Elwha River
Elwha River as it exits Grand Canyon

After decades in the making, transformation is finally occurring as part of the Elwha River landscape and habitat restoration project. Approved under president George W. Bush, the Elwha River Ecosystem and Fisheries Restoration Act of 1992 provided funding for a dam mitigation project that is now underway as reservoirs, Lake Aldwell and Lake Mills, behind both dams scheduled for removal are being drawn down in preparation for dam removal beginning September 17th.

Elwha River
The Elwha River as it exits Grand Canyon.

Photos in the Seattle Times this week show the river already beginning to return to its natural state. Scientists are depicted exploring land that has been covered by water for the last century, with the river flowing once again in the background.

The project beginning is a dream come true for activists who have long sought to see the river and its fish habitat restored to its former glory. After the construction of the dams, in 1910 and 1926, fish habitat drastically declined. As a result of a variety of reasons, including decreased sediment delivery, increased river temperatures, increased parasite populations and the inability of fish to travel past the dams -- the once mighty salmon populations of the Elwha have been reduced to only 3,000 fish. At its peak, the Elwha supported spawning runs of Chinook, Coho, Chum, Pink, Sockeye Salmon, Steelhead, Cutthroat, and Bull Trout. King Salmon (Chinook) were known to reach 100 pounds in the Elwha, and scientists believe they will again thanks to the incredible potential of the Elwha River to provide prime salmon habitat.

Elwha Dam
The Elwha Dam, sloppily constructed in 1913, is slated for demolition in 2012.

Individuals involved in the project describe the river as already "completely transformed" and expect the transformation to continue at a rapid pace. In a state with a myriad of difficulties related to disappearing fish habitat, the Elwa may serve as a model for future restoration projects.

Be sure to check out the Seattle Times' photos depicting the early stages of the project.