Elwha River

The Elwha and Glines Canyon dams were built in the early 1900s, generating hydropower to supply electricity for the emerging town of Port Angeles and fueling regional growth on the Peninsula. However, construction of the dams blocked the migration of salmon upstream, disrupted the flow of sediment downstream, and flooded the historic homelands and cultural sites of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe.

In 1992, Congress passed the Elwha River Ecosystem and Fisheries Restoration Act, authorizing dam removal to restore the altered ecosystem and the native anadromous fisheries therein. After two decades of planning, the largest dam removal in U.S. history began on September 17, 2011. Six months later the Elwha Dam was gone, followed by the Glines Canyon Dam in 2014. Today, the Elwha River once again flows freely from its headwaters in the Olympic Mountains to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

--Source: National Park Service

View of the Elwha River above the site of the former Glines Canyon Dam in 2021. Photo: Sylvia Kantor

OVERVIEW

Returning home: The Elwha's genetic legacy

Following dam removal, migratory salmon have been free to swim into the upper Elwha River for the first time in 100 years. Their actual behaviors and reproductive success may well be driven by changes in their genetic makeup. Our seven-part series 'Returning home' examines how the fish are doing and whether the Elwha's genetic legacy remains intact. 

RELATED ARTICLES

A single steelhead trout swimming under water with rocks in background
6/20/2022

Wild steelhead still a force in the Elwha

Migration patterns have apparently reawakened for the Elwha River's wild steelhead. Studies show that the fish may have retained much of their genetic drive despite 100 years of being trapped behind dams. We continue our series 'Returning home: The Elwha's genetic legacy' with part two of seven. 

Two fish swimming underwater with rocks below them.
6/20/2022

Will the mighty spring Chinook rise again?

Our series 'Returning home: The Elwha's genetic legacy' continues with a look at the possible return of spring Chinook to the upper portions of the Elwha River. We bring you part three of seven.

The mouth of the Elwha River along the Strait of Juan de Fuca in 2016. Photo by Dave Parks and CWI (with permission). All rights reserved.
7/14/2020

Seawall removal reaps benefits of Elwha recovery

The Elwha River has become famous as the site of the largest dam removal project in U.S. history. Several years ago, scientists began knocking down another barrier about a mile away from the river's delta. They removed a large seawall along the Salish Sea shoreline and discovered that sediment from the dam removal had huge benefits for their project.

Book cover for "Elwha: A River Reborn" by Lynda Mapes
11/20/2013

Exhibit traces Elwha restoration

The Encyclopedia of Puget Sound spoke with Seattle Times reporter Lynda Mapes about the exhibit Elwha: A River Reborn, which opened at the University of Washington Burke Museum on November 23rd. The exhibit is based on the book of the same title by Mapes and photographer Steve Ringman, and tells the story of the largest dam removal in U.S. history.  

Photograph of sediment-covered rocks in the lower Elwha River just upstream of the river mouth at the Strait of Juan de Fuca (June 20, 2012, Chris Magirl).
6/12/2013

Suspended-sediment concentrations during dam decommissioning in the Elwha River, Washington

This document was prepared by the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Park Service. Download the entire report, or read the Introduction below. Portions of this document were originally published in June 2013 and were updated in February 2014. 

 
 
9/13/2012

Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe

The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe lives on the north coast of the Olympic Peninsula, west of Port Angeles, in the lower Elwha River valley. The land was proclaimed the Lower Elwha Reservation in 1968, and the current tribal lands include approximately a thousand acres. Currently, the tribe has 985 enrolled members, with 395 living on the reservation.

Lower Elwha Klallam Area of Concern: