Passionately written story of the largest dam removal project in U.S. history. The project is helping restore huge salmon runs as well as ecosystems left damaged by the 100 year old infrastructure project.
As the last block of concrete was pulled from the riverbed, the Elwha River in the Olympic Mountains of Washington State flowed freely for the first time in over 100 years. The river was historically one of the most productive salmon streams for its size in the Pacific Northwest. Four hundred thousand salmon once swam its length each year but, in the century since the dam’s construction, that number had fallen to a few thousand.
Within months of the dam’s removal, nature has rushed back: over 200 salmon have already returned. The prospect of a river teeming with silverbacked salmon weighing over 45 kilograms each may no longer remain a hazy memory of local Native American tribes.
The Elwha dam removal project stands as one of the first large dams ever removed. The intent of removing the dams is to fully restore the Elwha River ecosystem and its native migratory fish species. In doing so, the Elwha dam project revived the debate of how to balance the conflicting demands of humans for both clean energy and healthy ecosystems.
Previously, that debate has been weighted decisively in favor of dam projects. But with a greater understanding of the value of ecosystem services, the Elwha dam project may represent the start of a revolution in how we assess the West’s aging dam infrastructure.
How cool is this! And it’s threatened by Pebble Mine, a proposed gold and copper mine that would be the biggest in the world. The National Resources Defense Council is kicking their ass, but they need your help.
Add this to your list of cool things we didn’t previously know about nature: Scientists working in the Wood River watershed of Southwest Alaska found that salmon play an important role in pollinating a flowering plant. How? Kneeling angelica, a 3-6 foot streamside plant, has evolved to bloom about a week after salmon return to a stream to spawn, at which point many of the salmon die or are consumed by bears and other critters. Blowflies, who pollinate the flowers by swarming the blooms, then lay eggs in the decomposing carcasses of the salmon. Those larvae emerge as adults the following year just in time to pollinate the flowers again.
Solid graphic by PBS climate crew showing climate impacts on salmon at each stage of life. Each block shows a picture of a salmon at the fry, smolt, and adult stages with accompanying challenges they’ll face. Fry, for example, are more vulnerable to storms that churn up silt and toxins washed into rivers from parking lots. Land and river managers can use this information to better adapt ecosystems to protect the fish and conserve resources.
The graphic is embedded in, Northwest Salmon People Face Future Without Fish, which is tacitly about the erosion of Pacific Northwest Indian tribes who depend on salmon for sustenance. It shows, for example, that the Swinomish were the first Indian Nation to have adopted a climate adaptation plan (2010). And that the plans will be key to their future:
Fifteen percent of the reservation is at or just slightly above sea level, including environmentally-sensitive shoreline areas, where they’ve harvested shellfish for centuries. University of Washington climate scientists estimate that this area could see up to a meter of sea level rise over the next century.
Like many tribal communities, the Swinomish can’t just pick up and move out of harm’s way. Relocating is antithetical to who they are, said Brian Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community.
“We are a place-based society,” he said. “This is our homeland. The Swinomish have lived here for 10,000 years. We don’t go anywhere — ever.”
This last quote - “We don’t go anywhere — ever” - demonstrates one of the major problems with adapting to climate change - that people don’t understand what adaptation really is. It would never occur to them to move out of harms way or look for alternative ways to live.
This stubbornness to refuse to adapt culture, to move homes, to change out old economies, will lead to some devastating consequences (such as diminished fish stocks, which in turn will crush Native economies). Much nostalgic, glittering ink has spilled about Indians looking forward and planning ahead “7 generations.” What is not said, is how consistently this dreamy philosophy has failed.
Stop Pebble Gold Mine. Robert Redford narrates a powerful video on a dangerous gold mine in Alaska. This mine has won several federal lawsuits and will most likely be permitted. Here’s some background on the permit process and timeline of the mine.
I’m not sure how NRDC thinks it will stop the mine, but it would be a huge victory if it could.
“For 98 years, the 125-foot high Condit Dam in southeastern Washington State held back the White Salmon River, creating a serene lake, but choking off the waterway to salmon. Wednesday, in an historic effort, the dam was dramatically breached, and ecologists hope the increased flow of water will restore the waterway to fish and other aquatic organisms, as well as the birds and mammals that rely on them.
The dam removal comes just weeks after dismantling began on the Elwha Dam a few hours to the north. Demolition of the Condit occured with a bang, compared to the virtual whimper of the Elwha. At that site, downstream from Olympic National Park, engineers are dismantling the two dams slowly, in a process that’s expected to take three years. They say a quicker removal would endanger the area due to the higher amount of silt in the lake.
Silt is still readily apparent in the dramatic video above, both in the darkly colored water rushing from underneath the conrete and in the fast-emptying lake.
To capture the action in the above video, Andy Maser of Maser Films set up several cameras, starting in July. He plans on documenting the changes in the basin in the ensuing months. Maser used a combination of still and video recording, compiled on his computer after he was able to retreive the data from his cameras.”
In the Lake and Peninsula Borough of southwest Alaska, where the massive Pebble Mine is proposed to be sited by a consortium of foreign mining companies, the residents have approved a prohibition against large-scale resource extraction – like the Pebble Mine — that would destroy or degrade salmon habitat in their region.
And, most remarkably, they did so despite an intense campaign of fear funded by the Pebble Partnership falsely charging that the initiative “will drive Lake and Pen families away to find work, force schools to close and drive up the cost of food and fuel as the local economy shrinks even more.”
The largest dam removal project in U.S. history will reopen more than 70 miles of pristine spawning and rearing habitat in the Elwha River and its tributaries. Salmon populations are predicted to swell from 3,000 to nearly 400,000 as all five species of Pacific salmon return to one of the Pacific Northwest’s most productive salmon streams.