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Dam Removal On Elwha Creeps Closer

East of Portland, the electric utility PGE is “almost through” tearing down Marmot Dam on the Sandy River.  The 47-foot tall dam is the largest ever removed in Oregon.

The demolition project is ahead of schedule.  The same cannot be said for an oft-delayed project on Washington’s Elwha River.

The targeted dams there would be the biggest ever removed in the whole United States.  Correspondent Tom Banse reports there’s the prospect of action on the ground after more than twenty years of debate. 

Elwha Dam
 108-foot tall Elwha Dam was built without fish ladders.

Fisheries biologist Pat Crain is taking mental notes as he bounces down a stretch of the Elwha River on a whitewater rafting tour.  In coming days, he’s going to do it again — minus the raft.  Crain and about 25 other fish experts plan to snorkel the river from its headwaters to the sea. 
Sound: [rafters scream in rapids]
Well, maybe except for that rapid and a few other dicey spots.
Pat Crain: "I’m guessing some of the bigger waves we’d get out and walk around. As much as it might be to go through, the rocks come up on pretty fast."

The purpose of the snorkel survey is to establish a fish population baseline so the government can evaluate the success of dam removal on the Elwha.

Neither of the hydropower dams on this river has fish ladders.  The consequences are apparent when the National Park Service biologist peers over the side of the raft.

Pat Crain: "I’ve been checking every time we come to a ‘fishy’ looking spot to see if I’m seeing anything, and I’m not."

Crain expects that to change big time when 210-foot Glines Canyon Dam and 108-foot tall Elwha Dam disappear.  The Elwha was once one of the most productive salmon rivers in the Northwest. The federal government bought the two hydropower dams from a Port Angeles paper mill a few years back so it could restore the river.

Olympic National Park spokeswoman Barb Maynes is reluctant to give a date for the dam busting until the preparations are further along.  A levee has to be raised and drinking water intakes relocated.

Barb Maynes: “We are very excited that sometime within the next several weeks, we’re expecting the award of the first contract to start construction of the first of the two water treatment plants that will be built just prior to dam removal.”

 Rafting the Elwha
 Elwha River rafting is likely to improve after dam removal.

The Lower Elwha Klallam Indian tribe started asking for dam removal more than two decades ago.  Elwha restoration director Robert Elofson says the years of wrangling over policy and funding are winding down.  They’re replaced by anticipation of the salmon’s return and economic and cultural renewal.

Robert Elofson: “It’s just about a sure thing. [chuckle] You can never say, you know, 100 percent.  But we’re very, very confident it’s going to happen.”

The whole kit and caboodle will cost taxpayers more than $180 million, at last estimate.  There was a local opposition group that questioned the huge expense and wanted to save the lakes created by the dams, but it’s gone defunct.

Meanwhile, the National Parks Conservation Association has assigned organizers to try to keep public interest and momentum high.


Olympic National Park – Elwha River restoration

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