In Washington State's Olympic Peninsula, members of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe still tell stories of a time when the Elwha River was so full of salmon that a person could cross from one bank to the other by walking atop the thrashing bodies of fish struggling to move upstream.
No one has attempted such a feat since two dams were built, near the mouth of the river, in the early 20th century, blocking salmon runs.
But on September 15, officials in Olympic National Park will begin the long process of dismantling the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams on the Elwha River. (See a map of the region.)
The largest dam-removal undertaking in U.S. history, the project could serve as an inspiration and a model for similar enterprises in other parts of the country, conservationists say.
"Close to a thousand dams have been removed across our country, but these are the biggest," said Amy Kober, a spokesperson for the environmental group American Rivers.
"It is one of the most significant restoration efforts we have ever seen."
The razing of the dams will allow the Elwha's waters to once again flow free, and experts predict that the river's salmon populations will swell from their current number of about 3,000 to nearly 400,000.
The salmon—which include pink, chinook, coho, chum, sockeye, and other species—will once more have access to the more than 70 miles (113 kilometers) of waterways that make up the Elwha River and its tributaries. Currently, the fish can swim only a few miles upriver before the Elwha Dam blocks their passage.
Biologists say the return of the fish will benefit more than 130 species of plants and animals that have been deprived of a vital food and nutrient source for nearly a century.
Yesterday the Environment Agency released its list of the 10 most improved rivers – the waterways that have shrugged off their industrial past to become havens for wildlife, walkers and anglers once again. And it urged people to take a walk along the river near to them to see the rivers’ regeneration for themselves.
A river that once ran black with coal is now an international match fishing destination. Another so polluted that it was described as ‘an affront to a civilised society’ is now a home for salmon, otters and water voles. And a London river that was officially declared a sewer in the 1960s has become one of the best urban fisheries in the country.
The transformation of these rivers has been achieved thanks to thousands of habitat improvement projects, tighter regulation of polluting industries and work with farmers, businesses and water companies to reduce pollution and improve water quality.
The 10 most improved rivers
The River Wandle, London
The River Wandle is a well known chalk stream and tributary of the River Thames that flows through parts of Mitcham, Morden, Wimbledon and Wandsworth in South West London, cutting a green swathe through these heavily urbanised areas.
The dramatic recovery of the River Thames was internationally recognised last year when it was awarded the Thiess International Riverprize which celebrates outstanding achievement in river management and restoration.
River Wear, Country Durham
The Wear and its more famous sibling the Tyne are now the top two rivers in the country to catch salmon - and recent fish surveys have shown that more fish are present on the Wear than ever before.
River Stour, Worchestershire
Just a generation ago the Stour was in a sad state. Heavy pollution had taken its toll and turned it into a virtually lifeless river. Water quality has now improved so much in the river that wildlife, such as salmon and otters have returned.
The River Darent, Kent
The River Darent flows from Westerham in Kent, through Dartford before joining the Thames near Crayford Ness. It was used for trade during the 1800s and was straightened, widened and in some places given concrete banks to increase its usefulness.
The River Dee, Wales and North West England
The Dee has faced many threats. Parts of the river flow through industrialised areas, and over the centuries unregulated commercial discharges polluted the once-clean waters of its lower reaches with toxic chemicals and sewerage.
River Nar, Norfolk
The River Nar in Norfolk is protected and is one of the few remaining fenland chalkstreams. But over hundreds of years it has been over widened, deepened and straightened for agricultural drainage - ruining wildlife habitats in the process.
River Taff, South Wales
In less than 30 years the Taff has recovered from a lifeless river to become a popular angling destination, and two years ago hosted the international fly fishing championships.
River Stour, Dorset
Located along the river Stour is Dorset's oldest mill, which has been the site of much of the conservation work, involving silt removal and restoration of the weir, leat, and tailrace pool.
Over the past 25 years more than one billion pounds has been invested in cleaning-up the Mersey. The river is now cleaner that is has been in over a century - and salmon, otters, trout, chub, and eels are regular sights in the Mersey once again.
Kenyan MPs and the UN’s World Heritage Committee have called on Ethiopia to halt construction of the controversial Gibe III dam on the Omo River.
In its annual report published last month, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee expressed ‘its utmost concern about the proposed construction of the GIBE III dam and its likely impacts on Lake Turkana’, a World Heritage Site since 1997.
It fears the fragile hydrological cycle and water species will be damaged as the dam will cause the level of the lake to drop significantly.
Lake Turkana lies on the border of Kenya and Ethiopia and is fed by the Omo River in Ethiopia.
The Committee urged the government of Ethiopia to ‘immediately halt all construction on the GIBE III dam” and asked ‘all financial institutions supporting the GIBE III dam to put on hold their financial support…’
It also expressed its concern about the ‘potential cumulative impacts of the proposed GIBE IV and GIBE V dams and large-scale irrigation plans on the Lake Turkana site’.
Ethiopia is leasing out large tracts of tribal lands in the South Omo region to foreign and state run companies to grow sugar cane and to export crops and biofuels, which will leave many tribes unable to feed themselves and graze their livestock.
Opposition to these leases is being brutally suppressed. Survival has received reports stating that indigenous people are being beaten up and jailed if they raise their concerns.
Overfishing coupled with pollution has dramatically reduced the number of fish in Lake Victoria.
It is a sunny afternoon under the searing heat of Kisumu town. The muffled roar of a motor-powered sailing boat suddenly interrupts the stillness of a rather dull afternoon. The vessel surges forward; cutting through the murky waters leaving behind a trail of white foam. The friendly skipper grins against the glare of the sun. He also works as a fisherman when not carrying passengers.
"Some years ago it was actually possible to clearly see the bed of the lake on some occasions, but due to pollution, the sewage from farmland is being carried by river to the lake. It is not conducive for fish breeding. Fish numbers are declining rapidly. This is my livelihood, how will I feed my children?" explains George Guya, a fisherman with over 25 years experience.
Pollution has increased to such an extent, it is feared that it may not be possible to treat the water of Lake Victoria and its aquatic life in future. It is rather paradoxical that in Kisumu, an area which was once virtually surrounded by a fresh water lake, people have limited access to clean and safe drinking water. Part of the reason for this is lack of means to treat the lake's water.
Lake Victoria measures approximately 68,000 square kilometers, and is the world's second largest freshwater lake by surface area. It is shared with Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
The fact that each country manages its own section of the lake makes it difficult to collectively intervene to prevent water pollution. Experts warn that some fish species are dying. This coupled with overfishing in certain areas makes it increasingly difficult for fishermen to earn their livelihood from the lake.
'Lake Victoria is the only factory where anyone can come and start doing a job without papers or certificate whether you come from Uganda, Tanzania or wherever. You can just get into the lake and start fishing.' Moans Guya, lamenting that this has led to miserable fish hauls which is making it difficult for him to earn a living.
The waste ranges from water hyacinth, phosphates, nitrates and human fecal matter, all of which poison fish and prevent them from breeding.
As yet, interventions by organizations like the state run National Environmental Authority have not yet yielded results. Hundreds of fishermen can only hope that something will be done to encourage the fish to breed so that their nets, like the water will be full again.
Would you like to write a story on something river related in your area? To do so, send us an original article that is 500 words or less (.txt or .doc files only), upload a picture in jpeg format (max 2mg) and if we like it, we’ll post it on our site as well as send you out an IRF gift pack.
International Riverfoundation is committed to protecting the privacy and confidentiality of personal information. We maintain physical, electronic and procedural safeguards to protect personal information in our care.
How do we collect personal information?
We may request information about you when you purchase or make enquires about our products and services; when you enter competitions or register for promotions or when you request brochures or other information. We may also collect information when we invite you to complete surveys or provide us with feedback.
What personal information do we collect?
We collect information that is required for use in the business activities of International Riverfoundation This may include: name; mailing address; e-mail; telephone number(s); financial details necessary in order to process various transactions and any other information you may elect to provide to us.
How do we use personal information?
We may use personal information to provide information and services. International Riverfoundation may use the information for related purposes such as:
Identification of fraud or error
Regulatory reporting and compliance
Internal accounting and administration
Servicing our relationship with our customers by, amongst other things, providing updates on promotions and services we think may interest you or to involve you in market research.
Is the information disclosed to third parties?
We may disclose information about individuals as permitted by law. We may share information with regulatory bodies and law enforcement officials, provide information to protect against fraud and share information with your consent.
Security of information
International Riverfoundation has implemented appropriate physical, electronic and managerial security procedures in order to protect personal information from loss, misuse, alteration or destruction. International Riverfoundation regularly reviews security and encryption technologies and will strive to protect information to the fullest extent possible.
Access and correction of personal information
Feedback & complaints
This website is owned and operated by International RiverFoundation.
DISCLAIMER OF LIABILITY
International RiverFoundation is not liable to you or anyone else for any loss in connection with use of this website or a linked website. This general disclaimer is not restricted or modified by any of the following specific warnings or disclaimers.
Specific Warnings and Disclaimers
The Trade Practices Act and similar State and Territory legislation in Australia may confer rights and remedies on you in relation to the provision by us of goods or services on the Website, which cannot be excluded, restricted or modified. We do not exclude these rights but do exclude all other conditions and warranties implied by custom, law or statute.
We are not liable to you or anyone else if interference with or damage to your computer systems occurs in connection with use of this website or a linked website. You must take your own precautions to ensure that whatever you select for your use from this website is free of viruses or anything else (such as worms or trojan horses) that may interfere with or damage the operations of your computer systems. We do not warrant that your access to the website will be uninterrupted or error free or that any defects will be corrected.
Under no circumstances (including but not limited to any act or omission on the part of International RiverFoundation) will International RiverFoundation be liable for any indirect, incidental, special and/or consequential damages or loss of profits whatsoever which result from any use or access of, or any inability to use or access, the website.
This website is our copyright property. You are provided with access to it only for your personal and non-commercial use. Other than for the purposes of and subject to the conditions prescribed under the Copyright Act 1968 or any other applicable legislation throughout the world, you may not, in any form or by any means:
• Adapt, reproduce, store, distribute, transmit, print, display, perform, publish or create derivative works from any part of this website; or
• Commercialise any information, products or services obtained from any part of this Website without our written permission.
International RiverFoundation products and services referred to in this website are trade marks of International RiverFoundation. Other product and company names mentioned in this website may be the trade marks of other people or entities. Nothing contained in the website should be construed as granting any licence or right of use of any trade mark or part of any trade mark displayed on the website without the written permission of International RiverFoundation or third party owner.
This website may contain links to linked websites. Those links are provided for convenience only and may not remain current or be maintained. Links to those websites should not be construed as any endorsement, approval, recommendation or preference by us of the owners or operators of the sites, or of any information, products or services referred to on those other sites unless specifically stated. Unless otherwise stated the linked websites are not under the control of International RiverFoundation and International RiverFoundation is not responsible for the contents of any linked website. You link to any such website at your own risk.
In this website:
"IRF" means International RiverFoundation unless otherwise specified.
"linked websites" means websites of persons or entities other than International RiverFoundation which are hyperlinked from this website.
"Personal Information" means any information from which your identity is apparent or can be reasonably be ascertained.
"website" means the whole or any part of the web pages located at www.RiverFoundation.org.au (including the lay-out of this website, individual elements of the website design, underlying code elements of this website, or text, sounds, graphics, animated elements or any other content of this website.)
"We" and "us" refer to International RiverFoundation, and "our" has the same meaning.
© 2007-2010 International RiverFoundation
All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced without consent.