A little sliver of restoration

Hey, I know the Elwha river! I think we stopped there on my honeymoon. Lovely place, the Olympic Peninsula. And getting even lovelier if they are ripping out unneeded dams and restoring the rivers. There’s something so satisfying about a timelapse of a dam being demolished.

Next, restore the watershed and the salmon runs. Whatever, I’ve got to find an opportunity to relax on the peninsula someday again, before I die.

(Also on Sb)


  1. What a Maroon says

    “My honeymoon”? Were you alone, or was it just not as enjoyable for your wife?

    Dam removal is wonderful to see. Now if we can just get humans to move out of cities in deserts that were never meant to house large populations of humans (or support their agriculture)….

  2. barbarienne says

    With all this talk of breaching dams, I have an urge to netflix Force Ten From Navarone just to watch the ending.

  3. RandomReason says

    Looks to this layperson’s eye like using a crewed barge with a shovel would be an extremely dangerous way to remove a dam. Wouldn’t incremental demolition of this type weaken the dam structure and increase the risk of a sudden catastrophic collapse?

    Why not, in fact, just blow the bridge up, igniting the detonator from a safe distance? I assume this has something to do with not wanting a flash flood of liberated water. But I know many smaller dams are removed in exactly that way.

    Does anyone know why it was done in this way?

    (regardless, it is a wonderful thing to see, and heartening to know it is an ongoing trend).

  4. JohnnieCanuck says

    My wife and I did the same visit, about the same time. We took the ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles. My strongest memory is the name of the small town, Sequim. On first seeing it written, I thought it must be pronounced like ‘sequin’ but with an ‘m’.

    Not so. It’s ‘Skwim’, rhymes with swim. Then, it seems I’m always doing that. Ar-Kansas is just the way a pirate would pronounce Kansas, no?

  5. freebird says

    As a Pacific Northwesterner, I’ve been to the dam and it was explained to me that several million cubic feet of sediment have accumulated behind the dam in the last century, and blowing up the dam (as cool as I think that would look) would empty that sediment all over the Elwha River basin, destroying miles of habitats, including the beach where it eventually empties into the Strait of Jaun de Fuca.

  6. says

    I camped on the Elwha back in 1999. The peninsula is indeed lovely (especially if you like moss), but unfortunately my dominant memory is of a campground with postage stamp-sized campsites and dozens of people driving through at midnight shining their damn headlights on my tent.
    That’s people, though. Always ruining things.

  7. carolw says

    And now they can find all the bodies dumped in the lake (at least that’s what happens here when the lakes get low).

  8. RandomReason says

    Thanks, freebird! Makes sense.

    Now, perhaps some civil engineer can explain how the dam integrity wasn’t compromised by eating away at it the way the video shows, leading to a catastrophic failure (especially if there was so much accumulated sediment applying pressure to it in addition to the water).

    Just fascinated at the physics behind this, I’m sure it was the right way do do it in this case.

  9. sandiseattle says

    my school took a trip out to this dam when I was in the 1st grade I am told. (second hand info from my pops, I have no memory of the 1st grade.) Cool vid, happy it worked on my machine (freekin DSL :( )

    JohnnieCanuck: Sequim is only the beginning of the weird/odd name list in WA, I shall always chuckle at “Chuckanut Road” and “Useless Bay”. (“Useless Bay” btw is only one of several bays named that way as I understand.)

  10. sandiseattle says

    Matt @ 17:

    But that can’t be so, the world is scheduled to end next yr :-)

  11. fastlane says


    Looks to this layperson’s eye like using a crewed barge with a shovel would be an extremely dangerous way to remove a dam. Wouldn’t incremental demolition of this type weaken the dam structure and increase the risk of a sudden catastrophic collapse?

    Disclaimer: I’m an aircraft structures engineer, not a civil engineer, but I would think the way they are doing is done for a reason, it’s probably proven reliable.

    From a pure statics point of view, if you demolish the top of a structure, that’s where it’s carrying the least load. As the water spills over, the load lessens even more, allowing larger parts of the top to be demolished…to let more water spill over, etc. As the structure gets demolished in this way, the loadbearing weight of it’s own structure is being reduced, as well as the less weight/pressure as the water lowers, so it seems like a quite safe manner of doing the demolition.

  12. RFW says

    To quote Steve Jobs’ final words in a different and much more cheerful context: oh wow! oh wow! oh wow! It’s such a pleasure to get good news on Pharyngula instead of more reports of religious madness.

    I also watched the video of the removal of the Gold Ray dam on the Rogue River in southern Oregon. Pretty skookum excavators they were using! An old wood-stave storm sewer running across my property was reconstructed and enlarged using modern materials, and it was a treat to watch the big excavator (big but nowhere near as big as at Gold Ray) at work. The guys who run those machines are real artists.

    Lots of other cool videos on dam removal at YooToob.

  13. JohnnieCanuck says

    Wow, skookum, useless as a place name and the Pacific Northwest, all in one set of comments.

    From the old Chinook trading language of the Puget Sound/Georgia Strait area, we inherited skookum, meaning strong and chuk meaning water. I live near the Skookumchuk tidal rapids and over on the mainland, there is Cultus Lake, which translated from the Chinook means useless.

    Although the vocabulary of Chinook was very limited, it was considered very expressive as you might expect a trading language to be. Tillicum is found today as a placename, from the meaning of village or people. Apparently it could also be used in the singular, such that ‘cultus tillicum’ referred to a useless man aka a bum.

    My guess would be that Sequim would be an English approximation of a First Nations word and thus the difficulty. Wikipedia confirms this. Lavender capital of North America? Pre clovis mastodon hunters? The things you miss when you just drive through on the highway.

  14. Ichthyic says

    I’ve got to find an opportunity to relax on the peninsula someday again, before I die.

    I fondly recall the 3 day hike/camp trip I did up to Hurricane Ridge and back.

    To get up to the first part of the ridge requires climbing several thousand feet of steep switchbacks though, so make sure you’re in some kind of shape. No need to be a triathlete mind you, just not a couch potato.

    the view from the top is quite spectacular.


  15. ironflange says

    This should be a real boon for the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus. Look it up. That said, I’d like to add that I wish they would breach the dam at Great Falls, MT; those falls must have been a real sight to behold.

  16. Ichthyic says

    Francis Collins would be disappointed.

    naww, it’s just becoming a huge waterfall…

    isn’t that awe inspiring and religion provoking, according to him?


  17. Trebuchet says

    Re WA place names: Humptulips is probably my favorite.

    Most of these current Native American derived names are pretty far from the original. “Issaquah” was originally something closer to “squawk”. Or maybe not. “Seattle” and its high school “Chief Sealth” are both named after the same guy. Whose name was probably not pronounced very much like either. Still, it’s kind of fun watching outsiders trying to pronounce “Puyallup”.

    I also was surprised at the method of dam demolition. I pictured them just draining the lake, presumably through the powerhouse, and then removing it. Those guys on the barge are very brave, very nuts, very professional, or all three at once.

  18. gvlgeologist says


    Google “Dambuster Raid”. While “Force Ten from Navaronne” is fiction (entertaining fiction, but fiction nonetheless), this is the real thing.

  19. Jolly says

    If you get there, check out the new Elwha River bridge with the pedestrian way hanging under the car deck.

  20. Sally Strange, OM says


    Yes. MOAR of this, PLEASE. I mean, in general. On Pharyngula would be neat, too, but what I’m really talking about is more of re-engineering human technology and habitat so that we are not needlessly damaging the ability of other species to coexist with us.

    It’s the wave of the future, yo.

  21. Nerdette says

    Ar-Kansas is just the way a pirate would pronounce Kansas, no?

    Exactly, and by doing so, names the river flowing through Wichita. Those people living in the state of the same name butcher the pronunciation.

    /native state flame war

  22. Eidolon says

    Two thoughts on seeing this post. My first was that the restoration of the waterways is way overdue and I am pleased to see it actually moving ahead.

    When I saw this:

    “I’ve got to find an opportunity to relax on the peninsula someday again, before I die.”

    I want to tell PZ to forget the bucket list crap. You do not know where the bucket is. You need to get the idea “someday I’m going to…” out of your mind and go DO IT. Do it while you and yours are able. There are no warranty cards on humans.

  23. Kid Charles says

    Man, I would not want to be on that barge crew. I suppose they probably had the thing anchored but imagine if the top of the dam got weakened and that barge went over it…

  24. crissakentavr says

    Dams are important in some places. This isn’t one of them – there’s no generator and little water storage. Gotta make sure the water is deep and cool and the fish can get through.

  25. RandomReason says



    This is my favorite part of the Internet – always an opportunity to learn something new, freely shared by a complete stranger, sparking new avenues of exploration.

  26. Douglas Watts says

    The Pacific NW created the scientific species known as ‘biostitute’ in the 1930s. It means that you take a large healthy salmon river, propose to dam it up and totally kill it, and give degreed fisheries biologists a choice. Oppose the dam and be demoted or fired. Support it and be given a lifelong tenure to try and fix the problem you just made, which of course, never works. And then everything goes extinct, but if you drag it out long enough nobody is left alive to remember what was lost = profit !

  27. Ichthyic says

    if you drag it out long enough nobody is left alive to remember what was lost = profit !

    who profited?

  28. Andrew says

    I grew up 5 minutes from that dam. There was a comment above about releasing all the sediment down the river to the mouth. It isn’t accurate, and was FUD to slow the dam removal.

    Quick local fact: The Elwha dam is the feeder for Ediz Hook, the fantastic land jetty that is one of the many beautiful land features of the Port Angeles area. Once the dam was built, locals started to notice that the Hook was eroding away. See, the faster water moving out of the Elwha deposited sediment east of the mouth, creating the Hook and the harbor. Once the water was slowed by the dam, the sediment wasn’t carried as far (and much of it stayed behind the dam), and was deposited in the strait rather than on the Hook. The Army Core of Engineers spent millions to rip-rap the Hook (there is a really cool Coast Guard base at the very tip) in order to keep it from disappearing completely. The beach on the north side apparently was sand prior to the dam, but is now stones/pea gravel.