Montana contractor picked to remove dams

The Elwha Dam below Lake Aldwell. Photo by Jay Cline



Barnard Construction Company of Bozeman, Mont., was selected Aug. 26 as the contractor to remove the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams on the Olympic Peninsula’s Elwha River.  


The National Park Service’s Denver Service Center announced award of the $26,939,800 contract.  



Dam removal begins in September 2011.


“This is a historic moment,” Olympic National Park Superintendent Karen Gustin said. “With award of this contact, we begin the countdown to the largest dam removal and one of the largest restoration projects in U.S. history.”


The contract includes removal of the 108-foot-high Elwha Dam, completed in 1913, and the 210-foot-high Glines Canyon Dam, completed in 1927.



Park officials say removing the two dams will allow fish to access spawning habitat in more than 70 miles of river and tributary stream, most of which is protected inside Olympic National Park.


Home to five salmon species

The 45-mile-long Elwha River is the historic home of all five species of Pacific salmon and has been legendary as one of the Northwest’s most productive salmon streams. Because neither dam provided passage for migratory fish, salmon and other fish have been restricted to the lower five miles of river since dam construction.



“This story is about the fish,” said Frances Charles, chairwoman of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe.



“The tribe looks forward to the return of the chinook, and the abundance of fish from the stories our ancestors have been telling us about since the dams went up. We used to have salmon and other species out there, and we want them back and revived for our children and our children’s children.”



Norm Dicks, who represents Washington’s 6th District, said, “The award of this contract represents tangible progress toward the completion of what I believe will be one of the most exciting and biologically significant initiatives ever launched by the federal government.



“The removal of the two dams and the restoration of this unique and largely protected habitat will demonstrate how these historically abundant fish runs can recover when we ‘turn back the clock.’”



A three-year process

Once under way, the removal process will take up to three years. Dam removal releases large amounts of sediment now impounded in reservoirs behind both dams, so stoppages will be built into the work schedule to limit the amount of sediment released at any given time, particularly when adult fish are in the river.



“Now that we know who the contractor is, we can begin discussions about how much public access can be provided during dam removal,” Gustin said.



“Our primary objective is safe removal of the two dams, but as much as possible, we would like to provide opportunities for people to safely visit the area and see this project for themselves.”



A number of preparatory projects have been completed or are under way now. Facilities to protect the Port Angeles drinking and industrial water supplies were completed early this year. Improvements to flood protection levees are under way and a fish hatchery on the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe’s Reservation is under construction to replace the tribe’s existing hatchery.



The new hatchery will help maintain existing stocks of Elwha River fish during dam removal and produce populations of coho, pink, and chum salmon and steelhead vital to restoration.

An all-inclusive effort

Dick, who has served for years on the House Subcommittee on Interior and the Environment that funds the National Park Service, said another $20 million was included in the appropriations bill that the Interior subcommittee approved in late July for the next fiscal year.



“As we have been appropriating funds for this project over many years, I have been encouraged that it received the consistent support of four administrations from both parties,” he said.



“There have been many Klallam people, including previous tribal councils, who have worked hard toward reaching the milestone of removing the Elwha dams,” Charles said. “The tribe’s actions toward dam removal are only following in the footsteps of our ancestors and former tribal leaders requests’ and have included many trips to Washington, D.C. The tribe takes pride in the protection of our environment in honor of our ancestors, elders and future generations.”



The Elwha River Restoration Project is possible through the support and participation of many partners including the Bureau of Reclamation that was the lead agency in designing dam removal and sediment management strategies and currently operates and maintains the dams.

Project overview

The Elwha dams removal project includes:

• Removing Elwha and Glines Canyon dams

The largest dam removal in U.S. history frees the Elwha River after 100 years. Salmon populations will swell from 3,000 to more than 300,000 as all five species of Pacific salmon return to more than 70 miles of river and stream.

• Renewing a culture

The returning salmon and restored river will renew the culture of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, who have lived along the Elwha River since time immemorial. Tribal members will have access to sacred sites now inundated and cultural traditions can be reborn. The National Park Service and the tribe are primary partners on this project.

• Restoring ecosystems

This project creates a living laboratory where people can watch and learn what happens when salmon return after a century to a still wild and protected ecosystem. The return of fish will bring bears, eagles and other animals back to an ecosystem that has been deprived of this food source for a century.

• Economic benefits

Just as the dams played a vital role in the history and development of the area, removing them creates new opportunities for growth and regional vitality.

• Restoring the coast

Removing the dams re-establishes the natural flow of sediment from the mountains to the coast — rebuilding wetlands, beaches and the estuary at the river’s mouth.

Read more online

More information about Elwha River Restoration is available at the Olympic National Park website or at the Elwha River Restoration Facebook page.

Information about the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe can be found at or the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe Facebook page.

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