In the wilderness of Washington state’s Olympic National Park, hydraulic hammers chip away at the Glines Canyon Dam in the largest dam-removal project in U.S. history.
The grinding knocks off chunks of concrete, slowly removing the once-imposing 210-foot-tall (64-metre) structure, whose construction in 1927 on the Elwha River blocked one of the world’s most prolific salmon runs.
Nine miles downstream, workers last month removed the 108-foot-tall (33-metre) Elwha Dam, built in 1913, allowing the river channel there to flow freely for the first time in nearly a century.
The two dams, about 80 miles northwest of Seattle, blocked migratory routes of salmon and steelhead trout to some 70 miles of tributary habitat, in the process robbing Native Americans of income by halting a treaty-guaranteed reservation fishery.
The river teemed with thrashing pink salmon before the Elwha Dam was built to generate electricity for the nearby mill town of Port Angeles, with a current population of around 19,000, and later, to a naval shipyard in Bremerton, about 80 miles away.
The Elwha Dam’s removal, completed in late March, was hailed by Governor Christine Gregoire as a significant environmental milestone that “shows what happens, when against many odds, a river is restored to its natural beauty.”
Supporters of the dam’s destruction say the benefits to the environment of tearing it down outweigh the loss of its aging power-generating station.