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Latest: Salmon, coast recovers after Elwha dams come down

Despite recovery, warm temperatures still threaten salmon spawning.


The recovering coastline at the mouth of the Elwha River, August 2011-August 2015.

In September 2011, two dams on the Elwha River in northern Washington, which between them supplied power for a single paper mill, were taken down to help struggling salmon runs. One of them — Glines Dam — was the largest ever removed in the country. Federal and tribal biologists were thrilled: Because most of the Elwha is on national park land, development and pollution were not a factor in river restoration (“Rebuilding a river as Washington’s Elwha dams come down,” HCN, 9/19/11). 

Now, new studies show that the dam removal is not only helping salmon populations recover; it’s also rebuilding beaches. Long-trapped sediment has washed downstream to the mouth of the Elwha, allowing diminished beaches to return and slowing coastal erosion. Salmon have returned to stretches of the river that hadn’t supported spawning for more than a century. Unfortunately, the fish are still under stress: The same unusually warm waters that have been killing salmon around the Northwest are affecting them as well.