Quick mends: Dismantling gets underway for Washington’s Elwha Dam

UPDATE: “Damnation” is a documentary well worth watching.

Don’t we all love to get good news? I relish, for example, when a friend rings me up with something cheery to say, or, I check my bank account to find I’ve got a couple of hundred bucks stashed that I thought I’d spent, but didn’t.

California Fish & Game biologist Doug Killam holds an 88-pound Pacific chinook salmon. It’s hoped the removal of the Elwha Dam in Washington state could result in even bigger fish. (Courtesy California Department of Fish and Game)

As far as the environment goes, I’m always on the lookout for positive stories. Most news is depressing, scary, messy. So today’s piece in the L.A. Times outlining the largest dam removal in our history made me smile. According to the article by Kim Murphy, after almost 100 years, salmon will now be free to swim up 70 miles of their traditional home waters, the Elwha River, instead of being stopped at the dam.

“Now,” of course, is relative, in that the project involves removing not one, but two, dams along the river that runs through Olympic National Park. Then there’s the matter of dealing with the removal of  24 million cubic yards of sediment. Apparently, the number is akin to a football field as high as the Empire State Building times 11.

Sound familiar? Closer to home, we’ve been watching the sediment removal debate revolve around Pasadena’s Devil’s Gate Dam, which is close to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  I’ve written in this space before about the suspect nature of Brown Mountain Dam, farther up the Arroyo Seco and its impact on returning steelhead to this mountainous region.

To quote the Times article about the Elwha River: “The effort is the largest dam removal project ever undertaken in the United States. It comes at a time when the nation’s 80,000 dames, many of them aging and backed up with choking silt, are increasingly suspected of having outlived their usefulness.”

The best news would be to get moving on bringing down Brown Mountain Dam. The Los Angeles River and its tributaries deserve to be returned to their natural state.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

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