U.S. Department of the Interior is planning to remove two high dams (30 and 60 m) from the Elwha River, which will allow the river to erode sediment deposits in the reservoirs, and ultimately restore the river ecosystem. Fluvial sediment transport and deposition paradoxically represent ecological disturbance and restoration. A one-dimensional, movable boundary sediment-transport model was applied at a daily time step to simulate changes in river-bed elevations and particle-size distributions and concentrations of suspended sediment. The simulations included a three-year dam removal period and a four-year recovery period. Simulated concentrations of suspended sediment recover rapidly during the recovery period. Simulated bed elevation and particle-size distributions are stable for much of the river during the recovery period, but high flows periodically disturb the river bed, causing changes in river-bed elevation and particle-size distribution, especially during autumn, when summer/autumn chinook salmon are incubating in redds. Although the river bed will become increasingly stable after dam removal, episodic high flows will interrupt recovery trends. Productivity and diversity of the ecosystem may be lower because of excess sediment immediately after dam removal but should increase during recovery above current levels as the river. Monitoring of the recovery of the Elwha River ecosystem can target ecologically significant physical parameters indicating the transition from a sediment transport-limited state to a supply-limited state.
Additional publication details
Simulating the recovery of suspended sediment transport and river-bed stability in response to dam removal on the Elwha River, Washington