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WA’s Elwha River Makes Comeback from “Endangered” Status

June 2, 2010

SEATTLE - The Elwha River on the Olympic Peninsula made it onto a national list of "America's Most Endangered Rivers" twice in the 1990s. A lot has happened since then – and now, the same group that tallies the list is calling the Elwha a success story in this year's report, released today.

Both close to 100 years old, the Elwha Dam and Glines Canyon Dam will be dismantled starting next year. Amy Kober, spokesperson for American Rivers, says the structures are outdated and unsafe, and have affected salmon migration for years.

"Those dams will be torn down to restore the river's health – all the way from Olympic National Park up in the mountains, down to the sea, to Puget Sound. So, the impacts of this river restoration are going to be felt, far and wide."

Kober explains the two dams are too old to update cost-effectively, although the debate about whether to take them down has lasted almost 30 years. Congress authorized their removal in 1993, but funding has not been a priority. Some federal stimulus money will be used for the project, which could take three to four years.

Similar battles rage over other dams in the Northwest, between advocates of free-flowing rivers and salmon survival, and proponents of affordable hydropower. Kober sees the Elwha as proof that, eventually, there is a resolution.

"Well, I think if there's a lesson to be learned from the Elwha, it's that when you have the science and when you have the economics, and the public desire to restore a river, we can do it. It might take a little bit of time, but all these things lining up together, it's absolutely possible."

Kober says rivers are selected for the "America's Most Endangered" list based on the significance of the threats to habitat and surrounding communities, and on the opportunities for the public to weigh in on a river's fate. The new report is online at www.americanrivers.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA