Lake Aldwell behind Elwha Dam begins its descent
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Parts of the 98-year-old Elwha Dam sit exposed from a lowered reservoir, Lake Aldwell, behind it. -- Photo by Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
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Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
The gates are fully opened at Elwha Dam now that the hydroelectric generators have been shut down forever. Lake Aldwell behind the dam has dropped 18 feet since June 1.

By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT ANGELES — The surface level of Lake Aldwell is no longer being manipulated by man.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on Wednesday ceased management of the draw on the reservoir west of Port Angeles, Olympic National Park spokesman Dave Reynolds said.

“Everything is dependent on flow right now,” Reynolds said.

Water in the reservoir has dropped 18 feet since June 1, when the generators inside the Elwha Dam were turned off after 98 years of steadfast service.

Beginning in September, the 108-foot-tall Elwha Dam and the 210-foot Glines Canyon Dam eight miles upstream will be dismantled in the National Park Service’s landmark restoration of the Elwha River’s rich salmon run. It is a three-year, $327 million project and the largest of its kind in U.S. history.

Both dams were rendered useless June 1 when power generation to the Bonneville Power Administration grid ended for good.

“The generators shutting down was a huge milestone for reclamation, of course, and also for the process of the entire project,” Reynolds said. “There’s new milestones every day.”

After generation stopped, the Bureau of Reclamation drew down the water in Lake Aldwell until it reached the bottom of the spillway.

The reservoir was lowered to give the water a place to go, Reynolds said. The penstocks, or intakes that guide torrents water into the turbines, are now closed.

“The reason to do it earlier rather than later is without power generation, we have less water going through the dam,” Reynolds said.

The area just upstream from the Elwha Dam looks vastly different. Hugh blocks of once-submerged concrete are now exposed.

“It’s pretty dramatic,” Reynolds said.

The Bureau of Reclamation is removing hazardous fluids from machinery inside the antiquated powerhouse.

Barnard Construction Co. of Bozeman, Mont., will begin tearing down the dams Sept. 17, a contract with the National Park Service worth $26.9 million. The contractor will begin staging near Lower Dam Road just beyond the Elwha RV Park on July 5, at which time public access will be closed.

Real estate entrepreneur Thomas Aldwell built the Elwha Dam in 1913 to supply electricity to Port Angeles, Port Townsend, Poulsbo and the Navy shipyard in Bremerton.

The Glines Canyon Dam and hydropower project was built in 1927.


Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-417-3537 or at

Last modified: June 12. 2011 8:26PM
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