Saturday, April 03, 2010

Freeing the Elwha

"Olympic National Park News Release: Public Invited to Celebrate Elwha Restoration Project Milestones; Two Water Protection Facilities Completed, Paving Way for Dam Removal Next Year"

So I went. Everyone was so happy in the pouring rain. All the Park Rangers in their dress browns, and the engineers and the contractors and the politicians and the civil servants and the tribal representatives. One speech after another invoking the return of salmon to the Elwha River. They are so proud of the new facilities, each a milestone in a 20-or-more year struggle to get to this point: freeing the Elwha.

Elwha River Watershed (Click for larger image.)

It's really going to happen, finally. The RFP for the dam removal itself will go out next week. Contract to be awarded in August, dam removal to begin January 2011, a year early because the contractor for the industrial water facility brought it in a year ahead of schedule.

I repeat: It's really going to happen, finally. The RFP for the dam removal itself goes out to bid next week. The Elwha Dam and Glines Canyon Dam will be GONE, and the salmon will be free to find their ways up the river again. They were handing out buttons which read "Last Dam Summer" because after the coming summer the dams will be being sliced down. People were grabbing handfuls of buttons like they were popcorn (me too), and pinning them on. And everyone was very happy.

Touring the Port Angeles Water Protection Facility (Click for larger image.)

But ah, but oh. There were tours, of the domestic water facility just west of town, and of the industrial water facility down under the new high bridge on the Elwha River.

There is no place wild. To undam the Elwha River, to remove the engineering works of a century ago, enormous complicated modern engineering works have been put in place and more to come (ground just broken on the Lower Elwha fish hatchery). To protect the water supplies from all the mud which will be released as the dams come down: vast pumps, settling tanks, fish rescue screens, and chemical mixing tanks. Without all this machinery —to protect the city's domestic water supply, and also the water that goes to the paper mill, the fish hatcheries, to the Lower Elwha Klallam reservation— there could be no dam removal.

Touring the Industrial Water Facility in the Rain (Click for larger image.)

This is the day the contractors turn over the keys to the operators. It's done and they are so happy with what they have done. A celebratory tour is not the moment to ask: "Is this where you accidentally destroyed the salmon redds this whole project is intended to protect when you were putting in the diversion channel? How sure are you that the chemical/mud slurry which settles out and is returned to the river will be harmless to the nearshore environment in the Strait? What are the failsafes in the engineering which protect the water supply, the lower river, and the Strait if we're wrong, if the engineers are wrong? Can't we just turn the clocks back?"

Intake Structure Upstream of the Industrial Water Facility (Click for larger image.)

In the Influent Pump Station (Click for larger image.)

Contractor Explaining the Slurry Pump Station (Click for larger image.)

Note the "Last Dam Summer" button (Click for larger image.)

There is no place wild.

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