Removing Elwha and Glines Canyon Dams will Benefit the Entire Olympic National Park Region
The largest dam removal in U.S. history will return the Elwha to a free-flowing river. Researchers estimate that salmon populations could swell from 3,000 to nearly 400,000 as all five species of Pacific salmon return to more than 70 miles of river and stream.
Renewing a Culture
The dam removal project will restore access to sacred sites prized by the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe. The tribe has lived along the river since time immemorial with cultural traditions linked to the health of the watershed. The NPS and the tribe are primary partners on the project.
Restoring an Ecosystem
The Elwha and Glines Canyon Dams, both built without fish passages, prevent salmon from returning to their traditional spawning beds. Chinook, coho, pink, chum, and sockeye salmon, some weighing up to 100 pounds, all used to swim up the Elwha to spawn before the dams were built. The Elwha River was once the largest producer of salmon on the Peninsula, but today, approximately 3000 salmon return to the watershed per year. The Elwha River Valley suffers as a consequence, deprived of the nutrients these salmon provide.
This project creates a living laboratory where people can watch and learn what happens when salmon return to a restored ecosystem. The return of fish will bring back to bears, eagles, and other animals a vital food source that has been absent from the ecosystem for 100 years.
Salmon eat other fish in the ocean and return up the Elwha, transferring the riches of the ocean into sustenance for wildlife, forests, people, and the next generation of fish. Certain plant and tree species, including Sitka Spruce, devil’s club, and fern, derive much nitrogen from salmon and, as a result, are often larger near spawning sites. One hundred thirty species of aquatic and terrestrial wildlife found in the park feed on, or derive their life-giving nutrients from, salmon carcasses.
Benefitting the Economy
Just as the dams played a vital role in the history and development of the area, removing them will create new opportunities for growth and regional vitality as salmon return to the Elwha in larger and larger numbers each year. The region is expected to benefit economically from increased opportunities on and near the Elwha River, including sport and commercial fishing, recreatrional options such as kayaking, white-water rafting and hiking, and a general increase in tourism to the area.
Restoring the Coast
Removing the dams will reestablish the natural flow of sediment from the mountains to the coast, rebuilding wetlands, beaches, and the estuary at the river's mouth.
- Learn about the history of hydropower on the Elwha River.
- Learn more about NPCA's work to the restore the Elwha River.
- Learn more about NPCA's Great Waters program.
- Learn more about NPCA's Northwest Regional Office.