An Undammed River's Sediment Brings New Life Downstream



The two dams on the Elwha River in Washington state have been nearly completely removed – the Lower Elwha Dam was removed in 2012, and the remaining 25 feet or so of the Glines Canyon Dam is expected to be gone in September 2014.

Incredible changes have taken place in this landscape since the dam removals began.  This photo illustrates the 3 million cubic yards of sediment that have been released – only about 16% of what is expected to move downstream in the coming five years.

In addition to sediment dispersal, wildlife are returning at an encouraging and unexpected rate!

During recent fish census surveys of the Elwha’s estuary, Shaffer’s team counted baby chum salmon in numbers they haven’t seen in years, if ever, Shaffer said. And they’ve also found a number of eulachon, a type of smelt that was once an abundant food source for coastal tribes. The eulachon is now listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

“As soon as this habitat is available, these fish are using it,” Shaffer says. “None of us anticipated how quickly it would occur. I’d never seen a eulachon in the estuary before, but in the last three months, every time we survey, we see them.”

Tom Roorda, pilot and photographer from Port Angeles has an incredible collection of aerial photography – check it out to see more photos of the massive sediment delivery to the mouth of the Elwha River.

Article Published by: NPR

Published on: March 11 2014

Read full article here.