New life emerges as dams come down
Despite tons of sediment left behind, vegetation is beginning to transform a drained lake bottom in the Elwha River Valley.
Seattle Times staff reporter
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The Elwha River is forming a new landscape — and the first brave pioneers are quickly moving in.
Since last September, contractors have been taking two dams out of the Elwha River in a $325 million federal project intended to revive the Olympic Peninsula river, its wilderness watershed and its legendary fish runs.
Elwha Dam, the lower of the two, is already gone. Glines Canyon Dam, about eight miles farther upriver, will be gone by this time next year.
As the river is freed, it is rinsing out sediment stuck behind Elwha Dam for a century, shaping and reshaping a fantastic landscape of terraces and badlands. The river also is opening a window into a lost world as the Elwha exposes the valley bottom logged more than a century ago before Lake Aldwell was filled.
Everywhere, there are signs of new life. Scientists last week discovered the first wild, adult male steelhead — at least 35 inches long — arriving to spawn in the Little River, a tributary upstream from the old Elwha Dam site, where the river now flows free.
Visible amid the gray sediment flats are the green starts of new plants and the tracks of animals.
Millions of cubic yards of sediment trapped behind Glines Canyon Dam start coming out this fall: more big change is still ahead.