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US Success Story: Washington's Elwha River Thrives After Removal Of Hydroelectric Dam System

First Posted: Jun 03, 2016 05:42 AM EDT
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Elwha River is located on the Olympic Peninsula in the U.S. state of Washington. It is about 45-mile (72 km) river and flows generally north to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The river was revived after the removal of the Glines Canyon Dam on the Elwha River in northwestern Washington State in August 2014.

The U.S. National Park Service, which administers the surroundings of Olympic National Park allowed the removal of the dams to restore the natural river system that was presumed benefits for fish and other wildlife. The Elwha River is a habitat for varieties of salmon and trout. On the other hand, they were diminished for about century. Today, the salmon returns and the fish and other marine creatures are flourishing, according to National Geographic.

Anne Shaffer, a marine biologist with the nonprofit Coastal Watershed Institute in Port Angeles, Washington said that the place is an ecological zone of aquatic habitat along the shoreline that tenders refuge and feeding areas for fish and other organisms that help them transition from freshwater to the marine habitat. She has been working on the Elwha system and focusing on what she called "nearshore environment" since 1990. This includes the deltas and estuary systems near the mouths of the rivers and the seagrass beds in shallow water.

Ms. Shaffer spoke about the changes of the Elwha River since the removal of the dams. She said that they have seen an increase in good habitat by about a hundred acres (40 hectares) and an instant response in the fish community. They found new species that are coming to the area. The seafloor near the mouth of the river has increased by 10 meters (33 feet). This makes a whole new delta and the estuary has returned.

She was also asked what she has learned from the Elwha that might be applied to other potential restoration projects and dam removal. She replied that they hope to inform others so people know how to do dam removals to optimize the nearshore environment. They must need to let the sediment come to the shore and let restoration happen.

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