Good News for Pacific Coast Salmon – Three Major Dams to be Demolished

Elwha River Chinook salmon

The removal of 3 dams will restore salmon habitat. (NOAA photo by John McMillan)

The demolition of three major dams built in the early 1900s (Condit, Elwha and Glines Canyon dams) will result in the restoration of important salmon spawning runs in the state of Washington.

The results are impressive. Folks living along the White Salmon River report their amazement to hear the racket that the salmon make: males thrashing and fighting for mates, and females digging their nests.

In addition to the importance of this spawning habitat for salmon populations, there is also another important benefit to other wildlife. Each spent fish (salmon die after spawning) can be thought of as a 25 pound sack of fertilizer, feeding birds, bears, and other animals in the watershed.

Of course there are tradeoffs: these dams have provided a non-polluting source of electricity for decades. However, a fisheries biologist colleague of mine made the following observation: the cost of relicensing the Condit dam would be $100 million and taking it down costs $33 million. The dam provides power for about 6,300 homes. By investing the savings – $67 million – in wind turbines, the electric utility could produce electricity for about 31,000 homes.

While a dam-busting frenzy may seem to be underway in the Northwest – and it is – the timing is a coincidence. All three dam removals have been in the works for years. Even dam busters will agree it will be awhile before another big dam falls in the Northwest.

You can find more information about this remarkable project at this link.

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