Decision to Remove

Elwha and Glines Canyon Dams





The people of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe never wanted the dams to be built. At the time that the dams were build the Klallam people weren't even considered US citizens, and had no say.


In 1938, Congress created Olympic National Park. The park boundaries extended downriver to include Glines Canyon Dam within the park. This land acquisition would have a major effect on the fate of both the Elwha and Glines Canyon Dams decades later.

In 1978 the Elwha Dam failed to pass a federally required safety inspection. Neither the US Army Corps of Engineers nor the Washington Safety of Dams was able to issue an order to fix the dams. With the Tribes help the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) modeled "probable maximum flood" to the reservation. They were able to carry out necessary dam structure failure analysis and simulated catastrophic failure to demonstrate the risk on federal lands on the reservation. As a result of those efforts, FERC issued an emergency dam safety order requiring repairs of the dam. 

It was after these procedures when opposition to the dams arose and other agencies began to partner with the Tribe on their views. Members of the public raised questions about the legality of a dam operating in a national park. In addition, the drastic declines in fisheries resources in the river were also gaining the attention of regulating agencies, and other advocacy groups.


To resolve these lengthy and litigious disputes, congress passed the Elwha River Ecosystem and Fisheries Restoration Act in 1992. This act directed the Department of Interior to study and evaluate alternatives that would restore the Elwha ecosystem and the associated fisheries. They evaluated four scenarios:


  • Removing both dams;
  • Removing the Elwha Dam and adding a fish passage to the Glines Canyon Dam;
  • Removing the Glines Canyon Dam and adding a fish passage to the Elwha Dam; and
  • Retaining both dams without fish passages.


In 1994, the Department of Interior determined it was necessary to remove both dams in order to restore the river and the fisheries. The federal government purchased the dams (in preparation for their removal) from the Fort James Corporation for $29.5 million in 2000. Since their purchase, the dams have remained in operation under the management of the Bureau of Reclamation while plans for removal are being developed. Dam removal is scheduled to begin in 2011. Several environmental impact statements and decisions have been completed to enable restoration plans.