Dam

Depaving Cities, Undamming Rivers—Here’s How We’re Undoing the Damage

Releasing the rivers

The largest dam-removal project in history reached completion last fall, when excavators dredged the final tons of pulverized concrete from the Elwha River channel in Western Washington. Native fish, banished for 100 years from their historic spawning habitat, already were rediscovering the Elwha’s newly accessible upper stretches. Within weeks of the final explosion in August, threatened bull trout and chinook salmon were spotted migrating beyond the rubble.

“It was a thrill,” said Olympic National Park spokeswoman Barb Maynes. Before the Elwha Dam was built in 1910, the river produced an estimated 400,000 fingerlings per year, a number that dwindled to 3,000 in recent decades. All five native species of Elwha salmon are expected to repopulate the river.

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