Thursday, September 23, 2010

Elwha River Restoration

The Elwha River drains a portion of Olympic National Park near a place called Port Angeles. This is one of those city names that indicate it’s on the water. In fact Port Angeles is an actual port where ships dock. On a clear day you can see Canada.

There are two dams on the Elwha and they produce about enough electricity to power a couple of cell phones. That’s because in they were built before cell phones were invented. The Elwha Dam was built in 1913 and the Glines Canyon Dam was built in 1927. That was before Port Angeles had ever heard of the Grand Coulee Dam. People who lived there thought the world ended at the Hood Canal. Some people call it “Hood’s Canal” for some unknown reason.

In any case the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State used to be kind of a world of its own. The National Park was established in 1938 while everyone back east was distracted by issues such as the Dust Bowl and the Depression. They wanted a nice big park with big green trees and plenty of water.

Well, these two dams are really suffering from the ravages of time. They leak and they also block the salmon that we treasure so much. So the all powerful high potentates (me and the guvment) in 1992 decided to tear down the dams and restore the river so salmon could spawn.

Well, guess what? Work has begun. Bulldozers are clearing out the delta above the lake in order to… something something. Who knows why?

The complaint is that the trees that colonized the delta, which sits on the opposite end of the lake behind the Glines Canyon Dam, are bad. We need to remove those so we can restore that delta. That way in 30 years the salmon will be able to spawn there.

The real reason to remove the dams is they aren’t making that clean solid color electricity required to charge modern computers and iPods. They make plaid and paisley electricity only when they feel like it. Sometimes it has an Art Deco motif which interferes with the internet in some way. Port Angeles and the rest of the northern Olympic Peninsula need red, blue, yellow and sometimes green electricity. If you don’t believe me just cut a hole in your wall and look at the wires. See?

Another cool aspect of removing these two dams is that the demolition team will recycle the cement. True. They’ll haul it off to some grinding facility and turn it into gravel and dust. Then they can mix it with fresh cement and some of that newly released water to make biscuits or roads or something. Who knows what you make with recycled concrete?

Once they empty the lakes in an orderly fashion and complete the dam removal the old Elwha River will spend a few years washing lake sediment into the Samish Sea. It’s also supposed to help bolster something called Ediz Hook. That’s a sand spit that acts as a breakwater for Port Angeles. So besides lots of new cement biscuits and salmon the port gets more spit. Oh joy.

There are some other reasons to remove the dams. For one thing the upper lake, called Lake Mills Reservoir, is within the Olympic National Park. The rangers are against having that kind of municipal hydro facility in their park. They don’t like the plaid and paisley electricity running through their trees.

A fairly large reason is safety. See, back when the dams were built it was a different century. The problem is some people are a little concerned one or the other might lose its motivation and stop being so dam obstructionist. The resulting flood would be a disaster. So you can see this is right up there with the SR 520 floating bridge and Alaska Way Viaduct in urgency. Something we have to take care of immediately.

Which brings us to yet another interesting twist. Removal of these two dams was approved by congress in 1992. Official removal begins in 2012. Get out the calculator. If yours doesn’t have a decimal point don’t worry, the answer is in even numbers.

Don’t look for protest marches and enigmatic speeches by Seattle’s mayor. This deal looks like it’s actually going to happen. The river will be free flowing long before the final route decisions on light rail in Bellevue. Count on it.

Salmon have been hovering off the northern coast of Washington for 18 years waiting to spawn in Olympic National Park. They’ll soon qualify for the Golden Age Pass. It’ll all work out.


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