Dam removal work resumes on Elwha

Staff reportNovember 24, 2013 

A view from the new Carbon River webcam.

MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK

The work to remove the Elwha River dams, now entering its third year, has resumed after nearly a year’s hiatus. The project is to be completed in 2014.

Last year, problems developed at the water intake structure at the Elwha Water Facilities. Continued dam removal work was temporarily put on hold to give engineers, treatment plant operators and construction crews time to correct these issues, according to an Olympic National Park news release.

While the issues were resolved, restoration of the river and ecosystem continued as vegetation crews sowed seeds and planted saplings in the two drained reservoirs. All five species of Pacific salmon, as well as steelhead, returned to the Elwha River. Meanwhile, more sediment eroded and new habitats formed.

In August and early September, shortly before the anniversary of the beginning of dam removal, the largest run of Chinook salmon since 1992 was recorded in the Elwha River.

On Oct. 5, a 10-foot vertical notch was blasted from Glines Canyon Dam, resuming the process of dam removal. That notch work is the only one planned for the rest of the year, due to the November-December fish window, and completing this notch before winter high flows began was critical to the project’s overall timing and sediment management goals.

As for the returning chinook, a survey of the river revealed chinook returned in record numbers this year and readily colonized the newly accessible habitats below Glines Canyon Dam, according to the release.

When dam removal is completed, salmon and steelhead will again have access to more than 70 miles of unaltered river and pristine spawning habitat. Their populations are expected to grow to nearly 400,000 fish.

With dam removal scheduled to be complete in 2014, the river restoration management team is preparing for Phase V of the project, continuing restoration. During the next five years, 350,000 native seedlings and 5,000 pounds of seeds will be planted at the sites of the former dams and reservoirs, sediment will continue to erode, deposit and form new habitats, and biologists and researchers will continue to monitor and study the Elwha River ecosystem, its plant and animal communities, and its response to this unprecedented project.

NORTH CASCADES CLOSURES

Given the ongoing fiscal uncertainty, managers at North Cascades National Park said they are being cautious with expenditures to ensure that available funding is directed to the highest resource priorities and serves the most visitors.

As a result, the park has shut down two visitor centers.

The Golden West Visitor Center in Stehekin receives an average of less than 50 visitors per month during the winter. In an effort to conserve the park’s limited operating budget, the center is closed until March 17.

The restaurant and North Cascades Lodge at Stehekin Landing will continue to be open, with lunch only being served during winter ferry dock times and days. A small number of rooms are available to visitors. For reservations, call 509-682-4494.

The park also has closed North Cascades Visitor Center in Newhalem until May 3. Park headquarters visitor center in Sedro Woolley will be open all winter, except for weekends and all federal holidays.

New park webcam

There is a new webcam at Mount Rainier National Park, this one offering a view of the Carbon River in the park’s northwest corner. The view currently shows the river as its slips past some engineered log jams put in place to redirect the river flow. The webcam can be viewed at the park’s webcam page at nps.gov/mora/photos multimedia/webcams. htm.

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