Large-scale dam removal on the Elwha River, Washington, USA: coastal geomorphic change

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Two dams on the Elwha River, Washington State, USA trapped over 20 million m3 of mud, sand, and gravel since 1927, reducing downstream sediment fluxes and contributing to erosion of the river's coastal delta. The removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams, initiated in September 2011, induced massive increases in river sediment supply and provided an unprecedented opportunity to examine the geomorphic response of a coastal delta to these increases. Detailed measurements of beach topography and nearshore bathymetry show that ~ 2.5 million m3 of sediment was deposited during the first two years of dam removal, which is ~ 100 times greater than deposition rates measured prior to dam removal. The majority of the deposit was located in the intertidal and shallow subtidal region immediately offshore of the river mouth and was composed of sand and gravel. Additional areas of deposition include a secondary sandy deposit to the east of the river mouth and a muddy deposit west of the mouth. A comparison with fluvial sediment fluxes suggests that ~ 70% of the sand and gravel and ~ 6% of the mud supplied by the river was found in the survey area (within about 2 km of the mouth). A hydrodynamic and sediment transport model, validated with in-situ measurements, shows that tidal currents interacting with the larger relict submarine delta help disperse fine sediment large distances east and west of the river mouth. The model also suggests that waves and currents erode the primary deposit located near the river mouth and transport sandy sediment eastward to form the secondary deposit. Though most of the substrate of the larger relict submarine delta was unchanged during the first two years of dam removal, portions of the seafloor close to the river mouth became finer, modifying habitats for biological communities. These results show that river restoration, like natural changes in river sediment supply, can result in rapid and substantial coastal geomorphological responses.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Large-scale dam removal on the Elwha River, Washington, USA: coastal geomorphic change
Series title Geomorphology
DOI 10.1016/j.geomorph.2015.01.002
Volume 246
Issue 1
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center
Description 20 p.
First page 649
Last page 668
Country United States
State Washington
Other Geospatial Elwha River
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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