Elwha River Restoration, WA

Washington’s Elwha River is the site of the biggest dam removal project in history. The river restoration effort, which kicked off in 2011, is surpassing expectations and showing great progress, from fish returning, to native plants reclaiming riverbanks, to sand rebuilding the beach at the river’s mouth.

“The Elwha provides the most high-profile proof that dam removal works. On the Elwha, we are witnessing on a grand scale that rivers are ready to come back to life if we just give them a chance,” said Bob Irvin, President of American Rivers.

Where is the Elwha River?

The Elwha River is in the northwest corner of Washington state. The river flows from the heart of Olympic National Park to the Strait of Juan de Fuca on Puget Sound.

Why is the Elwha River special?

Eighty percent of the river is protected within the park, so most of it is wild and pristine. The river was once home to all five species of Pacific salmon and has been home to the Klallam people for millennia.

How did the dams harm the river?

There were two dams on the river – Elwha Dam (108 feet tall, built in 1913 just five miles from the river’s mouth) and Glines Canyon Dam (210 feet tall, built in 1927, several miles upstream of Elwha Dam). Both dams were built without fish passage, and completely blocked salmon from historic habitat.

Why is the Elwha dam removal significant?

This is the world’s biggest dam removal, and one of biggest and most significant river restoration efforts. We are witnessing a river coming back to life, with great benefits for salmon runs, the tribe and community. The story of the Elwha – the story of people coming together to restore a river – can inspire other communities across the country.

What are the benefits of removing these two dams?

Dam removal is restoring the river, from mountains to sea, opening access to 70 miles of salmon habitat. Salmon runs will grow from 4,000 to more than 400,000 a year. The entire web of life will benefit, from black bears to tiny insects to orca whales (137 different species depend on salmon). The lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, whose reservation is at the mouth of the river and who depends on the salmon runs, will have a significant piece of its culture restored. Dam removal and river restoration will bring economic benefits to the local community, from restored fisheries to recreation and tourism.

Glines Canyon Dam removal - Elwha River - August 15, 2014 - NPS Glines Canyon Dam removal, Elwha River – August 15, 2014 | NPS

When were the dams removed?

Elwha Dam removal began in September 2011 and was completed in six months. Removal of the larger Glines Canyon Dam began September 15, 2011. The blast to remove the final section of the dam occurred on August 26, 2014. Watch a video of the final blast.

Photos and video

Additional resources