Elwha dams work on hiatus till January
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Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
The Elwha River flows through what was once the north spillway of the former Elwha Dam west of Port Angeles on Saturday.

By Leah Leach
Peninsula Daily News

EDITOR'S NOTE — Go to http://vimeo.com/30833233 to watch a short video made by Olympic National Park volunteer John Gussman showing the process of moving the Elwha River from one side of the Elwha Dam to the other.
Click on webcams (above) to watch the dam removal work.

PORT ANGELES — Both the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams have been cut down as low as they will be this year.

Barnard Construction crews have removed 48 feet of the 108-foot Elwha Dam and 32 feet of the 210-foot Glines Canyon Dam, said Brian Krohmer, project manager for the removal of the two dams, on Friday.

Neither dam will be lowered any more until next year.

The $27 million dam removal is a centerpiece of the National Park Service's $325 million Elwha River restoration project to return the river to its wild state and encourage renewal of its legendary salmon runs, blocked by the dams, which were built without fish ladders.

Through the dams, the river once provided electrical power for the developing cities of Port Angeles, Port Townsend and Poulsbo, as well as the Navy yard in Bremerton.

Demolition of the Elwha Dam, built in 1913 about five miles from the mouth of the river west of Port Angeles, is expected to be completed in early 2013, while the Glines Canyon Dam, built in 1927 upstream in Olympic National Park, is scheduled to be fully demolished about a year later.

The Elwha Dam will stay at its present height for the rest of the year because in January, when crews shift the river back to the east side, “we want to keep the gravity dam at this elevation as a means of controlling the drawdown of the reservoir,” Krohmer said.

Course of river

The Elwha River's course was changed earlier this month when it was diverted into a new channel blasted on the west side of the dam.

Workers are starting to remove the penstocks — the large metal pipes that led from the dam to the powerhouse — and hope to have that done by sometime in December.

Then they will begin demolishing the power house.

In the meantime, they are removing rocks, soil and other debris that was placed upstream of the gravity section when the dam was constructed to plug a hole created when the dam blew out nearly a century ago.

“It's a continuous process as the reservoir level [in Lake Aldwell, created by the Elwha Dam,] drops,” Krohmer said.

Twenty logs that were released Friday were pilings that were stuck into that material, Krohmer said.

An excavator was used to pull the logs into the river so they could float downstream.

Earlier this month, a log boom that prevented boats from drifting over the Elwha Dam was cut loose to allow the corralled logs to float downriver and become part of the future habitat for salmon.

Now, trees and debris that fall into the river are moving through the Lake Aldwell reservoir daily, said park spokesman Dave Reynolds, so the exposed reservoir areas of the lake and the remaining area of the lake are closed to the public.

Glines Canyon Dam

Demolition of the Glines Canyon Dam, which created Lake Mills 13 miles from the river's mouth, will be discontinued for the next two months because of a “fish window,” a fish migration period that extends through November and December.

“There won't be a whole lot going on at Glines,” Krohmer said.

January through April will be the next work period before the next fish window in May and June.

Also, crews have been removing transmission line connecting the two dams — some 8 miles of them — with that work continuing for another month or six weeks, Krohmer said.

Those who want to take a look at the Elwha Dam can go to the overlook trail, which can be accessed from a gate just south of the Elwha RV Park on Lower Dam Road off state Highway 112.

The Lower Dam Road past that point is closed to all access.

“If people come down the road through all of our signs, it's very dangerous,” Krohmer said.

“That is why the overlook is there.”

There is no access to a vantage point for the Glines Canyon Dam right now, and there won't be for at least the rest for the year, since Whiskey Bend Road off Olympic Hot Springs Road is closed for repairs.

Images from National Park Service webcams can be found at http://tinyurl.com/damwebcams.

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Managing Editor/News Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3531 or leah.leach@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: October 30. 2011 1:09AM
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