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USGS Scientists Receive Interior Department Award for Elwha River Dam-Removal Study

Nineteen current and former U.S. Geological Survey scientists and their collaborators from other state, federal, and tribal agencies received a U.S. Department of the Interior “Unit Award for Excellence of Service”

This article is part of the September 2018 issue of the Sound Waves newsletter.  

Seven people stand together smiling, one is holding a framed award they received.
Several members of the Elwha River Science Team pose with their “Unit Award for Excellence of Service” certificate. Left to right: Mike McHenry (Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe), Jeff Duda (USGS), Melissa Foley (formerly USGS), Amy East (USGS), George Pess (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), Pat Shafroth (USGS), and Jennifer Bountry (Bureau of Reclamation).
Image: Glines Canyon Dam Decommissioning
Photo from a webcam showing the decommissioning of the Glines Canyon Dam, built in 1927 inside of Olympic National Park. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

Nineteen current and former U.S. Geological Survey scientists and their collaborators from other state, federal, and tribal agencies received a U.S. Department of the Interior “Unit Award for Excellence of Service” during a May 15 ceremony at USGS headquarters in Reston, Virginia. The award recognizes the Elwha River Science Team for their work to understand and explain the effects of dam removal on the Elwha River in Washington State.

Image: Low-flow Discharge Measurement, Elwha River, Washington
USGS research ecologist Jeff Duda (right) collects discharge data on a side channel of the Elwha River on June 20, 2012, while dam deconstruction is underway.  Photo credit: Chris Magirl , USGS

“The 2011–2014 removal of two century-old dams from the Elwha River in Washington State was the world’s largest dam-removal project and the National Park Service’s second largest restoration project,” reads the award citation. “By most metrics, the effort was a stunning success. Removal of the dams opened miles of pristine wilderness river habitat to all seven species of Pacific salmon and other critical fish, and the release of sediment and wood restored the river and coast back to an ecologically healthy state.”

Before, during, and after dam removal, DOI scientists worked tirelessly with collaborators from the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Washington State Departments of Natural Resources and Fish and Wildlife, Trout Unlimited, the University of Washington, and Eastern Washington University to measure dam-removal impacts on the river’s aquatic ecosystem, geomorphology, and marine environment at the river mouth.

“From 2011 to the present,” notes the award citation, “the team produced 27 peer-reviewed scientific articles and delivered over 150 scientific presentations at conferences and workshops around the world. This is a remarkably productive compendium of scientific products disseminated into the public realm representing seamless teamwork and coordination across agencies and disciplines…. The legion of scientific insights from the Elwha effort is informing future dam-removal projects around the world and enabling greater understanding of ecologically productive rivers and associated downstream marine and coastal ecosystems.”

Two of the team members—research ecologist Jeff Duda of the USGS Western Fisheries Research Center and hydraulic engineer Rob Hilldale of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Sedimentation and River Hydraulics Group—accepted the award on behalf of the group. Additional USGS participants come from the Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center, the Washington Water Science Center, the Fort Collins Science Center, the Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center, and the Arizona Water Science Center.

Read a full list of the awardees’ names (pdf).

Learn more about the Elwha River Dam Removal Project in a recently published USGS Fact Sheet, “Science Partnership Between U.S. Geological Survey and the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe.”

Mouth of the Elwha
Aerial photograph of the mouth of the Elwha River on September 26, 2013, when dam removal was underway. Photo credit: Jeff Duda, USGS. Aerial assistance by LightHawk and plane piloted by Dr. Hunter Handsfield. 

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