January 2013 Through August 2014 Blog Entries

side by side images of remaining Glines Canyon Dam
These two images show the difference in the Elwha River's flow from July 10 to August 1.  The remaining dam is circled in yellow in each image.  Now that flows have dropped enough to expose the concrete, dam removal can begin again.

NPS Photo

Nearing the End of Dam Removal
August 1, 2014

In February, rain and high river flows put dam removal on hold when the last 30 feet of Glines Canyon Dam were completely covered by water. Initial projections anticipated that flows of 1,000 –1,200 cubic feet per second (CFS) would be low enough to allow work to resume, but careful monitoring of the project webcam and stream flow gauge has shown that flows need to drop to nearly 600 CFS in order for the top of the dam to be dry enough for a final blast.

With recent dry weather, flows have dropped below the top of the dam and the contractor is expected to be back at work early this month. Their first step will be to drill an extensive pattern of holes into the remaining concrete, a process likely to take several weeks.Then the contractor will pack the holes with explosives and set off a controlled blast to dislodge and fracture what's left of the dam.Following the blast, at least several weeks of work remain to remove the concrete rubble that once was the dam. A clamshell bucket attached to the crane will be used to scoop up and remove the broken concrete, which will be trucked to a nearby Clallam County gravel pit where it can be pulverized and recycled into road surface.

Meanwhile, the river channel is still very much in transition, as sediment moves downstream and natural processes are restored, and scientists are carefully monitoring both sediment flow and fish migration in the river.

During the past three years of dam removal, the Elwha River has experienced historically low river flows. Average annual peak flow for the ten years preceding dam removal was 20,730 CFS. This past March, flows reached 12,000 CFS, the highest flow since dam removal began in September 2011. This flow carried enough force to relocate large boulders (including one estimated to weigh eight tons) just downstream of the former Elwha Dam site, but was still not enough to be considered a'high' flow for the Elwha River.

Since April, biologists have captured and radio-tagged a total of 62 adult salmonids and are tracking their movement through the watershed.So far, ten bull trout, two wild steelhead, three Chinook and one sockeye salmon have been tracked migrating upstream of the old Elwha Dam. No fish has been observed above Glines Canyon Dam yet, but the radio telemetry will allow biologists to assess fish passage and migration once dam removal is complete. Biologists will continue to capture and tag fish through this fall and winter.

While the dam removal portion of Elwha River Restoration is expected to be finished this fall, monitoring will continue for years to come, with scientists tracking the return of fish, wildlife, vegetation and sediment flow. And nature will continue the ecosystem restoration process for decades to come.

Tagged Chinook salmon is released into Elwha River.
A tagged Chinook salmon is returned to the Elwha River.

National Park Service photo

July 15, 2014
Radiotracking the Return of Pacific Salmonids to Elwha River
For nearly a century, salmon migrations into Olympic National Park have been blocked on the Elwha River by the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams. With Elwha Dam gone and approximately 30 feet of Glines Canyon Dam remaining, Pacific salmon will soon have access to over 70 miles of habitat protected within the park. To understand, evaluate, and inform salmonid restoration in the Elwha River, biologists are monitoring fish populations to assess fish passage at the former dam sites and in the remote, upper canyons of the river.

In April, biologists from Olympic National Park, Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began a radio-tracking project to follow the movements of anadromous fish in the Elwha watershed. Information gathered from this project will help illuminate how far, how fast, and where the first salmon recolonizers go after dam removal.

As of July 9, biologists have captured and radio-tagged a total of 53 adult salmonids, including 23 bull trout, 16 steelhead, 12 Chinook salmon, and two sockeye salmon. Each fish was equipped with a uniquely coded radio transmitter that differentiates it from all other tagged fish, even those transmitting on the exact same frequency. This allows biologists to monitor large groups of fish using only a single radio frequency.
Testing a radio tag before it is attached to a Chinook salmon.
A radio tag is tested before it is attached to a fish.

National Park Service photo.

Radio signals from the tags are detected by a radio receiver and antenna. To monitor the fish, six telemetry stations have been installed between the mouth of the river and just above Glines Canyon Dam. These stations continually scan for and record data. Additionally, biologists are manually tracking the fish between Glines Canyon Dam and the river mouth using handheld radio receivers and antennas. After the removal of Glines Canyon Dam is complete, aerial surveys by a Cessna 172 outfitted with a wing mounted antennae will be used to track fish migration upstream of Glines Canyon Dam.

Information collected from the tagged fish is being used to map individual fish migrations in the Elwha watershed. To date, eight bull trout and two wild steelhead have moved upstream of the Elwha Dam site.

Updates on the fish tagging project and fish migration maps, along with, radiotelemetry techniques, scientific processes, and methods of tracking, will be shared on regular Adopt-A-Fish posts on this blog.

This project is possible through partnerships with the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and funding generously provided by Washington's National Park Fund.

June 12, 2014
Oregon Sunshine Paves the Way in Former Lake Aldwell

Oregon Sunshine
Oregon Sunshine blooms in former Lake Aldwell.

NPS photo.

In the former Lake Aldwell reservoir, Oregon Sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum) is in full bloom. This perennial sunflower was seeded in the former reservoir in March 2013. The golden carpet of Oregon Sunshine, also known as Common Woolly Sunflower, is a beautiful sight and an important first step in the successional process that with restore the newly exposed dry and gravely landscape to a riparian forest.

Oregon Sunshine is a pioneer species - a hardy species that is able to colonize previously disturbed areas, usually leading to ecological succession. It is one of the few species of plants that is able grow in the very coarse textured sediments composed of cobble and gravel deposited by the river during dam removal. These coarse textured terraces are abundant in both former reservoirs and occupy over 100 acres in the former Lake Mills reservoir. The presence of Oregon Sunshine will help other plant colonizers by providing a little shade and wind protection. When the plant dies, the plant litter left behind will provide the foundation for new soil, paving the way for future plant and animal colonization.

Oregon Sunshine is one of 59 native plant species that have been seeded and planted in the two drained reservoirs. So far, a total of 192 different species have been identified in the former reservoirs. This number includes both planted and naturally regenerating species.

Between fall 2013 and March of this year, crews planted over 106,000 native trees and shrubs across 63 acres and seeded 2,229 pounds of native seed over 116 acres. This month, staff and volunteers are transplanting approximately 60,000 plants at the Matt Albright Native Plant Nursery in preparation for next year.

Meanwhile, naturally migrating steelhead are spawning inside the park for the first time in over 100 years! This spring, fisheries biologists observed steelhead upstream of the Elwha Dam and counted 24 steelhead redds in Elwha River tributaries located inside the park.

A fish window remains in effect through June 30 to protect returning steelhead. Once the fish window ends and water levels drop, the contractor can begin preparations for the next blast at Glines Canyon Dam. With less than 30 feet remaining of the dam and its 'apron', contractor crews estimate that flows need to drop to 1,100 or 1,000 CFS in order to finish the last steps of dam removal.

March 6, 2014
Wet Weather and High Flows

Monthly rainfall totals recorded at the Elwha Ranger Station from October 2013 through February 2014.
On March 6, flows of 10,100 CFS race through Glines Canyon, completely obscuring what's left of the dam.

February was considerably wetter and colder than normal throughout most of western Washington, including the Elwha Valley. A total of 10.2 inches of rain fell at the Elwha Ranger Station during February, 180 percent of normal for the month, based on records kept from 1981-2010. (See table below.)

The rain has led to higher river levels, with the Elwha flowing at 10,100 cubic feet per second (CFS) today. With less than 30 feet remaining of the dam and its 'apron', water is completely covering the dam. Contractor crews estimate that flows need to drop to approximately 1,100 CFS in order to work at the dam's current level.

Once water levels drop, the contractor can begin preparations for the next blast. Another item on the to-do list is removing or 'mucking out' the concrete rubble that's accumulated in the river channel during dam deconstruction. A 2.5 yard clamshell bucket is ready to be attached to the giant crane that's perched at the top of the canyon and once flows drop, the crane operator will use the bucket to scoop up and remove the broken concrete. The concrete will then be trucked to a local gravel pit to be crushed and used for road material.

Meanwhile, the cool, wet weather provides good conditions for newly planted transplants in the former reservoirs. Of the 107,000 plants planned for installation this season, crews have planted over 90,000. Planting will wind down later this month, with crews shifting to monitoring in the field and propagating next season's transplants at the park greenhouse.

With the contractors' dam removal work close to completion, park fish biologists are gearing up for an active monitoring season upstream of Glines Canyon. Observers in the field will be ready -- and eager -- to document the first sighting of an adult salmon to return to the upper Elwha.

Elwha Blast #20 Before and After
January 31, 2014
Progress Continues at Glines Canyon Dam
This month, two controlled blasts were used to continue the process of notching and lowering Glines Canyon Dam. On January 15, a two part blast removed 578 cubic yards of concrete from the west side of the dam and on January 26 an additional 900 cubic yards of the dam were turned into rubble. Approximately 30 feet of the 210 foot-high dam remain.

The blast on Sunday removed an approximately 45' x 22' x 25' section of the dam and shifted the river channel from the east to the west in preparation for the next notch. Each dam lowering shot shifts the river to either the east or west side of the canyon, leaving a high and dry section of the dam where construction crews and blast specialists can safely work to clear the area of debris and drill holes for the next shot.

While the explosions themselves are over in less than two seconds, each shot takes days of preparation. The layout of the explosives and the timing for the shot are carefully designed by a blast specialist. According to the design, 40-80 holes are drilled into the concrete then filled with a blasting agent and packing material. At the moment of the blast, each explosive has its own timing.

Each shot is designed to remove a specific amount of concrete and force the concrete into a designated area downstream of the dam. The rubble will create a downstream platform that will be used during work on the base of the dam. When work is completed, the concrete will be carefully removed from the park and recycled.
Former Elwha Dam site
The Elwha Dam site after restoration efforts this month and in 2011.

November 26, 2013
Continued Restoration at the Elwha Dam site
Earlier this month, the revegetation crew was busy at the former Elwha Dam site continuing efforts to restore the hillside where the dam and powerhouse once stood. The crew loosened the soil in bands perpendicular to the slope, then planted 2,000 native trees and shrubs along the bands to improve water infiltration, intercept water surface flow, and accelerate forest development. While the resulting slope surface now has the appearance of a gopher infestation, it should be looking a bit greener by next summer.

Elwha Exhibit Opens at the University of Washington's Burke Museum
Discover the people, places, and history behind the story of Elwha River Restoration. Elwha: A River Reborn opened at the Burke Museum on November 23. This new exhibit is based on the book of the same name by Seattle Times reporter Lynda Mapes and photographer Steve Ringman. The exhibit runs from November 23 through May 9.

Series of photos before and after blast at Glines Canyon Dam.
Before and after the blast on October 5 at Glines Canyon Dam. All six project webcams can be viewed at video-monitoring.com/construction/olympic/js.htm 

November 15, 2013
Year Three of Dam Removal Begins with Lots of Good News
In August and early September, shortly before the third anniversary of the beginning of dam removal, the largest run of Chinook salmon since 1992 returned to the Elwha River. And in early October, just after the anniversary, dam removal resumed after a nearly one year hiatus. Elwha River Restoration is back on schedule.

It was just over two years ago, in September 2011, that a gathering of dignitaries, visionaries, and the public watched as an excavator tore into the side of Elwha Dam and began the largest dam removal project in United States history. For over a year, excavators, explosives, and human ingenuity and industry chiseled away at the 108 foot Elwha Dam and 210 foot high Glines Canyon Dam. By March 2012, the removal of Elwha Dam was complete and by October 2012, only a third of Glines Canyon Dam remained. That same fall, Chinook salmon naturally migrated and spawned upstream of the Elwha Dam for the first time in 100 years. By the September 2012, first anniversary of dam removal, salmon had returned, the barren sandy-colored landscapes of the dewatered reservoirs were beginning to turn green with to new life, and dam removal was ahead of schedule.

Early in the second year of dam removal, issues associated with the water intake structure at the Elwha Water Facilities arose. Continued dam removal work was temporarily put on hold to give engineers, treatment plant operators and construction crews time to correct these issues. Meanwhile, restoration of the river and ecosystem continued as vegetation crews sowed seeds and planted saplings in the two drained reservoirs, all five species of Pacific salmon, as well as steelhead, returned to the Elwha River, sediment eroded, and new habitats formed.

This September, the dam removal process entered its third and final year and on October 5, a ten foot vertical notch was blasted from Glines Canyon Dam, resuming the process of dam removal. October's notch is the only one planned for this calendar year, due to the November – December fish window, and completing this notch before winter high flows began was critical to the project's overall timing and sediment management goals.

Chinook in the Elwha River
Chinook spawn in Elwha River in Septmeber.

The restarting of dam removal was not the only good news this fall. A survey of the Elwha River revealed Chinook returned to the Elwha River in record numbers this year and readily colonized the newly accessible habitats below Glines Canyon Dam.

On September 17, biologists representing Olympic National Park, Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, U.S. Geological Survey, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), and NOAA Fisheries navigated over 13 miles of the Elwha River and tributaries with the goal of counting all the living and dead adult Chinook and map the spawning salmon's redds. Biologists walked and snorkeled the river from Glines Canyon Dam to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, as well as the lower portions of three of the river's tributaries - Indian Creek, Hughes Creek, and Little River.

Results from the survey indicate this year's Chinook return is one of the strongest since 1992 and reveal that the salmon are readily moving into stretches of the river and its tributaries formerly blocked by the Elwha Dam.

During the one-day survey, the biologists counted 1,741 adult Chinook and mapped 763 redds between the remnants of Glines Canyon Dam and the river mouth. Out of the total number counted, approximately seventy-five percent, (1,287 of the adult Chinook and 592 of the redds,) were observed upstream of the former Elwha Dam site. The total count included adult Chinook and redds observed in Indian Creek, Little River, and Hughes Creek, a tributary that remained unoccupied last year.

When dam removal is completed, Elwha River salmon and steelhead will once again have access to over 70 miles of unaltered river and pristine spawning habitat. Their populations are expected to grow to nearly 400,000.

With dam removal scheduled to be complete in 2014, the Elwha River Restoration management team is preparing for Phase V of the project, continuing restoration. Over the next five years, 350,000 native seedlings and 5,000 pounds of seeds will be planted at the sites of the former dams and reservoirs, sediment will continue to erode, deposit, and form new habitats, and biologists and researchers will continue to monitor and study the Elwha River ecosystem, its plant and animal communities, and its response to this unprecedented project. Dam removal is just the beginning of Elwha River Restoration.

Glines Rockfall
Glines Canyon viewed from downstream April 30, 2013 (left) and during dam construction (right). Matching rock topography is highlighted in red. Raised water surface and additional rock debris are visible in left image relative to right image.

September 20, 2013
Controlled Blasts Scheduled to Clear Channel Obstruction

Contractor Barnard Construction of Bozeman, Montana is at work this weekend to prepare for a series of controlled blasts early next week near Glines Canyon Dam. These blasts will not affect the dam and will have a minimal effect on sediment release.

Rather, the short series of blasts is designed to decrease the size of several large boulders left by a post-1926 rockfall. Comparisons between 1920s-era data and photos and current conditions reveal that a significant rockfall, possibly associated with dam construction, occurred slightly downstream of the Glines Canyon Dam. Boulders released by the rockfall now pose a barrier to upstream salmon migration. Removing the rockfall debris will restore the pre-dam channel conditions and provide clear passage for returning fish once dam removal is completed next year.

Removal of the remaining 50 feet of Glines Canyon Dam is expected to begin later this fall.

Two member of the inter-agency sediment team survey the Elwha River from a raft.

Photo courtesy of John Gussman

August 6, 2013
Updates from the Field
The National Park Service continues to work on repairs to the Elwha Water Facilities. Throughout the Elwha River Valley, park scientists are busy with restoration and monitoring projects.

Sediment Update
Last week the inter-agency sediment team was out surveying the Elwha River. The team collected sediment samples to evaluate grain size distribution and surveyed floodplain deposits and longitudinal profiles of the river from Rica Canyon to the mouth.

Staff and volunteers monitor a vegetation plot in former Lake Mills.
Staff and volunteers monitor a vegetation plot in former Lake Mills.

Revegetation Update
Revegetation staff continues to monitor and assess planted and unplanted areas in the two drained reservoirs. Based on data collected at the end of last year, the mortality rate of six of the planted native species was 3% - which equates to a 97% survival rate. Of the six species studied, the mortality rate for Douglas fir seedlings was the highest at 36%. The species with the highest rate of survival, despite being heavily browsed by deer, was black cottonwood with less than 1%. Ongoing research and plant trials are evaluating how to lower the rate of Douglas Fir mortality and are expanding to look at the performance of other planted species.

This month, crews are revisiting 27 plots established in former Lake Mills in 2012 and installing 41 additional plots in former Lake Mills and former Lake Aldwell. At each plot, they are collecting data on ground cover, species richness, species abundance, and species performance in both planted and unplanted areas. Project managers will use this data to determine how well the area is revegetating and progressing towards forest development.

Fish Update
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is in the process of installing a fish weir on the Elwha River. The weir, located downstream of the former Elwha Dam site, is used by the state to count and collect fish. 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's rearing channel, or the Tribal facility. Each August, the weir is installed on the Elwha River at the start of the Chinook and pink salmon run.

This week, park fisheries biologists have also resumed weekly fish surveys in the Elwha River and its tributaries. The fisheries crew will survey for adult fish and redds (nests) through the end of the run in the fall. Chinook and pink runs peak from late August though early September.

Ranger guided walk in former Lake Aldwell.

Ranger-Guided Elwha Discovery Walks on Former Lake Aldwell
Ranger-guided Elwha Discovery Walks have resumed on former Lake Aldwell. This popular program was first offered last summer, following the removal of Elwha Dam. On the walks, visitors are guided through the dynamic landscape being created by the Elwha River at the site of former Lake Aldwell and get an up-close look at shifting sediments, old and new vegetation, giant stumps logged a century ago, and the river re-establishing its course through the valley.

This free one-hour program will be offered on Saturdays at 1:00 p.m. through September 7. The walks begin at the former boat launch located at the end of Lake Aldwell Road, which turns north off Highway 101 just west of the Elwha River bridge. For more information about Elwha Discovery Walks, contact the Elwha Ranger Station at (360) 452-9191.

The Elwha River flows through former Lake Mills
The Elwha River flows though former Lake Mills, eroding newly exposed sediment, July 2013.

July 24, 2013
Updates from the Field
The National Park Service continues to work on repairs to the Elwha Water Facilities. Throughout the Elwha River Valley, park scientists are busy with restoration and monitoring projects.

Sediment Update
While the dry months of summer have resulted in low flows, the river continues to erode sediment downstream, in some locations all the way down to the original riverbed.

The sediment team is monitoring the Elwha River Valley by air and land. Monthly aerial surveys of the Elwha River are conducted to capture elevation data that are used to monitor and model active erosion and re-deposition of sediment. Weekly field surveys are also being conducted to collect data that will be used to identify areas of flood plain deposition following last winter and spring's high water events, generate a more accurate map of the pre-dam surface of the two drained reservoirs, and measure the amount of sediment still stored in the valley walls.

Seed collecting
Elwha Revegetation staff and volunteers have been busy collecting native seed in the Elwha River watershed and at the native plant center.

Revegetation Update
From mid-May through July, staff and volunteers at the Matt Albright Native Plant Center set a goal of transplanting 60,000 seedlings. By the fourth of July, they had exceeded this goal. This month they are in full swing collecting a new batch of seeds to meet the goal of propagating 100,000 plants in 2014.

At the native plant center and in the Elwha watershed, volunteers are harvesting seeds from over 50 native plant species, including grasses, herbaceous ground cover, shrubs, and trees. These seeds will be sown directly into selected sites the two drained reservoirs and propagated into seedlings for future plantings.

With all of this freshly harvested seed, the Elwha Revegetation Crew continues to welcome volunteers at the native plant center on regular drop-in days, Mondays and Wednesdays, to help with cleaning, processing, and sowing. For more information about volunteering, contact Jill Zarzeczny at Jill_Zarzeczny@nps.gov or 360-565-3047

Revegetation staff have also been busy monitoring and assessing conditions in the two drained reservoirs. Last week, staff completed tensiometer readings for July. Tensiometers measure the amount of moisture in the sediment. Each month, tensiometer readings are taken at 50 sites in the former Lake Mills reservoir. The results from this month's survey were found to be similar to the readings from August of last year, indicating that the sediment is drying out faster and retaining less water than a year ago.

Students participating in the Summer Elwha Field Course collect macroinvertebrates in the Elwha River.
Students participating in the Summer Elwha Field Course collect macroinvertebrates in the Elwha River.

Summer Elwha Field Course
Thirteen students from the North Olympic Peninsula spent part of their summer vacation earning high school credit while completing the Summer Elwha Field Course. Olympic National Park partnered with the North Olympic Peninsula Skills Center to offer the course.

The 14-day class immersed the students in the science of river restoration and allowed them to roll up their sleeves to engage in service learning. The students conducted their own research on aquatic macro invertebrates, terrestrial invertebrates, large woody debris, and water quality. They accompanied biologists from the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe monitoring wildlife and salmon. Surveys for seabirds, marine debris, and kelp monitoring brought them to the rapidly changing river mouth. They also assisted NPS staff at the Matt Albright Native Plant Center and designed and carried out an invasive weed pull in the Elwha Valley.

Throughout the course, the students were learning valuable life and career skills. Graduates from previous classes have gone on to internships with Olympic National Park where they've put these skills to work helping on other park projects.

Elwha at Seattle's Frye Museum
On Thursday, July 25, artist Peter Malarkey and Seattle Times reporter Lynda Mapes will be at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle to discuss their documentation process in telling the historic restoration story of the Elwha River. The program begins at 7:00 p.m. Learn more here.

Clarifier at the Elwha water treatment plant.
A clarifier at the Elwha water treatment plant.

July 5, 2013
Repairs to Elwha Water Facilities Continue; Dam Removal On Hold through Summer
In October of last year, dam removal was put on hold while the National Park Service addressed issues associated with the water intake structure at the Elwha Water Facilities (EWF). The EWF, which includes the Elwha Water Treatment Plant (EWTP) and Elwha Surface Water Intake, is one of several mitigation projects built to protect Elwha River water users from impacts associated with high sediment flows related to removing the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams.

The EWTP is designed to deliver 53 million gallons of water daily during high sediment loads of up to 40,000 parts per million total suspended solids (ppm TSS.)

Problems associated with the EWF began last year, when material that was intended to be screened out by the water intake structure began moving further into the system, clogging pumps, filters and other equipment. Sediment, gravel, and large and small woody debris that was not intended to enter the treatment plant decreased the amount of water that could be delivered into the water treatment plant and increased the time and effort required to clean and maintain it. To date, maximum sediment loads have reached 10,000 ppm TSS.

Postponing downward notching of the dam also postpones release of the projected highest sediment levels into the river, allowing the NPS and contractors to complete corrections to the EWF.

The Elwha Dam is completely gone; removal of the remaining 50 feet of Glines Canyon Dam will resume mid-September. The project is scheduled for completion before the contract ends in September 2014.

Former Elwha Dam Site Opened to Pedestrian Traffic
With the Elwha Dam gone and the landscape re-sculpted to approximate historic contours, the gravel access road to Elwha Dam has opened to non-motorized travel.

Visitors are urged to use caution and to avoid climbing on rock outcroppings and canyon walls. Hikers who venture onto the old lakebed are asked to avoid stepping on plants and are reminded that collection of any artifacts is prohibited within the Elwha Project Lands and Olympic National Park.

Elwha River has also been reopened to boating between Hwy 101 and the Hwy 112 bridge. Boaters are advised to use caution when traveling through the former site of the Elwha Dam. Exposed rocks and boulders may be dangerous at low water.

Construction areas and the former Lake Mills reservoir remain closed. With the exception of the Upper Lake Mills Trail and upper Lake Mills delta, all areas west and downhill of the Whiskey Bend Road are closed to public entry. The Elwha River continues to be closed to all boating from the Upper Lake Mills Trail to Altair Campground. Safety hazards, including heavy construction equipment and the remaining 60 feet of dam, necessitate these closures.

To learn more and download a map of additional sites where you can experience Elwha River Restoration, click here.

New Elwha Webisode Online
The fourth webisode in the Restoring the Elwha series is now available online. This newest installment goes behind the scenes of dam demolition and sediment management on the Elwha River. View the entire series here.

Planted and natural revegetation along the edges of former Lake Mills
Planted, seeded, and natural revegetation on terraces at former Lake Mills.

Revegetation Update
This summer, park staff and volunteers are busy working to transplant native seedlings in preparation for fall planting. Staff and volunteers have begun transplanting salmonberry, baldhip rose, Nootka rose, gooseberry, cottonwood, willow, Indian plum, among many others. They aim to transplant close to 60,000 seedlings by the end of July, which equates to approximately 2,000 a day. These seedlings will be among the 350,000 scheduled to be planted in the two drained reservoirs over the next five years.

To date, over 67,000 seedlings and 2,000 pounds of native seed have been planted in the former Lake Mills and Lake Aldwell reservoirs. During the 2013 planting season (fall 2013 - spring 2014), park staff, Washington Conservation Corps crews, and volunteers planted 37,558 seedlings and seeded 125 acres in the two drained reservoirs. Over the next fiscal year, fall 2013 though spring 2014, they plan to plant up to 100,000 additional seedlings.


March 15, 2013
Behind the Scenes of Elwha River Restoration

Park Volunteer Aaron Velasquez seeds in former Lake Mills.
Park Volunteer Aaron Velasquez disperses some of the approximately 1,400 pounds of seed that will be sown in the drained reservoirs during March.

The Elwha revegetation crew is busy this month, sowing approximately 1,400 pounds of native plant seeds in the former reservoirs. They are sowing a special mix of eight different native plant species, all proven to be successful colonizers of fine sediments. Most of the eight species are native grasses, with several wildflower species also included.

March is one of two prime sowing times in the Elwha, with just the right temperature and moisture conditions for good germination. In October 2012, the last seeding period, more than 500 pounds of seed were sown. More will be planted next fall and spring, after the Glines Canyon Dam is completely removed.

This week, we introduce guest blogger Leonie Goebel. Leonie is a native of Munich, Germany who is spending a year volunteering at Olympic National Park. She plans to begin a Master's degree program in plant ecology after she returns home late this summer.

Leonie planting her first tree of 2013
Leonie with her first seedling planted in 2013.

Volunteering as an International Volunteer for the Elwha Dam Removal
by Leonie Goebel

My name is Leonie. I am a volunteer from Germany who helps with the revegetation of the drained reservoirs along the Elwha River. After having graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biology last summer I decided to take a year off, go abroad and do something useful. Having been fascinated with nature in the US for a long time I was given the great opportunity to come to the Olympic National Park through the "International Volunteers in Parks" program offered by the National Park Service.

Coming from a country with no real wilderness, where even in national parks every piece of land has been influenced by humans for hundreds of years, the landscape and wilderness here are just incredible for me. And even more fascinating for me is working to restore some land that is surrounded by natural and pristine forests.

Since my arrival in early September I have been able to see many different stages a plant has to pass to be finally planted in the former reservoirs.

It all starts with the seeds. Depending on the ripening of the different species, seeds from over 60 native species are collected in the watershed of the Elwha from May until November. After collecting, the seeds are taken to the Matt Albright Native Plant Center, the park's own nursery. Following cleaning, some of the seeds are sown right away as they require a cold, moist period before they are able to germinate in spring. Other species are stored over the winter and are sown in February.

In November the planting season starts. Every plant that goes into the reservoir is checked for weeds and some of the soil is taken off. Then every plant is packed and transported to its future planting site. In this planting season, 37,521plants were planted on 29.9 acres. Planting can be quite exhausting, especially when carrying the plants to the planting sites for a mile outside in the cold and rain, the whole day covered in grey mud from all the silt and clay in the dewatered reservoirs. But it is a great feeling to give something back to nature after so many years and that definitely makes up for it.

The reservoirs are not only replanted but also reseeded. Seeding is being done two times a year, in October and March. A total of 123.2 acres will have been reseeded since last October at the end of this March with over 1,849 lbs pounds of seeds from grasses and forbs.

In February the plants for the next planting season are prepared for germination, so far over 80,000 pots have been sown with multiple seeds each! Most of the plants have already germinated in the greenhouse. Over the summer they will grow in the 1-acre nursery can yard before they will be planted in the reservoirs next winter and spring. But before that they have to be transplanted in May and June and as you can guess 80,000 plants make a lot of work, so we will need a lot of hands. If you are interested in volunteering you can contact Jill Zarzeczny at 360-565-3047 or email her at e-mail us.

I am really proud to be part of this big restoration project that has no comparable counterpart anywhere in the world and am looking forward to my remaining exciting five months here with the Elwha Revegetation crew.


February 22, 2013
2012 Year in review

View of the Elwha Dam during constuction and from approximately the same location in 2012
View of the Elwha Dam during constuction and from approximately the same location in 2012 after the removal was complete.

This year marks one hundred years since Thomas Aldwell completed construction of Elwha Dam. For almost a century, Elwha Dam, and later Glines Canyon Dam, trapped water and sediment in two large reservoirs - Lake Mills and Lake Aldwell, provided power that helped fuel the development of Port Angeles, and blocked anadromous fish passage to over 70 miles of the Elwha River and its tributaries.

It has been twenty-one years since the Elwha River Ecosystem and Fisheries Restoration Act passed, and almost a year and a half since dam removal began. We have many years of restoration work to go, and at least another century before the Elwha Valley resembles its former self, but we've already come a long way since the turbines stopped. As we begin a new year of Elwha River Restoration, this blog post looks back at the project milestones in 2012 and where we are today.

View of the Glines Canyon Dam during constuction and from approximately the same location eighty-six years later
View of the Glines Canyon Dam during constuction and from approximately the same location eighty-six years later.

January 2012 started off with a bang. After removing the top forty feet of Glines Canyon Dam with a hydraulic hammer positioned on a barge anchored upstream of the dam, Barnard Construction began using a series of controlled blasts to safely remove the remaining 150 feet of dam. At the same time, Barnard continued removal of the Elwha Dam, eight miles downstream. In March, the removal was complete and, by October, only about fifty feet of Glines Canyon dam remained. The final remaining fifty feet of the dam are scheduled to be removed later this year.

This month project managers made the decision to delay removal of the remaining portion of the dam in order to make needed improvements to the Elwha Water Treatment Plant (EWTP). Problems associated with the water intake structure at the EWTP began last fall, when fish screens and pumps became clogged by high concentrations of organic material (leaves, twigs and branches) and sediment. These issues decreased the amount of water the treatment plant was able to process and increased the time and effort required to clean and maintain the plant's pumps, filters and clarifiers. Work to continue lowering Glines Canyon Dam has been put on hold until March 31 to allow the contractor and plant operator Veolia Water time to complete upgrades and repairs to the water treatment plant. A new work schedule for dam removal has not yet been finalized, but the project is scheduled for completion well before the contract ends in September 2014. You can read more about the upgrades to the water treatment plant here.

A view of Lake Mills from the northwest shore in 2009 and the same view in 2013 after the last of the lake drained.
View of Lake Mills from the northwest shore in 2009 and the same view in 2013 after the last of the lake drained. 

Photo Courtesy of John Gussman

Although there are still fifty feet of Glines Canyon Dam remaining, 2012 was a year of great change for the Elwha Valley. Since construction of the dams, two large reservoirs, Lake Aldwell and Lake Mills have impounded two sections of the river. In March, with the Elwha Dam gone, Lake Aldwell became a river once again, and by October the last of Lake Mills was also gone, restoring the Elwha to a free flowing river for the first time in over one hundred years .

Layers of sand, silt, and gravel up to sixty feet thick still remain where the reservoirs once were. The revegetation team has been hard at work planting and seeding these dewatered reservoirs, helping to stabilize to the new shoreline and restore the former riparian forest. Last year the revegetation crew seeded or planted more than six acres in the dewatered reservoirs, including planting over 30,000 seedlings. This year, they have already seeded fifty-seven acres and planted over thirty acres with 36,000 seedlings. By the end of last month, park staff and volunteers had planted over 13,000 native plants where Lake Aldwell once was, including over 600 western red cedars planted in the shade of their predecessors.

A newly planted cedar seedling grows in the shadow of Lake Aldwell's ghost forest
A newly planted cedar seedling grows in the shadow of Lake Aldwell's ghost forest.

Photo courtesy of John Gussman

Additional acres are naturally revegetating. Unfortunately, some of the naturally colonizing vegetation growing in the newly exposed sediment includes many species of invasive plants. The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe's invasive plant management crew has had to treat for invasive species at over 500 locations within the dewatered areas.

There are still many years and many acres of planting to go, but the former reservoirs are already full of new life. With the help of volunteers and the Washington Conservation Corps, the revegetation crew plans to plant 340,000 seedlings over the next four years.

"Voices of the Elwha" exhibit at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
"Voices of the Elwha" exhibit at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Seattle.  The exhibition runs through the end of April.

Revegetation crews haven't been the only people hiking along the banks of the Elwha this year. Tens of thousands of visitors, students, film makers and reporters have visited the Elwha River to film, study, and see the project first hand. Newspapers, magazines, and television throughout the world have reported on the project and a few documentary films are in production. One of these films has been made into a series of webisodes and are available to view here. Last month Channel One News featured the Elwha River Restoration project in a news piece shown in thousands of middle and high schools around the country. You can see the piece on their website here.

An exhibit about Elwha River Restoration is also currently on display in Seattle. "Voices of the Elwha" is at the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Pioneer Square through the end of April. The exhibit was designed by students in the museology graduate program at the University of Washington. Read more about the exhibition here.

Chinook salmon
A Chinook spawns in a tributary upstream of the site of Elwha Dam in August 2012.

One of the most exciting events of 2012 was the arrival of Chinook salmon above the site of the Elwha Dam in August. It was a realization of many dreams to see these kings of the Pacific naturally spawning above the Elwha Dam for the first time in a hundred years. Anadromous Steelhead, pink, and coho also made their way past the Elwha Dam site in 2012.

It wasn't the easiest year to be a salmon in the Elwha. The dams didn't just capture water; they also held back millions of tons of the sand, silt, gravel, and cobbles that should have been naturally carried downstream by the river. The two dams managed to trap about 34 million cubic yards of sediment - enough to cover a football field with a 5.5 mile deep layer of silt, sand, gravel and cobbles. Now that the dams are mostly gone, the river is able to move some of that sediment downstream. During a wet winter week, the river can erode and move up to half a million cubic yards of sediment out of the former reservoirs.

Photo of the Elwha River in May 2011 and December 2012
The Elwha River in May 2011 and the same location in December 2012

While all the sediment has made the Elwha look a bit muddy, it is also building critical habitat downstream. Areas of the riverbed where there was once mostly boulders and cobbles is now being mixed with sand and silt, building sand bars, beaches, and the habitat needed by salmon to build the redds where they lay their eggs. Before and after photos taken over the last year reveal dramatic changes resulting from a sediment flow that hasn't been seen in almost a century.

As February draws to a close, spring rains continue to erode and move sediment downstream, the revegetation team is finishing up winter planting and getting ready to begin seeding the two reservoirs, and the park is preparing for the next stage of dam removal.


January 2, 2013
Sediment Monitoring Reveals Long-Hidden Secret

Glines Canyon before dam construction
Glines Canyon just prior to dam construction.

With the new year, there's a newly updated estimated total volume of sediment stored in the former Lake Mills and Lake Aldwell has been updated. Members of the sediment team recently discovered a long-hidden error in the first recorded survey of the Lake Mills area. Completed in 1917, ten years before Lake Mills was flooded, this survey contained mislabeled elevations - the true elevations are actually 20 feet lower than the labels indicate. Over the years, the 1917 survey, including the 20-foot error, served as the basis for all subsequent maps. After 85 years and some careful sleuthing in the Library of Congress, Bureau of Reclamation engineers located and corrected the mistake.

The story doesn't end there, however, as the elevations have long been used to estimate the total volume of sediment contained within Lake Mills. Lowering the elevations by 20 vertical feet means that Lake Mills (and its sediment) are actually 20 feet deeper than previously estimated. The updated estimate of sediment in Lake Mills is approximately 28 (+/- 4) million cubic yards. Pre-dam maps and surveys are not available for Lake Aldwell, making that estimate even more challenging.

The actual sediment volume in Lake Aldwell is becoming more apparent as more of the predam surface is exposed by river erosion. Engineers estimate that the Lake Aldwell sediment volume may be closer to 6 (+/- 2) million cubic yards in that reservoir bed. A total of 34 million cubic yards is difficult to visualize, but is enough to cover a football field with a 5.5 mile deep layer of silt, sand, gravel and cobbles.

Although the change in estimated volume is significant, it is not expected to greatly influence either how long or how heavy the river's sediment loads will be. The rate of dam removal, controlled in response to rainfall, floods, spring melt and other factors influences the rate and amount of sediment erosion. Sediment impacts remain unchanged and well within the parameters of the existing water treatment facilities and other project mitigations. Dam removal is still anticipated to be complete well within the contract period.

This discovery illustrates the challenge of mapping an unseen landscape and estimating the quantity of buried sediments. Even with today's satellite and GPS-linked mapping equipment, the floor of the Elwha Valley in Lake Mills and Lake Aldwell hasn't been seen in decades, a key reason why a team of geologists and engineers continue to monitor and evaluate the amount and rate of erosion in the Elwha.


Last updated: February 28, 2015

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