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Field Notes

Covering the natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest

November 15, 2012 at 1:00 PM

Elwha: Images of a landscape transformed

The former lakebed of the reservoir behind Aldwell Dam has just passed its first summer, and what a difference a season makes. From this…

.willow.jpg

A brave willow shoot sprouts on the bed of the former Lake Aldwell in March 2012.

Photo by Lynda Mapes

To this:

river and plants.jpg

Lush swaths of new growth are already taking root along the riverbank in the former Lake Aldwell.

Photo by Julie Titone.

The pace of change on the Elwha is breathtaking.

Julie Titone, a former Spokesman-Review environmental reporter, took these photos while visiting the Elwha for the first time since the dams came out.

Like many Northwesterners, Julie has followed the Elwha story for decades, writing about dam removal on the Elwha for the Spokesman-Review back in the 1990s when (to some) it still seemed like a crazy idea that would (and should) never happen. As she explored the Elwha after a nice fall soaker she was treated to this amazing sight, of stumps of the Elwha’s former riparian forest, cut before Lake Aldwell was filled for Elwha Dam:

steaming stumps.jpg

Stumps steaming in the morning sun. Get out and see the Elwha for yourself, it is a landscape transformed, before your very eyes.

Photo by Julie Titone

Meanwhile pilot Tom Roorda, who has been so generous in sharing his aerial photos of the dam removal project, sent in these shockers, of the former Lake Mills, and mouth of the Elwha, now that the reservoir is gone and sediment is spitting on out.

For everyone who has lived here long enough to remember the glittering blue pool of Lake Mills, it’s hard to believe the sight of that landscape today. Restoration isn’t quite the right word for what is going on here, because of course the landscape won’t go back to exactly what it was. It will be something else: a whole new landscape, as the former lakebed grows in. There’s a long way to go, as Tom’s photos shows:

Gline's Dam looking North.jpg

In Tom’s aerial you can just see the last of Glines Canyon Dam being taken out, at the northernmost end of the former reservoir. Contractors expect to have the dam completely out by May.

Photo by Tom Roorda

Now here is a shot of the former Lake Mills looking south. It gives you a sense of the forest of which this former lakebed was once a part, and which, someday long after we are gone, it may one day be again:

Mills looking south.jpg

The former Lake Mills, looking south, deep into Olympic National Park. How long will it be before this former reservoir looks like a forest again? And what do we call the former reservoirs now, other than…the former Lake Mills and Lake Aldwell?

Photo by Tom Roorda

More than 80s years of material hoarded behind Glines Canyon Dam –r ocks, sand, gravel, fine sediment — is starting to make its way down river. Here is how the mouth of the river looks right now, where the river meets the Strait of Juan de Fuca:

Mouth of the elwha.jpg

Sediment barrels into the Strait of Juan de Fuca from the former Lake Mills. The water is so full of sediment, it looks just like the beach. The Elwha is expected to be carrying extremely high sediment loads for about three years, as the river gradually settles into its new normal.

Photo by Tom Roorda, taken Nov. 12, 2012.

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