The Elwha and Dungeness watersheds support one of the most diverse groupings
of salmon populations in the state. The Elwha and Dungeness River are home
to threatened summer/fall Elwha Chinook, threatened spring/summer Dungeness
Chinook, threatened Hood Canal/Strait of Juan de Fuca summer chum, threatened
bull trout, and populations of Coho, chum, pink, summer and winter steelhead,
rainbow trout and sea-run and resident cutthroat. Prior to construction of
the Elwha Dam, the Elwha River also supported a population of sockeye salmon.
|Salmon images courtesy of King County. Steelhead
image courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration/Department of Commerce.
|How Chinook, Summer
Chum and Bull Trout Use the Watershed
Chinook return to the Dungeness River from late spring to mid-summer and spawn
throughout the Dungeness River from early-August to early-October. Chinook
return to the Elwha River from late-spring through late-September and spawn
from late-August through mid-October.
Estuarine habitat is very important in both rivers,
with chinook spending most of their first year
in the estuary or nearshore area. A small portion
of the run in each river may also spend a full
year in fresh water before moving into the nearshore
area. Chinook are mainstem spawners. This makes
them vulnerable to high and low flow damage and
to degraded river conditions in the lower part
of the rivers.
Listed summer chum are assumed to utilize only
the Dungeness River. They enter the river in late
August and spawn in the main channel through September.
The young fish will then migrate to the estuary
and nearshore area shortly after emerging from
the gravel in late-spring.
Bull trout can be found throughout both watersheds.
They reproduce in colder water than other salmonids
(48F or less). Some adults remain in fresh water
all their lives (particular in the Elwha River,
where migration has been interrupted by the presence
of the two dams), while others migrate to the estuary
in spring and summer and return upstream to spawn
in the fall.
Tagging and tracking of bull trout populations
in the Dungeness River is currently underway, in
order to better understand how these unique fish
use the watershed. In the Elwha River, preliminary
population assessment work has been completed in
association with Elwha Dam removal, in order to
understand the potential impact of dam removal
on the population. Genetic analysis of these population
is expected in both watersheds in the near future.
Salmon and the Elwha and Dungeness Watersheds
For more information about salmon recovery
planning in this watershed, visit:
River Management Team
County Salmon Page
Click here to
read this watershed's feedback summary.
Most of these watersheds are located
in Clallam County (19% in Jefferson Co.);
are Sequim and Port Angeles.
Projected population growth for Clallam County is 16%
from 2000 to 2020.
A portion of WRIA 17 (Quilcene Basin), the WRIA 18 (Dungeness
and Elwha River Basins) and WRIA 19 (Hoko-Lyre Basin)
planning areas represent one planning area under Shared
Strategy and that area includes the western Strait of
Juan de Fuca which stretches out to Neah Bay, the westernmost
point of the continental U.S.
The planning areas for the watersheds under the state
Watershed Management Act are Watershed Resource Inventory
Area 17 (Quilcene Basin), 18 (Elwha-Dungeness) and WRIA
Located on the northwest corner of the Olympic Peninsula, the Elwha
and Dungeness rivers share a unique part of Puget Sound. Nestled
in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains, these basins are part
of a region that receives less rainfall and more sunshine than any
place in the Sound. In the Dungeness Watershed, this drier climate
is both a boon for sun-lovers and a bane for farmers in the Dungeness
River Valley, who need to irrigate their fields and for salmon, which
need sufficient flows in which to swim.
Both the Elwha and Dungeness Rivers originate in Olympic National
Park, a World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve. The Dungeness,
one of the steepest rivers in Puget Sound, plunges 7,000 feet from
its headwaters in the Olympic Mountains. The Elwha River is one of
the largest and perhaps historically the most productive salmon streams
of the Olympic Peninsula. Scientists believe that some of the largest
Chinook in the state used to swim here.
The inviting climate of this predominantly rural area has drawn
a steady stream of new residents in recent decades and has become
a favorite place for retirees, whose ranks have tripled in the past
Major Policy or Actions Needed to Recover
The aging Elwha and Glines Canyon dams completely block access
to 93 percent of the high-quality spawning and rearing habitat for
salmon and trout in the watershed. Their removal, scheduled to begin
in 2008, would restore 70 miles of prime habitat, most of it in pristine
condition thanks to its location within Olympic National Park.
Approximately 75% of the funding needed to remove the dams has
been awarded by the Federal Government. Remaining funds needed are
expected to be appropriated over the next two years, but until funds
are in hand, dam removal cannot proceed.
In addition to removal, protection and restoration of the lower
reaches of the river will be critical for Elwha salmon restoration
efforts to reach their full potential. Currently, scientists and
planners are working together to build a strategy for species’ re-introduction
and for addressing major disturbances that go along with dam removal.
A watershed planning group is also holding public forums to address
water use and other issues not covered through dam removal. Adoption
of this plan by Clallam County would be a major step towards protecting
productive fish habitat in both the Elwha and Dungeness Rivers.
(Also see selected accomplishments below.)
Property owners, farmers, and representatives of federal,
tribal and state agencies work together with local jurisdictions
on the Dungeness River Management Team (DRMT) to address habitat
protection and restoration opportunities on the Dungeness River.
Historically, dikes, levees and other actions to control the lower
reaches of the rivers have degraded vital refuge for juvenile salmon,
and over-wintering habitat and contribute to scouring of redds.
The DRMT’s ten strategic restoration elements include actions
to reestablish floodplain functions along the lower river from
the estuary to approximately RM 11.3, protect side channels, and
restore stream side vegetation in the upper reaches of the river
and its tributaries. Significant improvements have been made in
water conservation, instream flow protection and water quality,
but additional funding is needed to fully implement the DRMT Strategy.
While pushing up demand for fresh water, development is also adding
contaminated run-off from lawns, driveways, parking lots, and other
urban features, and from farm animals, decaying irrigation ditches,
leaky septic systems and other sources. The Jamestown S’Klallam
Tribe recently was forced to abandon commercial oyster harvests due
to excessive bacteria levels. County and tribal officials are working
to identify and address pollution sources.
Making Progress—Some Accomplishments
Elwha River Dam Removal a
Success Story in Waiting
Dam removal dominates the view of Elwha salmon recovery
efforts. Congress authorized removal of the dams in 1992,
after the Elwha Klallam Tribe, local industry, environmental
groups and various agencies worked out a cooperative agreement
to remove the two federal facilities.
Under the federal Elwha Restoration Act, which authorized
dam removal, the federal government has also acquired
lands in the floodplain associated with the present reservoirs.
These lands will be maintained in a state consistent
with the goals of ecosystem restoration.
After dam removal, biologists anticipate a steady and
potentially spectacular recovery of a river system
that once produced hundred-pound Chinook. They are also
preparing for significant changes to the nearshore/marine
Conservation Returns Water to the River
Diminished river flows common in the Dungeness during
late summer and early fall, hamper the migrations
of returning adults and steal usable habitat from
young salmon preparing for life in the ocean.
Beginning in 1988, the Dungeness River Agricultural
Water Users Association, the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe
and other stakeholders pioneered a unique and successful
approach to restore water to the river. The conservation
plan has so far slashed irrigation withdrawals by 1/3rd
and of those savings 2/3rds are “returned” to
the river and 1/3rd is reserved for future agricultural
use. The project has been honored with President Clinton’s
Council on Sustainable Development Award, and Governor
Gary Locke’s Environmental Excellence Award.
Hatchery Program Shows Success
With the assistance of an extensive enhancement program
incorporating a captive brood program, acclimation
ponds, and other innovative enhancement techniques, returns
of listed Chinook to the Dungeness River have increased from
less than 100 fish to over 500 fish spawning
naturally within the system. The first generation of returns
from these naturally spawning fish is expected over the next
Collaboration Leads to Creek Restoration
Through the cooperative effort of a number of local,
state, and federal agencies, a major restoration effort
for summer chum on Jimmycomelately Creek is underway.
This effort includes the diversion of the creek into
a recreated meandering stream channel within the historic
floodplain, the construction of a highway bridge across
the recreated channel (replacing a six-foot box culvert
in the current channel), the reconnection of the creek
to its historic estuary, the restoration of the estuary
through the removal of roads within the estuary, and
a innovative enhancement program. Stream flow will
be diverted to the new channel as early as October,
2004. In addition, the enhancement program has helped
increase the return to the river from a low of just
7 fish, to nearly the 1,000 fish expected to return
to the river this year. in just the first week of returns
in 2004, over 350 natural spawners have been counted
into the river.
- Clallam County
- Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe
- Riverside Property Owners
- Dungeness River Agriculture
- Water Users Association
- Sports Fisheries
- WA Dept. of Fish & Wildlife
- WA Dept. of Ecology
- Puget Sound Action Team
- Watershed/DQ Planning
- City of Sequim
- North Olympic Land Trust
- Protect the Peninsula's Future
- City of Port Angeles
- Elwha Klallam Tribe, Agnew Irrigation District
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