A walk across a lakebed

Lake Aldwell 1

Before we left town last month we went on a ranger-led walk to view the effects of a vast restoration project, the removal of two dams on the Elwah River, west of Port Angeles. Our walk was through the former Lake Aldwell which was created 102 years ago with the building of the Elwah Dam. Seven miles upstream of the Elwah Dam, the Glines Canyon Dam was built in 1927. The Elwah Dam was built by Thomas Aldwell who had quietly bought land throughout the region and was built without permit.Together the dams, which provided electric power, blocked the migration of 10 stocks of anadramous salmon and trout which at one time had been one of the most prolific fisheries on the Olympic Peninsula. The life cycle of an anadromous fish includes migrations from salt water bodies through freshwater rivers where they spawn. Damming the Elwah limited salmon to slightly under five miles of river below the first dam, dramatically affecting the fishery. The removal of these dams is the largest such project in history and the final pieces of the Glines Canyon Dam were taken down last week. In the photo above you can see the former lake level etched in a horizontal line in the distance. Click here and here for more details about the project.

To me the most amazing aspect of this project is how quickly the fish have begun to repopulate the newly opened reaches of the upper Elwah River. Salmon were found above the Elwah Dam not long after its removal and biologists found two radio-tagged trout that had migrated more than 15 miles from the mouth of the river, well past the former Glines Dam, within days of its removal.

Lake Aldwell 2

The Lower Elwah Klallam tribe of Native Americans, who had traditionally relied on the fishery, had protested the Elwah damming from its inception and have been active participants in lobbying for the dam removals and in the current river restoration. Because parts of the river flow through Olympic National Park, the Park Service has also participated in the project.

As the lakes behind the dams were drained re-vegetation of the newly exposed lands was a priority, including elimination of opportunistic noxious and non-native species. The willows above are about four years old and have quickly taken hold. Throughout the area other natives have been planted. Tomorrow I’ll show you more of the project.

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