Salmon to recolonize the Elwha river

When we first heard about the Dam Removal project of the Lower Elwha River in northwest Washington State, the news was captivating. SAMAQAN had already done a story about the dams on the Columbia River where decommissioning of dams is just a dream. But we thought this would make a great story.

We contacted the people behind the project and found a man named Robert Elofson, a tribal member of the Lower ELWHA Klallam first nations. “Klallam” is a word that means strong people. Indeed the strength of the people and the resilience of an ancient fishing society were the central force behind the exhaustive and complex process of removing a dam.

The Elwha river is a 72km in length and is located in the Olympic peninsula. Its two dams, the Elwha and Glines dams were taken down in 2011. We wanted to be there when they began blowing up the dams but we were on another story. Luckily a local filmmaker named John Gussman was there with his camera and we were able to access some of his footage to help us to tell the story.

Back in the day the Elwha watershed was known to be the spawning grounds of all species of salmon. Soon after pioneers began arriving the need and demand for electricity became inevitable. Ironically it was two Canadians, Thomas Aldwell and George Glines who financed the dams construction. It took three years to build the dam between 1910-1913, eight kms from the mouth of the river.  From that point in time anadromous salmon and steelhead were restricted to the first 8kms of the river. Eventually the salmon began to die out.

As a child fishing the river was a dream for Robert Elofson. Well the news is good. In 2012 the first wild steelhead were tagged finding it’s way upstream to an ancient homeland. There is much hope that now as the river flows free that the fish can recolonize the river.