10 Year Anniversary of the Elwha Dam Removal Project
This month marks the 10 year anniversary of the Elwha dam removal project. The majority of dam removal sediment was predicted to be delivered to the coastal zone within five years of dam removal. This delivery, combined with ecosystem scale shoreline restoration, resulted in dramatic changes to the Elwha delta and shoreline that started almost immediately after dam removals began. Now, 10 years after the project started, the gift of 100 years of sediment has been delivered, and Elwha coastal zone transitions into a ‘post restoration’ phase that includes continued habitat transformations driven by complex seasonal changes in hydrodynamic processes.
And fish use? Our decades of monitoring of the nearshore has documented that surf smelt spawning has expanded across the drift cell, and while newly formed nearshore delta habitat was used immediately, it’s the original, well established and enduring original west delta nearshore habitat, and specifically the constrained west lower river side channel/estuary that continues to provide consistent and important, and now year-round refuge for juvenile coho and Chinook.
According to the senior Olympic National Park (ONP) biologists, only chum and pink numbers are not increasing, and continue to be in very low numbers in the watershed, indicating that 10 years after dam removal, ecosystem recovery is still not complete. These ONP observations are consistent with our findings in the nearshore where our decade of monitoring shows a persistent low out-migrating pink numbers and a troubling decreasing trend in juvenile chum. Our observations indicate that hatchery practices may be playing a role in suppressing pink and chum recovery and need to be modified to allow chum and pink, once the backbone of the Elwha ecosystem, to recover.
It’s been a very challenging and rewarding decade. We once again say a heart-felt thank you to our hard-working, talented, and good-willed team of staff, collaborators, and supporters. With them CWI’s dedication to hard but necessary work, and learning, continues.
Dr. Shaffer is the Executive Director and Lead Scientist of the Coastal Watershed Institute (CWI), a small, place-based environmental non-profit formed in 1996 that is dedicated to understanding, protecting, and restoring coastal ecosystems thru community-led scientific partnerships. Shaffer and her team conduct world-class ecosystem science and restoration with very modest resources and from a remote base of operations.
Dr. Shaffer and the talented team she leads at CWI are now informing dam removals planning and actions worldwide. Dr. Shaffer has authored over twenty scientific publications on nearshore ecology and dam removal science and regularly presents her scientific work internationally. Her work is featured in Hakai Magazine, National Geographic, New Yorker Magazine, Al Jazeera, PBS (Earth works), and National Public Radio. Dr. Shaffer and her team have received conservation science awards from the Seattle Aquarium, American Fisheries Society, and Society of Ecological Restoration for work on coastal ecosystem science, conservation, and restoration, including the Elwha.
Dr. Shaffer was born and raised in a large family and a small town of eastern Washington struggling to overcome the ravages of WWII. The solitude of wild intact remote coastal shorelines of northwest Washington provided rare moments of peace and healing and instilled a fierce dedication to conserving and restoring wild places. After their first round of graduate school Shaffer and her husband Dave Parks moved to the Olympic Peninsula where they raised two children. Dr. Shaffer then returned to school and earned a PhD in Marine Science from the University of Victoria in 2017. She and her family continue to thrive in their dedication to fight for what matters. Their future focus is to instill a passion in the next generation to do the same.
More information on Dr. Shaffer and her work with the Coastal Watershed Institute can be found at www.coastalwatershedinstitute.org.