Back to
Columns Magazine
The Big Unknown: The Sediment Effect

By 1913, the Elwha Dam had blocked salmon passage beyond the first five miles of the Olympic Peninsula’s Elwha River. This dam and another one, 13 miles from the mouth, are scheduled to start coming down next year—the biggest dam removal project ever in the United States. No one knows how the approximately 17 million cubic yards of sediment behind the dams will affect the area’s ecology once released. Gathering baseline data now will enable managers to judge the project’s success later.

Here is a sampling of the projects:


- Education on the Elwha

Joseph Cook, assistant professor of public affairs, supervised two graduate students on projects focused on dam removal—Ian Carins, ’10, on legal issues, and Elliot Levin, ’10, on economic issues.

Oceanography Professor Charles Nittrouer and Associate Professor Andrea Ogston are studying the Elwha River delta’s nearshore environment to determine the ecological effects of dam removal, in a project funded by Washington Sea Grant.

Ted Pietsch, professor in the School of Aquatic & Fishery Sciences and curator of fishes at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, was principal investigator of the Elwha River Valley Biodiversity Project (, which utilized the help of UW staff, students, schoolchildren, community members and local tribe members to catalog as many organisms as possible.

Christian Torgersen, USGS research scientist and assistant professor in the School of Forest Resources, continues to research adult fish distribution and patterns of abundance in the Elwha River.
—Michelle Martin

One Response to The Big Unknown: The Sediment Effect

  1. Studen That praticipated says:


What Do You Think?

Use the form below to comment on this story. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Personal attacks, insults, profanity, solicitations and spam are prohibited. The UW Alumni Association reserves the right to remove comments. For more information, please read our comment FAQ.