elwha and Glines Canyon Dams
With the 'fish window' still in effect, work at the two dam sites has slowed down this week. At the Glines Canyon Dam site, crushing and transporting the former intake tower continued this week. Preparations were made to access Glines Canyon for additional demolition work downstream of the dam.. Next week crews will continue the demolition and removal of the intake tower and prepare for blasting scheduled for the second half of September.


August 24, 2012
Return of the Kings

Female adult Chinook salmon
Female adult Chinook salmon observed in lower Indian Creek on Thursday, August 23.

Courtesy of John McMilllan, NOAA-Northwest Fisheries Science Center


On Monday, less than five months after the removal of the Elwha Dam, adult Chinook (king) salmon were observed in the park. These are the first observed Elwha River salmon to naturally migrate into the park. When the Elwha Dam became operational in 1913, twenty-five years before the establishment of the park, over 70 miles of habitat were blocked to fish passage.

The Chinook were initially observed approximately two miles upstream from the boundary of the park by Phil Kennedy, Lead Fisheries Technician for the park. By Friday, the Fisheries Crew had observed Chinook throughout the first 12.5 miles of the Elwha River, from the mouth of the river to the Altair Bridge, as well as at the mouth of Indian Creek. The Fisheries Crew has been conducting weekly surveys along the Elwha River since the start of August in search of Elwha River Chinook salmon in the park.

The return of the salmon marks an important milestone in the restoration of the Elwha River ecosystem and a historic moment in the history of the park.

scientists at the Elwha River Science Symposium

Elwha River Science Symposium
From August 20 through 23, over one hundred participants gathered at Peninsula College and NatureBridge for the second Elwha River Science Symposium. Participants represented seven federal agencies, three state agencies, eight universities, three tribes, numerous non-profit organizations, and the public.

Presenters discussed the progress and lessons learned from the first year of the Elwha River Restoration project. Some of the successes reported during the conference included the new formation of sandbars and beaches along the river and at the river mouth, the establishment of willow and alder at sites around Lake Mills and Lake Aldwell, and the observation of both adult and juvenile Chinook above the site of the former Elwha Dam, signaling that restoration of anadromous salmon in the park is underway.

Intake Tower Comes Down At Glines Canyon Dam
On Wednesday, the intake tower at Glines Canyon Dam was toppled with a blast and a tug. To bring down the tower, a blast pattern of over one hundred holes was drilled and loaded with dynamite. The resulting blast removed a large wedge from the base of the tower, but did not topple the tower. An additional tug on a cable previously attached to the tower as part of the work plan was required to complete the operation. After days of preparation and a few minutes of tugging, the tower was safely brought to the ground at approximately 4:00 p.m.

On Thursday, Barnard continued the process of demolishing of the tower. Two excavators, one equipped with a bucket and one equipped with a hydraulic hammer, are being used in the demolition. Work to remove the intake tower concrete and steel will continue next week.

The 'fish window' continues through September 15. During 'fish windows' all reservoir-lowering work is halted in order to protect fish from harmful effects of sediment.


August 17, 2012
Counting and Collecting Fish

Fish weir on the Elwha

This month Chinook and pink salmon are returning to the Elwha River to spawn. As these fish begin their journey up the Elwha River, they are being collected in a fish weir. A fish weir is a fence-like obstruction placed in a river to direct the movement of fish into a trap. Weirs are essential tools for the management of many fish stocks, especially salmon and trout.

The weir installed in the Elwha River is part of a multi-agency effort to monitor the influence of removing the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams on salmon and steelhead returns to the Elwha River ecosystem and minimize harm to steelhead, bull trout, and Chinook, all federally listed threatened species. The weir will enable management staff to get the most accurate and verifiable count of the number and species of fish moving through the system, as well as allow them to collect fish for transport to state rearing channels and clear tributaries above the Elwha Dam, safe havens for the fish while there are high levels of turbidity, or suspended sediment, in the river.

The weir was initially installed in the Elwha River in September 2010 to begin counting adult salmon, trout, and char migrating upstream and downstream in the Elwha River. On August 2, the weir was reinstalled for the chinook and pink salmon migration. Since then, sixteen bull trout, three Chinook, two pink salmon, seven steelhead, and one sockeye salmon have been captured in the weir. Over the next few months, fisheries biologists expect 1,500-2,500 Chinook and up to 200 pink salmon to move into the Elwha River.

Worker prepare the intake tower at Glines Canyon Dam for removal.
Workers prepare the intake tower at Glines Canyon Dam for removal .

Progress at Glines Canyon Dam
The 'fish window' that began on August 1 remains in effect at the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams. During 'fish windows' all reservoir-lowering work is halted in order to protect fish from harmful effects of sediment. This week crews prepared the intake tower at Glines Canyon dam for removal, scheduled for next week. A blast at the base will lower the tower to its side, after which crews will use a hydraulic hammer mounted on an excavator to crush the tower into smaller pieces for removal. The intake tower is no longer in the water at Lake Mills. Crews also drilled at the Glines Canyon Dam in preparation for two blasts scheduled after the 'fish window' ends on September 15. Each blast will notch the dam and lower the reservoir an additional one to three feet.

Public Events at Elwha River Science Symposium
Restoration of the Elwha River is the backdrop for the second Elwha River Science Symposium being held at Peninsula College and NatureBridge next week. Two free events will be offered for the public at Peninsula College's Little Theater, and live streamed online. There will be an overview and update on the Elwha River Restoration Project on Monday, August 20 at 6:30 p.m. Featured speakers include Lynda Mapes, a Seattle Times reporter and John Gussman, a Sequim-based cinematographer. An informal poster session will follow the presentations.

On Wednesday, August 22 at 9:00 a.m a panel of experts will discuss what they've learned during the first year of the project. Panelists include Brian Krohmer, Project Manager for Barnard Construction, Tim Randle, Hydraulic Engineer for the Bureau of Reclamation, George Press, Fisheries Biologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Guy Gelfenbaum, Coastal Geologic and Oceanographic Researcher for U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Mike McHenry, Fisheries Habitat Biologist for the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, and Joshua Chenoweth, Botanical Restorationist for Olympic National Park. The presentations will be followed by a question and answer session with both live and on-line audiences.

A live webcast of both events will be available for those who cannot attend in person. More information on the live webcasts can be found at: http://www.pencol.edu/events/elwha-science-symposium.

More information on the Elwha River Science Symposium can be found at elwharesearchconsortium.wildapricot.org.

River Story Event at Port Angeles Public Library
On Wednesday, August 22 at 7pm at the Port Angeles Main Library, Jerry Freilich, Olympic National Park Scientific Research Coordinator, will provide a "big picture" look at the research activities being conducted in the lower Elwha.


August 9, 2012
Vanishing Elwha Reservoirs Reveal Long-Buried Sites

Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe at the ceremony marking the start of dam removal.
Members of the Klallam Drum and Dance Group celebrate the beginning of dam removal at last September's official ceremony.

In one of the most significant developments yet in the process of Elwha River Restoration, members of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe recently gathered at their people's sacred creation site for the first time in nearly a century.

Generations of tribal members handed down descriptions of a distinctive place along the Elwha River where the Creator bathed the people and blessed them. For millennia a place of reverence and vision, the tribe's creation site was covered by the waters of one of the two reservoirs created after construction of the dams in 1910 and 1927.

Removal of the two dams on the Elwha River began in September 2011; the Elwha Dam is completely gone and Glines Canyon Dam is expected to be fully removed by early summer 2013.

The creation site was located in early July by members of the Olympic National Park cultural resources staff who frequently monitor both of the former Elwha reservoirs for emerging cultural resources. Park staff immediately contacted tribal members who visited the site and confirmed its authenticity.

Elsewhere on the Elwha, another significant cultural site was recently found in an area formerly covered by a reservoir. Material from this site was collected for further study and the site was re-buried. Radiocarbon analysis indicates that the spot was used by people as far back as approximately 8,000 years ago, establishing it as one of the oldest known archeological sites on the Olympic Peninsula.

Cultural sites and artifacts are protected by laws including the National Historic Preservation Act, the Archeological Resources Protection Act, as well as National Park Service and Department of the Interior policy. Disturbance of cultural sites and artifacts is strictly prohibited and is punishable by law.


Own a Piece of the Dam
Pieces of the Elwha Dam are now available just outside the entrance to the Clallam County gravel pit on Place Road. The pit is located on Place Road, off Highway 112 west of Port Angeles. To reach the pile of dam concrete, turn right on Place Road, just past mile marker 59. The gravel pit is approximately 0.4 miles down Place Road on the right, opposite Ranger Road. The concrete pile is located just outside the entrance to the facility, on the left side of the driveway. Most of the concrete from the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams is being recycled into new road surface by the Clallam County roads department, but a supply is available just outside the gravel pit for anyone who wants to own a piece of the dam.

Pouring concrete on the walkway over the spillway.

Preparing for Life After Dam Removal
In less than a year, the landscapes of the Elwha and Glines Canyon dam sites will be absent of both dams and reservoirs. Sites once used for electricity generation and recreational boating will be places to learn the story of what once was here and experience the restoration process. As the park prepares for 'life after dam removal,' work at the Elwha and Glines Canyon dam sites is no longer just about dam removal. This week a new cement walkway was poured on top of the Glines Canyon spillway. When dam removal is finished, visitors to the site will be able to walk out on the spillway to get a birds-eye view of the former dam site and rushing Elwha River.

Other work being done at the Glines Canyon Dam this week included removing a log jam from the top of the dam, filling and grading at the base of the left abutment, and preparing for the next blast. Next week, crews will prepare the intake tower for removal.

Dana Lyons performs at ceremony marking the start of dam removal

Dana Lyons in Concert at Port Angeles Library
River Story events continue at the Port Angeles Library. Singer songwriter Dana Lyons will perform on Friday, August 10 at 7pm. Lyons was part of last September's Celebrate Elwha! event, performing in concert at the Port Angeles Fine Art Center and delivered a stirring rendition of "Drop of Water' at the offical dam removal ceremony.


August 3, 2012
Less than half of Glines Canyon Dam Remains

Glines Canyon Dam September 2011 and August 2012
The Glines Canyon Dam at the start of dam removal in September 2011 and Today.

Last week, on July 29 and 31, two controlled blasts were used to notch and lower Glines Canyon Dam. Together, the blasts lowered the reservoir from 496 to 490 feet. A total of six controlled blasts in July lowered the reservoir a total of 24 feet, from a starting elevation of 514 feet to a final elevation of 490 feet. Today, approximately 90 feet of the 210 foot-high dam are left.

No further notching will be done until mid-September, as the latest 'fish window' began on August 1 and will continue through September 15. During 'fish windows' all reservoir-lowering work is halted in order to protect fish from harmful effects of sediment.

Altair Campground reopened August 1 after being closed for visitor safety during the July notching period. The campground will remain open this year through September 15.

While work to lower the dam is on hold for the fish window, crews continue to be busy at the Glines site. Over the next two weeks, contractors will pour concrete to improve the walkway above the spillway, drill in preparation for the next two shots, and prepare for the removal of the intake tower. Work to lower the dam will resume September 17.

Pink and Chinook Range Map

Chinook and Pink Salmon in the Elwha River
This month Chinook and pink salmon will be moving up the Elwha River to spawn. The Chinook and pink are two of the five species of Pacific salmon that historically spawned in the Elwha River. As each run of salmon take their turn returning to spawn in the Elwha, a dam removal 'fish window' is scheduled to minimize release of sediment while fish are present. During dam removal, three 'fish windows' are planned to protect salmon and steelhead returning to the river to spawn and smolts heading out to sea.

Over the next few months, fisheries biologists expect 1,500-2,500 Chinook and up to 200 pink salmon to move into the Elwha River. Some of these fish may make their way upstream, past the former site of the Elwha Dam, and into the clear waters of Little River and Indian Creek, but most of the Chinook will be collected downstream of the dams and relocated to the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife rearing channel.

Even with Elwha dam gone, most of the Elwha River is still blocked by Glines Canyon Dam, making the upstream clear waters inaccessible. Smaller species of salmon, such as coho and pinks, can move successfully upstream into the clear waters of Little River and Indian Creek to spawn, but the Chinook are generally too large to use these small tributaries in any significant numbers.

Weighing in at an average of 20-40 pounds, Chinook are the salmon of legends. Prior to dam construction, historical records tell of a river teeming with Chinook, some weighing up to 100 pounds. Even today, biologists still observe an occasional 50-70 pound Chinook in the Elwha River. Until both dams are gone, these legendary fish will get some help from fisheries biologists to ensure that this year's cohort continue their life cycle and the next generation of Chinook has a chance to return to an undammed Elwha River when their time comes.

While the Chinook may not make it to the upper reaches of the Elwha River this year, if dam removal remains on schedule, this will be the last year they won't have access to the watershed above Glines Canyon Dam.

River Story Events Continue at the Port Angeles Library
20 Riverside will perform at the library at 7pm on August 3. 20 Riverside is a six-piece funk/hip-hop group from the greater Seattle area. An opening reception for the new River Story Art in the Library show will precede the 20 Riverside concert at 6:30pm.

On Wednesday, August 8 at 7pm, Joshua Chenoweth, Olympic National Park Restoration Botanist, will discuss the Elwha re-vegetation project at the Port Angeles Library. Last year, over 30,000 seedlings were planted in the newly uncovered sediments of the old reservoirs.


July 26, 2012
Olympic National Park Team Receives Recovery Champion Award

The Olympic National Park Team is presented with the Recovery Champions Award
L to R.  Acting Superintendent, Todd Suess accepts the Recovery Champion Award from USFWS Assistant Regional Director Michael Carrier on behalf of Former Superintendent Karen Gustin.  Elwha Project Manager Brian Winter and Fisheries Biologists Pat Crain and Sam Brenkman were also honored as Recovery Champions.

On Tuesday, July 24, Michael Carrier, from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), visited Olympic National Park to present Brian Winter, Pat Crain, and Sam Brenkman with their Recovery Champion awards. A fourth award was accepted by Todd Suess, Acting Superintendent of Olympic National Park, on behalf of Karen Gustin, former Superintendent of the park.

The Recovery Champion award honors USFWS employees and partners for outstanding efforts to conserve and protect endangered and threatened species of fish, wildlife, and plants. The awards were announced in March of this year. Brenkman, Crain, Gustin, and Winter were honored for their leadership in removing the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams on the Elwha River. Removal of these dams will provide Puget Sound Chinook salmon and steelhead, listed as threatened species, with access to over 70 miles of pristine habitat, as well as open migratory corridors to anadromous bull trout, for the first time in 100 years. The restoration of the Elwha River ecosystem will fuel the recovery of these listed fish species, as well as the wildlife species that depend on them.

For information about the 2011 Recovery Champions, please visit: http://www.fws.gov/endangered/what-we-do/recovery-champions/index.html.
To learn more about the USFWS Endangered Species program, go to http://www.fws.gov/endangered/.

Fourteen Day Hold to End at Glines Canyon Dam on Saturday
A fourteen-day hold at Glines Canyon Dam will be in effect through this Saturday, with Barnard employees scheduled to resume controlled blasting on the dam on Sunday. Controlled blasts are scheduled at Glines Canyon Dam on July 29 and 31. Each controlled blast is expected to lower the dam an additional 3 feet, from a starting elevation of 496 feet to 490 feet on July 31. On Wednesday the August-September fish window will begin, and all in-water and sediment-releasing work will be on hold until September 15.


July 20, 2012
Studying the Sediment

Scientists use a Raven UAV and balloon to take aerial photos of the changing sediment along the Elwha River
L to R - A scientist from USGS prepares to launch a camera-equipped Raven UAV.  An image of Lake Aldwell generated from aerial photos taken by park staff.  Researchers from Western Carolina University prepare to send a camera-equipped balloon into the skies above Lake Aldwell.

Up in the sky…It's a bird, it's a plane! No, it's not Superman. But there have been some pretty super science machines soaring in the skies above the Elwha River. (Will be accompanied by photos of aircraft with caption) Staff from the Bureau of Reclamation (USBR), United States Geological Survey (USGS), NatureBridge, and Olympic National Park, as well as researchers from Western Carolina University, have been sending cameras up into the sky to capture images of the sediment changes happening along the Elwha River during dam removal. These images are helping project managers and researchers monitor, map, and understand sediment changes along the river as the dams come down.

Sediment management may not be as compelling as spawning coho or plant seedlings, but it is a critical component of the Elwha River Restoration project. Approximately 25 million cubic yards of sediment, enough sediment to fill a football field 45 stories high, were trapped in Lake Mills and Lake Aldwell. As the dams are removed, much of this sediment will be released and re-deposited downstream, re-building beaches, providing substrate for new plant growth, and creating important spawning habitat for salmon. Habitat for freshwater invertebrates and nearshore species, such as clams, crabs and smelt will also be re-built.

To help manage the sediment release, work to lower Glines Canyon Dam has paused until July 29 for a fourteen-day hold. During periods of active dam lowering, water is released from the Lake Mills reservoir and the river erodes the delta sediment vertically, incising into the sediment and creating terraces. During hold periods, the reservoir level remains steady and the river moves and erodes laterally across the newly exposed lakebed surface, eroding the terraces and newly exposed delta sediment and moving the sediments forward. By monitoring the sediment and managing its release, project managers are working to restore the ecosystem with the least amount of harm to the resources during the dam removal process.

During the last two months, four research and monitoring groups sent camera-equipped aircraft into the skies above Lake Aldwell and Lake Mills to capture images and video of the dynamic changes to the sediment during the dam removal process. The National Park Service has attached a camera to a Cessna to capture and monitor river morphology during the Elwha River Restoration Project. USGS and USBR have sent a Raven Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) up to capture video of the shifting topography along the Elwha River, which is being used to create ortho-rectified imagery. And researchers from Western Carolina University and students from NatureBridge are using a camera equipped balloons to capture images of the shifting sediment. Each image captured from these unique aircraft adds to our understanding of the science of dam removal, as well as the potential applications of the aerial technology for future research.

Blasting at Glines Canyon Dam Pauses for 14-Day Hold
The last of five blasts planned for the first half of July occurred on Sunday, lowering the Lake Mills reservoir level to 497 feet. With about 15 feet of elevation removed this month, work to lower Glines Canyon Dam has paused to allow the Elwha River to meander across the newly exposed lakebed and move sediment downstream. Two additional controlled blasts are planned for July after the fourteen day hold ends on the 28th. Altair campground remains closed until the end of July.


Last updated: February 28, 2015

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