Finding the River
by Jeff Crane ’04 PhD, ’98 :: Oregon State University Press :: Reviewed by Hannelore Sudermann
In 1992, President George H. W. Bush signed into law the Elwha Act, which called for the removal of two hydroelectric dams from the 45-mile river that flows from Washington’s Olympic Range to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Over the past year, the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams have been removed and now the decades of sediment behind them are being managed in a way to limit damage to the river downstream.
Just in time comes Finding the River, the story of the river from its geological formation to the removal of the dams and the efforts to restore the salmon and trout that once dominated the waterway. Crane, an associate professor of history at Sam Houston State University, not only gives a rich history of the dams but details the efforts of environmentalists and Elwha Klallam Indians to draw attention to the damage they caused.
Crane mixes vivid descriptions of the landscape with an understanding of the natural, cultural, and political forces affecting the development, use, and removal of the dams. He brings up interesting details, including the blowout in 1912 during the construction of the first dam. The water surged 30 feet. Barking dogs saved the Lower Elwha Klallam Indians from drowning.
Crane also details the early and failed efforts to transport the salmon past the dams, including a fish trap and elevator to carry fish to the river above, and later the construction of a fish hatchery below one of the dams.
In his conclusion Crane suggests the restoration of the Elwha River could open the discussion of removing other dams in the United States. He even goes on to name a few. Finding the River is what Crane hopes the native salmon will do, but he also hopes that others will find it as a landmark in our environmental history and example for efforts to restore other rivers around the country.