Trout Unlimited Celebrates Major Step Toward Removal of Washington’s Elwha River Dams
Trout Unlimited’s 20 Years Of Public Education & Advocacy Pays Off in Milestone Agreement for Federal Acquisition and Removal of Two Elwha River Dams
2/11/2000 — — The 4,200 members of Trout Unlimited’s Washington Council praised today’s landmark agreement to transfer ownership of the two dams on the Elwha River in Washington’s Olympic Peninsula to the federal government in anticipation of their eventual removal.. The dams – Elwha and Glines Canyon – were owned and operated by James River, Inc, a paper products and hydroelectric supplier. The dams have nearly eliminated the once robust runs of Elwha River salmon and trout – including chinook, coho, sockeye, chum, pink ,steelhead, and sea-run cutthroat – that historically returned an estimated 390,000 fish annually.
Bill Robinson, Executive Director of TU’s Washington State Northwest Steelhead and Salmon Council, will join Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and the Washington Congressional delegation atop Glines Canyon Dam on Friday, Feb. 11 at 1:15 p.m. for a ceremony to announce the purchase agreement leading to the dams’ removal.
“Back in the 1980s, Trout Unlimited realized that removal of the two dams on the Elwha River offered one of the greatest environmental restoration opportunities anywhere in the nation,” explained Robinson. “Today, 20 years later, we are anxious to thank Secretary Babbitt, the Washington delegation, the Clinton Administration and our Washington Trout Unlimited Council members who are continuing to work to set the Elwha free.”
“The combination of Endangered Species Act listing of Puget Sound chinook and implementation of the Pacific Salmon Treaty between the U.S. and Canada offers the best opportunity yet to put fish back in the river,” Robinson continued. “The tremendous cooperation that led to today’s agreement gives all of those returning fish someplace to go.”
The Elwha announcement is another in a series of like announcements coming from across the U.S. demonstrating that the small minority of the nation’s some 75,000 dams that have outlasted their effectiveness or present significant danger to the environment and/or communities are being successfully removed to the benefit of all parties involved.
“Last July, the removal of the Edwards dam on Maine’s Kennebec River was lauded as the most significant effort to recover a river in the nation,” continued Robinson. “However, the Elwha agreement represents the most significant and effective commitment to fisheries and ecosystem restoration here in the Northwest.”
Robinson was a participant in the local Elwha Citizens’ Advisory Committee, a TU-sponsored group of community leaders in the Port Angeles area who studied all aspects of the dam removal project. Their report, which found compelling economic and ecological reasons to recommend dam removal, has been cited by Sen. Slade Gorton (R-WA), Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA) and the Clinton Administration as a catalyst in the decision to implement the 1992 Elwha Act.
Members of the Washington state Congressional delegation, and others in Congress, have become increasingly supportive over the years of the Elwha River restoration project. In particular, Sen. Gorton , Sen. Murray and Rep. Dicks, along with Reps. Adam Smith (D-WA), Jim McDermott (D-WA) and former Rep. Rick White (R-WA) have been instrumental in moving the Elwha process forward. The accumulation of $29.5 million for acquisition of the dams and project lands was achieved in 1998, and the delegation last year, working with the Clinton Administration, secured an additional $22 million in federal funds to pay for the necessary studies to move forward with the process.
“It’s definitely been a team effort to get to this point,” Robinson said. “What I think everyone realized was that restoration of the Elwha River fisheries and ecosystem means a win-win for everyone involved. It means economic benefits to the local community interests – business, tribal, recreation, fisheries and many other interest groups for both the short and long term.”
Robinson also praised the Administration’s budget request for $31 million in the next fiscal year (FY 2001) to assist with the dams removal. In 1992 Congress authorized removal of the dams to help salmon recovery efforts. To date $51.5 million in federal money has been secured for the dams removal. The U.S. Parks Service has estimated it will cost $113 million for the removal of both the Glines and Elwha dams.
“The $31 million isn’t in the bank yet,” said Robinson. “But the Administration’s funding request combined with today’s agreement is a significant commitment to removing these dams and restoring healthy runs of salmon back in the Elwha River. TU will look to the members of the Washington Congressional delegation to secure this funding and advocate for more to complete the project throughout the upcoming appropriation process in Congress. Our elected senators and representatives need to make sure the rest of Congress understands that, at a minimum, that $31 million is earmarked for the Elwha and this is no time to fool around – the future of ten species of salmon and steelhead are hinging on that money!”
The Elwha agreement comes on the heels of Trout Unlimited’s joint release of the most comprehensive review to date of the history and benefits of dam removal in the United States. The report, Dam Removal Success Stories: restoring rivers through selective removal of dams that don’t make sense, [Editor: copies of this report may be found at www.tu.org or by calling Maggie Lockwood at (703) 284-9425] documents 25 case studies of successful dam removals across the country.
Across the nation communities have chosen to restore their home waters to healthy, free flowing river systems upon weighing the impacts of dams on their rivers and their quality of life. Once celebrated for their ability to bring power, irrigation and navigation to a region, many communities are now opting to restore rivers where the dams’ negative environmental, economic and recreational impacts have outweighed their benefits. Dam removal has become an increasingly attractive option in cases where the dams have outlived their intended purpose and now have no official use and have been abandoned or have deteriorated to unsafe conditions.
Founded in 1959 in Grayling, Michigan, Trout Unlimited is America’s leading coldwater fisheries conservation organization. TU’s 100,000 members in 455 chapters nationwide are dedicated to the conservation, protection, and restoration of North America’s trout and salmon and their watersheds. TU’s Northwest Steelhead and Salmon Council boasts 4500 members in 30 chapters in the state of Washington.