Elwha River water plant upgrade to put dam removal on hold

By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Demolition of Glines Canyon Dam has been put on hold for an additional two months to give crews time to upgrade an industrial water-treatment plant on the lower Elwha River, Olympic National Park officials said.

Removal of what’s left of the dam will resume March 31, with full removal expected later this year, months ahead of schedule.

A National Park Service contractor and plant operator, Veolia Water, will make improvements to the intake system at the Elwha Water Treatment Plant 2.8 miles from the river mouth.

Fish screens and pumps at the industrial water plant were clogged with organic material and sediment after heavy rains inundated the river last fall.

The Park Service plans to award a contract for the modifications within days, and work is expected to begin early this month, park spokeswoman Barb Maynes said.

The plant provides initial water treatment for the city’s industrial water supply, the Nippon Paper Industries USA Inc. mill, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s fish-rearing channel and the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe’s new fish hatchery.

The city’s municipal water comes from a nearby well and was not affected by the rush of leaves, twigs, branches and sediment.

“It is vitally important that we meet the industrial water needs of Nippon Paper, the tribe’s hatchery, the state’s rearing channel and the city of Port Angeles,” Olympic National Park Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum said in a park statement.

“Active dam-removal work is temporarily on hold in order to allow us to meet our commitments to our partners.”

The industrial water-treatment plant is part of the National Park Service’s $325 million restoration of the Elwha River, which includes the removal of two antiquated dams that blocked fish passage and stopped sediment transport a century ago.

The completion date was pushed back from May to summer when park officials extended a planned November-December “fish window” hold on removal of Glines Canyon Dam though January.

Even with the additional two-month hold on dam removal, park officials say, the project will be completed well before the contract ends in September 2014. A new work schedule has not yet been finalized, Maynes said.

Barnard Construction, the dam-removal contractor, knocked out the last remnants of the 108-foot-tall Elwha Dam last March.

Glines Canyon Dam, which towered 210 feet inside the park boundary, has been lowered to about 50 feet, with 30 percent of its mass still remaining.

The financial impacts of the two-month delay were not yet known, Maynes said. The park is still negotiating the cost of the upgrades to the water-treatment plant.

“At this point, we don’t really have all the figures,” Maynes said in a telephone interview.

“We know there will be additional costs associated with putting it on hold.”

She added: “We don’t expect that to affect the overall budget.”

Contingency funds that were built into the project budget will be used to cover the additional costs, Maynes said.

The plant is located 2 miles downstream from the Elwha Dam site and about 10 miles downstream from Glines Canyon Dam.

Plant operators scrambled to clean and maintain the pumps, filters and clarifiers after the intake system was clogged.

Crews have maintained required flows of treated water for the Nippon mill. The other water users have reduced the demand on the Elwha Water Treatment Plant by using alternative water sources.

“We are very grateful to our partners for their cooperation and to the employees of Veolia Water for their skill and diligence in keeping the plant functioning during challenging circumstances,” Creachbaum said.

Meanwhile, scientists are closely monitoring the sediment surging down the lower river into marine nearshore.

Park officials have revised estimates of the amount of sediment trapped in the former reservoir beds from 24 million cubic yard to 34 million cubic yards.

Tribal officials said targets were met for the numbers of fish returning to the hatchery in the fall.

Maynes said there have been no recent reports on fish migration.

“January though April is not a time when we’d expect to see fish in the river,” she said.

Olympic National Park keeps a blog about the river restoration project at www.tinyurl.com/9wr5xse.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: February 02. 2013 6:17PM
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