US Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt has visited the Glines Canyon dam in Washington state, one of two hydro dams on the Elwha river slated for demolition. Babbit said: ‘We have irretrievably and inexorably crossed the divide which will result in the removal of these dams and the restoration of the salmon and steelhead runs on the Elwha river.’ The two Elwha dams were built more than 70 years ago and do not have fish ladders.

Babbit also said that all federal dams should undergo the same periodic full scale review of operations, benefits and environmental impacts that privately owned dams are subject to during the relicensing process. Only one federal project, Glen Canyon dam on the Colorado river in Utah has been forced to change its operations after they were reviewed.

In 1992 Congress passed legislation authorising removal of the dams. Babbitt’s visit to the dam marked the yet unfinished purchase of the Glines Canyon and Elwha dams by the federal government for US$29.5M. According to Babbit, the Elwha dam could be removed in the next two to four years.

The US Parks Service has estimated the total cost of removing the two dams at US$122M. To date Congress has provided US$52M, including the US$29.5M for their purchase. President Clinton has included US$15M towards the Elwha dam removals in his 2001 budget.