PORT ANGELES, WA — Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today joined federal and state officials to celebrate the beginning of the Elwha River restoration project, the largest in U.S. history. The ceremony marked a significant milestone for the Elwha River Restoration project that will help increase salmon populations, uphold commitments to the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, and create new opportunities for economic growth and regional vitality.
“America's rivers are the lifeblood of America's economy – from the water for farms that produce our food to the fish and wildlife that sustain our heritage,” said Secretary Salazar. “Today as we begin the restoration of this river system, we look to a bright that recognizes rivers for their many contributions to our economy and environment.”
Removal of the 108-foot-tall Elwha Dam and the 210-foot-tall Glines Canyon Dam, is expected to take approximately three years and is part of the second largest ecosystem restoration project ever undertaken by the National Park Service, after the Everglades.
Participants in today's ceremony included: Governor Chris Gregoire, Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, Congressman Norm Dicks, Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe Chairwoman Frances Charles, National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Mike Connor and Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk.
“This Restoration project is a testament to what can happen when diverse groups find a way to work together and achieve shared goals of restoration for a river, a people, an ecosystem, and a national park,” said Director Jarvis.
“Reclamation is proud to be part of this river restoration effort. Through this project and others we are applying Reclamation's traditional skills and expertise in this contemporary river restoration mission,” Commissioner Connor said.
Biologists estimate that salmon populations will swell from 3,000 to more than 300,000 as five species of Pacific salmon return to more than 70 miles of river and stream. The return of these fish will bring bear, eagles, and other animals back to the unique ecosystem that has been deprived of a vital food source since 1911 when the Elwha Dam was constructed.
Salazar noted that the river restoration will help support the culture of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, who have lived along the river for centuries. Tribal members will again have access to sacred sites now inundated and the opportunity to renew important cultural traditions.
“Construction of the dams left sacred and historical tribal sites underwater, ignoring Treaty-reserved fishing rights and disenfranchising tribal members who depended upon the River for subsistence, and economic and cultural sustenance,” said Assistant Secretary Echo Hawk. “With the removal of the dams, the healing and renewal process can begin.”
Local artists from the Olympic Peninsula and students from nearby Port Angeles High School contributed both visual and performing arts to the ceremony, and the Elwha Dance Group shared traditional songs and dances.
For more information on Elwha River Restoration, please visit the Olympic National Park website at http://www.nps.gov/olym.
A link to full video coverage of the ceremony is available at http://CelebrateElwha.com.
A link to view ongoing construction is http://www.video-monitoring.com/construction/olympic/js.htm.