Welcome back, salmon: Restoring a river.
This year the U.S. will reach the significant milestone of 1,000 dams removed from our nation’s rivers. Right now on Washington’s Elwha River, workers are taking on the largest such restoration effort in our nation’s history.
So why should we care so much about dam removal, you might ask? Simply put, nothing impacts the health of a river more: dams block flow and can harm clean water, fish and wildlife, and recreation opportunities – and therefore the communities that depend on these bodies of water for their livelihood.
The amazing story going on in Washington State involves two large dams that have been in place since the early 20th century. Both the Elwha Dam and the Glines Canyon Dam are being removed to bring back the river’s once thriving habitats and historic salmon runs. After the dams were built, all but five miles of salmon habitat in the lower river were cut off. Today only a few thousand salmon remain.
The razing of the two dams is expected to bring the Elwha River back to life. Scientists predict that a free-flowing Elwha will create a spike in salmon populations, and give a boost to the plants and animals that depend on these fish as a food source. “Everything from black bears to tiny insects and even orca whales will benefit,” reports EarthShare member group, American Rivers.
The dam removal will also allow tons of previously trapped sediments to move downstream, helping to create a natural barrier against beach erosion at the river’s mouth and protecting vital clam beds. And let’s not forget the economic benefits projected to result from this monumental restoration! Reports drafted during the project’s planning and approval stages estimate significant gains to the local economy through increased recreation, tourism and fishing.
The Elwah dam removal is a big deal for its size, scope, environmental and economic impacts, but also represents a growing trend in the way America is managing its precious rivers. More than 240 dams were demolished between 2006 and 2010, an increase of 40% compared to the previous five years. According to American Rivers’ President Bob Irvin, “What once seemed radical is now mainstream…all of these are experiments in how nature can restore itself, and the Elwah is the biggest example of that.”
Many passionate people and organizations have played a major role in the Elwha dam removal. American Rivers has been advocating for the Elwah for more than 25 years and helped get legislation passed that authorized the removal and federal funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Learn more about what American Rivers is doing to help improve and remove our nation’s outdated dams and check out their map of river restoration projects going on across the country – maybe there’s an environmental and economic boost coming to your state!