Bit by bit, the Elwha River is returning to its former self. The river was dammed nearly a century ago to provide power. The dams stopped natural processes, reducing fish habitat and sediment flow.
The dismantling of the dams began in 2011. Since then, salmon have been spotted in the newly opened parts of the river.
Now scientists are watching sandbars form at the mouth of the river, where it flows into the Pacific. During the time the Elwha and Glines Canyon Dams were in place, about twenty-five million cubic yards of sediment collected in the reservoirs. Now that the river is flowing again, and with the help of recent heavy rains in the area, this sand, silt, and gravel is washing out to the mouth of the river.
Scientists from the Washington Department of Natural Resources and universities are measuring and recording the formation of sandbars the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the river delta to see just how these processes work. They hope to find out whether the sediment will stop the erosion of surrounding beaches and what other impacts the newly flowing river will have.
Glines Canyon Dam photo via Shutterstock