Removal of the Elwha Dams - The great Olympic Peninsula Environmental Scam

Editorial by Marv Chastain

Posted 6/3/2010

Clallam County, WA - In 1992, Congress decreed that the Elwha River must be restored. While everything else in the bill was defined, they never got around to saying what it should be “restored” to. Since nobody knows what it was in pre-settlement days, the “what” has been left up to the bureaucrats. In the intervening 18 years, they have decided that the great salmon runs of the past must be restored. However, their planning does not seem to reach to anything in the ocean and blithely ignores the fact that most of the salmon do not return because they are being caught in the ocean anywhere from Siberia to Alaska to Canada to the US straits of Juan de Fuca, not only by commercial fishermen of the world, but by a huge army of US-protected sea lions, seals and other fish-eating birds and mammals.

They have focused on the two power dams built in the early 20th century without fish ladders. Now there is no question that leaving out the fish ladders was a big mistake (they substituted a hatchery for the legal requirement for a fish ladder, with the approval of the state legislature). However, it was a mistake that could have been corrected at any time - even now. Environmental groups - Sierra Club, Earth First, and others have consistently blocked any effort to build those fish ladders, insisting on removing the dams, so now the government has bought the dams, including about 900 acres of good timber with plans to destroy those dams and the lakes they have created - in 2012. (Evidently it has taken 20 years to figure out “how”.)

It appears the real problem is that one of those two dams in located inside the Olympic National Park (ONP). It is a big man-made structure that has created a beautiful lake (Mills) that is home to a great variety of waterfowl, water mammals and FISH. But, park people do not like anything man-made (except money).

That dam was built in 1927, long before the ONP became a national park, by a group of local entrepreneurs headed up by Thomas Aldwell . The same group built the first dam about five miles up from the river mouth in 1910-13. Those two dams produced the first electricity for the city of Port Angeles and the local mills. During World War I, the first dam produced electricity to run the Bremerton Navy yard. As time has gone by, the local demand for electricity has exceeded the output of the two dams, so a power line from Bonneville (built in the 1930s) supplies Port Angeles and the dams’ power goes exclusively to the Daishowa paper mill.

Just removing the dams won’t do. When the first dam was built, qualified engineering was hard to come by on this peninsula (1910). They built a huge concrete block but failed to get is properly secured to the river bed. When they closed the gates and filled up the lake, the full pressure of 100 feet of water, pushed the river right under the dam. This project was one which the dam owners had everything invested in and they were desperate. They set off a huge blast of dynamite in the rock cliffs on each of the side of the river, blowing rock down into the river bed and filling in about 75 feet behind the dam.

When the dam is removed, there will still be a 75 foot rock and fill dam that goes back at least 100 yards from the concrete dam. That will have to be removed if salmon are to ascend the river. That will involve diverting the flow (you can’t operate heavy construction equipment in a flowing river and a salmon can’t jump 75 feet).

Original cost estimate was $329 million 1992 dollars

Ever hear of a big government project with vague parameters that cost less than the original estimate? That's at least half a billion in today's dollars.

Loss of waterfowl and mammals

Elwha lakes are heavily used by waterfowl (about 20 different species) and water mammals such as beaver, according to a survey of waterfowl  done (at your expense) by Martha Jordan, secretary of the Trumpeter Swan Society and an honest scientist. Somehow, that survey got carefully left out of the government’s Environmental Impact Statement.

20+ million cubic yards of gunk

The deluge of detritus released by removal of the lower dam will inundate the river below the dam with an average of six feet of gunk (per the government's own scientific report). That is the only spawning ground for the fabulous Elwha Chinook - a distinct sub- species. A salmon hatchery has been built in another stream to hatch Elwha Chinook to replace the sub-species that will be destroyed. But, a government report, bearing the name of “Winter” (Brian Winter - chief of the government Dam destruction team?) written before the project was hatched, warns that this tactic may not work and an entire population should not be destroyed in anticipation that it will.

It is also highly questionable if the salmon hatched in another stream will somehow know they are Elwha salmon. Nobody knows the mechanism or timing for a salmon being imprinted with his/her native stream.

Why not just build a fish ladder and allow them to go on up?

Elwha   salmon waiting to go up

Trumpeter Swans on lake Aldwell - The world’s largest waterfowl - magnificent

To be evicted by the Elwha project

Trumpeter Swans on   Lake Aldwell


$27 Million Dollar “ Deal

The government bought the dams and 900 acres of good timber for the bargain price of $27,000,000. They did so with the threat that if the owner didn’t sell, they would be forced to remove the dams at their own expense. I have it on what I consider good authority that the power produced by the dams earned the owners a nine million dollar profit in the last year they owned them. That extortion generated profit now goes to the National Park Service (NPS).  That profit may be the number one reason that removal has been delayed year-by-year now for about 12 years.

mallards on lk   AldwellWaterfowl List

Following is a list of waterfowl who use the lakes as habitat

Common name                            Scientific name                            nesting?

Loon                                             Gavia Immer                                  Y

Eared Grebe                                Podicepts nigricollis                    Y

Pied-billed grebe                        Podilymbus podiceps                  Y

Double-crested Cormorant     Phalacrocorax auritus

Great Blue Heron                       Ardea herodias

Tundra Swan                              Cygnus columbianus

Trumpeter Swan                        Cygnus buccinator

Canada Goose                           Branta canadensis                        Y (and rearing)

Mallard                                         Anas platyrhynchos                     Y (and rearing)

Gadwall                                        Anas strepera

Green-winged teal                     Anas crecca

American wigeon                      Anas americana

Eurasian wigeon                       Anas penlope

Northern pintail                          Anas acuta

Northern shoveler                     Anas clypeata         

Wood duck                                  Aix sponsa                                    Y

Ring-neck duck                          Aythya collaris                              Y

Greater scaup                             Aythya marila                                Y

Common goldeneye                 Bucephala clangula                      Y

Bufflehead                                   Bucephala albeola                        Y

Common merganser                Bucephala albeola                        Y (and rearing)

Hooded merganser                   Lophodytes cucullatus                Y

American Coot                           Fulica americanna

Spotted sandpiper                     Acitits macularia

Osprey                                          Pandion haliaetus

Belted Kingfisher                       Ceyrle alcyon

Note: The above list is of waterfowl observed by Martha Jordan in 1994 and 1995. That does not necessarily mean it is the only waterfowl that use or nest around the lakes. This survey was paid for by the park service, but left out of their EIS (for obvious reasons).

Canadian   Honkers on Lk Aldwell

Strange supporters

Why does the Audubon Society and other groups calling themselves “environmental"  support this fiasco?

Reliable reports indicate spotted owls nest in the area.

The cost to salmon

The Elwha dams, unlike most hydro-electric dams, are operated on a “run of the river” basis. That is, they are normally run in such a fashion that the outflow is as nearly as possible identical to the inflow - giving the lakes a normal water level. However, in dry summers, extra water is spilled to help the salmon runs. When the dams are out, where will this extra water come from?

The dams produce an average of 19 megawatts of electrical power. They do this with nearly century old equipment. With modern equipment, they could produce much more.

Cost may include someone's well

Bottom pressure on Lake Mills is in excess of 8700 lbs per square foot. Geologic maps show a fault line running diagonally across the lake. Logic says this amount of pressure is forcing water into the fault and then into an acquifer. Who’s well will go dry when the lake is drained?

The magnificent claims by the dam buster group that 400,000 salmon will return to the Elwha after the dams are removed, consists primarily of pink and chum salmon.   These fish do not rear in a river. They just hatch out and drift down to salt water. Hence they can be hatched in any stream and do not need the Elwha’s resources.  .  .  .  .  .JMC          

Questions or comments?     Email Marv Chastain at