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Environmental Decision Making Model
Directions: Read the article below to gather information about the Elwha River Dam and extract pieces
of evidence for positive short term consequences, positive long term consequences, negative short term
consequences and negative long term consequences. After your gather your information, consider your
values and explore the consequences, make your decision! Should the Elwha River Dam be demolished?
Gather Information:
The Elwha Dam
Today, on a remote stretch of the Elwha River in northwestern Washington state, a demolition crew
hired by the National Park Service plans to detonate a battery of explosives within the remaining
section of the Glines Canyon Dam. If all goes well, the blasts will destroy the last 30 feet of the 210foot-high dam and will signal the culmination of the largest dam-removal project in the world.
In Asia, Africa, and South America, large hydroelectric dams are still being built, as they once were in
the United States, to power economic development, with the added argument now that the electricity
they provide is free of greenhouse gas emissions. But while the U.S. still benefits from the large dams it
built in the 20th century, there's a growing recognition that in some cases, at least, dam building went
too far—and the Elwha River could be a symbol of that.
The removal of the Glines Canyon Dam and the Elwha Dam, a smaller downstream dam, began in late
2011. Three years later, salmon are migrating past the former dam sites, trees and shrubs are sprouting
in the drained reservoir beds, and sediment once trapped behind the dams is rebuilding beaches at the
Elwha's outlet to the sea. For many, the recovery is the realization of what once seemed a far-fetched
"Thirty years ago, when I was in law school in the Pacific Northwest, removing the dams from the
Elwha River was seen as a crazy, wild-eyed idea," says Bob Irvin, president and CEO of the
conservation group American Rivers. "Now dam removal is an accepted way to restore a river. It's
become a mainstream idea."
Before the Park There Was the River
The Elwha runs for 45 miles, from the Olympic Mountains to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and all but its
final five miles lies within what is now Olympic National Park. Long before the park was established in
1938, the river was regionally famous as the richest salmon river on the Olympic Peninsula. For
generations, the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, whose members live at the mouth of the Elwha, depended
on the river's fish and shellfish for survival. But the peninsula was also famous for its massive trees,
Reading taken in part by:
and in the early 1900s, the local timber industry needed power for its mills and its growing ranks of
Fish were no match for finance, and the 108-foot-high Elwha Dam, located five miles upstream from
the river's outlet, started generating power in 1914. "There is no question but that the Elwha is
harnessed at last and forever," a local newspaper reporter crowed at the time. The larger Glines Canyon
Dam, eight miles further upstream and inside what is now Olympic National Park, began operations in
For almost half a century, the two dams were widely applauded for powering the growth of the
peninsula and its primary industry. But the dams blocked salmon migration up the Elwha, devastating
its fish and shellfish—and the livelihood of the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe. As the tribe slowly gained
political power—it won federal recognition in 1968—it and other tribes began to protest the loss of the
fishing rights promised to them by federal treaty in the mid-1800s. In 1979, the U.S. Supreme Court
ruled that Washington tribes, including the Elwha Klallam, were entitled to half the salmon catch in the
With this court victory behind them, the tribes began to fight for the protection and restoration of
salmon runs. In the mid-1980s, the Elwha Klallam and environmental groups started to push for dam
removal in earnest, arguing that their environmental costs and safety risks outweighed their benefits—
especially because the Olympic Peninsula had long since been connected to the regional power grid,
and the dams now provided only a smaller fraction of the power used by its residents and mills. In 1992
Congress authorized federal purchase of the two dams on the Elwha from the timber companies that
owned them and ordered a study of the idea of removing them.
Reading taken in part by:
Explore the Consequences: Using the information from the reading above, list at least one piece of
evidence for each consequence. Detail is important!
Evidence from Reading
Positive Short Term Consequences
Negative Short Term Consequences
Positive Long Term Consequences
Negative Long Term Consequences
Make a Decision: Should the Elwha Dam be demolished? List two pieces of evidence that support
your statement. Must be at least 3 sentences!
Reading taken in part by:
After Largest Dam Removal in U.S. History,
This River Is Thriving | National Geographic
Reading taken in part by: