Hope, renewal on the Elwha

The nearly free flowing Elwha River on the Olympic Peninsula illustrates that “environmental restoration” isn’t an oxymoron.

At 4:12 p.m. Tuesday, a blast pulverized the last 30 feet of the Glines Canyon Dam, along with the dam’s apron (its support structure.) The Elwha Dam, only a few miles south of the river’s mouth, was taken down two years ago.

It was a long time coming.

“This final blast is a milestone — the Glines Canyon Dam no longer exists,” said Olympic National Park Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum.

Preparations were extensive, with workers maneuvering excavators and a drilling rig to bore the holes for the dynamite and charges. The contractor will need another two months to remove debris and rubble from the channel.

To witness the re-genesis is to hold a mirror to the sublime power of life itself. As the National Park Service reports, biologists began earlier this spring radio-tagging 62 adult salmonids, tracing their migration through the watershed.

Two wild steelheads, three chinook, 10 bull trout and one sockeye have navigated upstream of the now-demolished Elwha Dam. Not now, but soon, they’ll be spotted above Glines Canyon. A century from now, fishers will watch archival footage: Once there were dams here, which yoked and drained life from the water.

One of the more poetic observations about removing the dams was made by former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley at a 2011 Port Angeles dinner hosted by the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe.

“In less than the lifetime of a chinook, the Elwha is going to be a free river again,” Bradley said. “In less than the lifetime of an alder or willow, the Elwha is going to renew itself to be not only free again, but truly wild, truly natural, truly, finally, again, as it was at creation when its fresh cold water first met the sea.”

Bradley also spotlighted the political champions, Sen. Patty Murray, who helped corral funding and, most prominently, former Rep. Norm Dicks.

“Norm fought for the Elwha settlement under President Bush, President Clinton, the second President Bush and now under President Obama,” Bradley said.

“He guided the settlement through years of post-enactment negotiations. He brought substance and energy when others paid lip service. He found solutions to every problem. He worked with every party and devoted himself to preserving the broad consensus that made the settlement possible.”

Here flows Norm Dicks’ legacy.