When I was a teenager, I dammed up a nearby stream with rocks and logs to make a swimming hole. It worked great-- for a season, but then the creek did what creeks do--tore down my dam when the rains came. Because rivers and streams are meant to run free. I know that now. However concrete and steel can accomplish what a young girl's hands cannot--can build dams that hold water back for a century or more--no matter how much the river wants to run free.
Dams solve some human problems, but they create more than they solve. Life above the dam is silenced, buried under acres of water. Water above the dam becomes silty, warm and sluggish. The entire ecosystem, depending on clear, cold, fast-running water is destroyed. Fish no longer get upstream to spawn, and are trapped below, unable to reach the river stretches that are right for depositing their eggs. Even with fish ladders to help them, the number of fish returning is tiny compared to pre-dammed conditions. Plants suffer. Animals and birds suffer. Humans suffer as well.
That's why the Elwha Dam removal in Washington state is so stunning, and why so many people are watching this drama. The native Klallam tribe worked for 20 years, (along with other environmentally minded individuals and groups) to tear down the two dams that silenced this river. After 100 years, the Elwah is running free. The Klallam tribe, living at the base of the river is cautiously optimistic. The salmon are returning.
I saw them for myself--thrashing their way upstream. My husband and I watched in awe, the ancient ritual of a male and female, chasing off competitors, digging a nest bowl in the river rocks, the mating dance, covering up their fertilized eggs, and offering their bodies to the current, to feed the rest of the forest.
Below: a photo of where the dam was torn down, a photo above the river that was formerly a lake, a salmon returning upstream, and finally, the prettiest free-running water I've ever seen, where, beneath turquoise and gold sunlit sparkles and falling autumn leaves--at the base of a waterfall, two salmon were dancing their first and last dance. It was, for me, a holy moment. May the rest of the dammed world be so lucky. May all rivers, one day, run free.
Welcome to Streamriffs.com, a place for fellow creek- walkers and nature lovers. Lori Fisher Peelen lives in California with her family.