Tom Roorda, via Associated Press The Elwha River,
It doesn’t take long to find a miracle in the newly released Elwha River, focus of the largest dam removal project in American history — the Berlin Wall of environmental restoration. When wrecking crews started whacking away at the Elwha Dam last September, it was projected to take two, or even three years to bring it down.
By late spring the 108-foot-tall dam was completely gone, and the river looks frisky in its gravitational search for old channels. Another dam, twice the height of the Elwha and eight miles upriver, is also coming down. With these two concrete barriers gone, about 70 miles of some of the cleanest, coldest water on the planet will tumble through the park at the edge of the continent.
It defies experience-hardened cynicism whenever any big public works project is under budget and ahead of schedule. But the Elwha has served up something even better: life itself, in the form of ocean-going fish answering to the imperatives of love and death. Not long ago, scientists were stunned to find wild steelhead trout scouting habitat well past the site where the Elwha Dam had stood for nearly a century. They didn’t expect fish to return this soon.
This biological boomerang is a tribute to stubborn DNA memory, and it is a precursor for what the wild Elwha will be in the not-so-distant future. Beyond that, the restoration of the Elwha, as in the revival of the much-abused southern end of the Bronx River at the other end of the country, is proof that American ingenuity is alive and well and hard at work on with the tricky task of healing parts of the natural world that we’ve trashed.