|- left||Cat Creek, Goldie River, Indian Creek|
|- right||Hayes River, Lost River, Lillian River, Little River|
|- elevation||3,655 ft (1,114 m) |
|Mouth||Strait of Juan de Fuca|
|- elevation||0 ft (0 m) |
|Length||45 mi (72 km)|
|Basin||318 sq mi (824 km2) |
|Discharge||for McDonald Bridge, River mile 8.6|
|- average||1,507 cu ft/s (43 m3/s) |
|- max||41,600 cu ft/s (1,178 m3/s)|
|- min||10 cu ft/s (0 m3/s)|
The Elwha River is a 45-mile (72 km) river on the Olympic Peninsula in the U.S. state of Washington. From its source at Elwha snowfinger in the Olympic Range of Olympic National Park, it flows generally north to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Most of the river is in Olympic National Park.
The river is one of the few in the Pacific Northwest with all five species of native Pacific salmon (chinook, coho, chum, sockeye, and pink salmon), plus four anadromous trout species (steelhead, coastal cutthroat trout, bull trout, and Dolly Varden char). From 1911 to 2014, dams blocked fish passage on the lower Elwha River. Before the dams, 400,000 adult salmon returned yearly to spawn in 70 miles (110 km) of river habitat. Prior to dam removal, fewer than 4,000 salmon returned each year in only 4.9 miles (7.9 km) of habitat below the lower dam. The National Park Service removed the two dams as part of the $325 million Elwha Ecosystem Restoration Project. Dam removal work began in September 2011 and was completed in August 2014.
The name "Elwha" may be a corruption of the Quileute "e ilth quath" (pronounced āīlth'q-uȧtt), a place name with no English translation. Other theories are that it is derived from the Klallam word for elk, "elkwah", or that it is simply the name of the Klallam village once situated on the river banks. The first documented use of the name Elwha River dates to Henry Kellett's 1846 map.
The Elwha River begins at the Elwha snowfinger near Mount Barnes and Mount Queets in the Olympic Range within Olympic National Park, in Jefferson County, Washington. The river flows southeast, then curves northward for the rest of its course. Major peaks near the Elwha's source include Mount Christie, Mount Carrie, Mount Meany, and Mount Seattle.
After receiving the tributaries Delabarre Creek and Godkin Creek, the Elwha River flows northward. The Hayes River joins in Press Valley, where the Hayes River Ranger Station is located. Lost River joins near the northern end of Press Valley, after which the Elwha crosses into Clallam County, Washington.
Just after the county line, the Elwha River passes the Elkhorn Ranger Station and enters the Grand Canyon of the Elwha. The river leaves the Grand Canyon as it passes under Dodger Point Bridge and past Humes Ranch Cabin along the Geyser Valley trail. After passing Krause Bottom, the river enters Rica Canyon at Goblins Gate. Prior to dam removal, the river fanned out into a delta below Rica Canyon, at the head of Lake Mills, the reservoir behind Glines Canyon Dam. Below the dam site the Elwha is paralleled by Olympic Hot Springs Road. After flowing by campgrounds and the Elwha Ranger Station, the river exits Olympic National Park and, until early 2012, entered Lake Aldwell, the reservoir behind Elwha Dam.
Below the site of the former Elwha Dam, the Elwha River flows several miles north, through the Lower Elwha Indian Reservation, to enter the Strait of Juan de Fuca at Angeles Point, just west of the city of Port Angeles, Washington.
The river is the site of the largest dam removal project in history. The Elwha Ecosystem Restoration project is the second largest ecosystem restoration project the National Park Service has attempted, after the Everglades. The Elwha River Ecosystem and Fisheries Restoration Act of 1992 was signed by the first President Bush after it was passed by Congress. The project was projected to cost $350 million. The act authorized the Secretary of the Interior to acquire and remove the two dams on the river and restore the ecosystem and native anadromous fisheries.
The removal of the 108-foot (33 m) tall Elwha Dam and the 210-foot (64 m) tall Glines Canyon Dam began in September 2011. Two downstream water treatment facilities were completed in early 2010 to protect the water supply for the city of Port Angeles and the fish hatcheries from silt and sediment that would wash downstream once the dams were removed. In order to protect fish stocks below the dams during removal, the dams were taken out over a three-year process, pausing to ensure there would be no silt in the river while salmon spawned downstream.
The Elwha Dam was completely dismantled in March 2012. Restoration of the area around the dam followed, including tens of thousands of native plants started in local greenhouses. The removal of the Glines Canyon Dam was completed in August 2014.
Salmon will naturally recolonize the 70 miles (110 km) of habitat in Olympic National Park. The area once under the reservoirs is being revegetated to prevent erosion and speed up ecological restoration of the area. Because almost all of the Elwha's watershed is in a national park, the river should become relatively pristine, with few of the issues of agricultural runoff and water heating that affect other salmon river habitat in the Pacific Northwest. Model projections by the Park Service show that up to 392,000 fish will fill 70 miles of habitat, theoretically matching the "pre-dam peak".
By late December 2012, about 10 percent of the estimated 25,000,000 cubic yards (19,000,000 m3) of sediment that had been caught behind the river's two dams had collected at the Elwha's mouth, forming sandbars. The sediment had been pushed downstream by faster-moving flows brought about by heavy rainfall in the absence of the Elwha Dam. By November 2014, 30 percent of the stored sediment had made its way to the mouth of the river, creating 70 acres (28 hectares) of new estuary.
- Google Earth elevation for GNIS coordinates.
- "Elwha River". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey. September 10, 1979. Retrieved January 3, 2013.
- Hoko, Elwha, and Dungeness River Basins, Water Resource Data, Washington, 2005, USGS.
- Leach, Leah (November 1, 2014). "Elwha River mouth grows as sediment creates new habitat, estuaries". Peninsula Daily News (Port Angeles, Washington). Archived from the original on November 30, 2014. Retrieved November 30, 2014.
- Parratt, Smitty (1984). Gods & goblins: A Field Guide to Place Names of Olympic National Park. CP Publications. p. 43. ISBN 0-914195-00-X.
- Course info mainly from Washington Road & Recreation Atlas. Benchmark Maps. 2000.
- Le, Phuong (May 28, 2011). "Dams power down in the largest US dam removal". The Seattle Times. Retrieved January 3, 2013.
- Yardley, William (July 29, 2011). "Removing barriers to salmon migration". The New York Times. Retrieved January 3, 2013.
- Schwartz, Jeremy (December 25, 2012). "Sediment forming sandbars at Elwha River mouth". Peninsula Daily News (Port Angeles, Washington). Retrieved January 3, 2013.
- Watershed: The Undamming of America by Elizabeth Grossman (2002, ISBN 1-58243-108-6)
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