Last month, a 35” steelhead was spotted in the Elwha River above where the Elwha Dam used to stand (dismantled as of March). While the second dam upriver, Glines Canyon, is being removed, conservationists and business owners are thrilled to see that the fish are starting to return all on their own. The Elwha River Restoration Project is hailed as the largest dam removal project in history. That 35 incher was no hatchery fish, transported manually by scientists to jump-start the repopulation process-- it was an untagged, totally wild steelhead. Everyone expected fish to return, but few thought it would happen so quickly. That steelhead is real cause for celebration!
Better yet, it’s not the only river restoration project showing progress. Further south in Washington, the White Salmon River is also being restored for salmon and jobs. This week, migrating fish were spotted well upstream of where Condit Dam was blasted last October- for the first time in over a century. Despite concerns of sediment, and despite the fact that the dam isn’t completely removed yet, migrating fish are already making their way upstream.
Time and time again, when we begin to restore rivers, we are always amazed at the speed with which the rivers restore themselves and the fish return. This applies to nearly every dam removal and river restoration project to date, including Marmot Dam on the Sandy River, Goldsborough Dam, the Kennebec River, Neuse River, among others.
At what point will we accept that Nature always finds a way? If we un-build it, the fish will come.
Here's a video from OPB about the Marmot Dam coming down on the Sandy River back in 2008. Scientists predicted it would take weeks to months for the sediment to wash away and fish to return. In reality, the sediment washed away in mere hours and the fish returned within three days: