PORT ANGELES — More than 70 people gathered Saturday morning in mixed rain and snow along the Elwha River for a groundbreaking ceremony for the second of two water treatment plants.
The plants are being built to protect Port Angeles drinking water during the Elwha River dams removal project.
U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, said the federal government’s significant investment to protect the area’s water quality should be appreciated.
The dam removal project’s 2004 cost estimate was $185 million, but the two water treatment plant projects alone — originally estimated at $50 million of that total — are costing $94.1 million by themselves.
“We have been funding and funding and funding, and we’re not done yet, but we’re getting over the financing hump,” Dicks said.
He said he’s pleased that President George W. Bush has supported the project, which began when President Bill Clinton was in office.
He hopes that the science of river restoration learned during the project can be applied to dam removal or river restoration elsewhere.
“We should really focus on the science, what we learn from this project, its impacts and consequences,” Dicks said.
The National Park Service has been planning to take down the Elwha Dam and Glines Canyon Dam since the 1992 Elwha River Restoration Act authorized their removal to restore salmon habitat.
The federal law also required construction of two treatment plants to protect the water supplies of the city of Port Angeles, the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and its fish hatchery as well as the state fish rearing channel.
“These two [water plant] contracts together are the largest ever awarded in the National Park Service’s history,” said Jon Jarvis, Pacific West Regional Director for the National Park Service.
“These water treatment plants really are the major step before dam removal, to ensure the quality and quantity of the water supply.
“The dam removal is a relatively simple part of this project.”
Jarvis said removing the two Elwha River dams was a promise made to Randy Jones, the late deputy superintendent of Olympic National Park, who died of cancer in November 2005.