Return of the River

Photos from John Gussman

Blasting the Elwha River dam

Blasting the Elwha River dam

Olympic Peninsula photographer John Gussman says "Dam removal began on the Elwha River in mid-September 2011. Originally anticipated to be a two to three year process, removal proceeded quickly and by late spring 2012, the Elwha Dam was completely gone. Work on lowering the Glines Canyon dam is expected to be complete by summer 2013."

John is creating a documentary film that includes these wonderful photos and more. This is what John has to say about the project:

"Return of the River is a film about the largest dam removal project in the history of the United States. It is the story of a river unleashed after a century of impoundment, and the extraordinary community effort to set it free. What if you could wave a magic wand and restore an ecosystem? What if you could revive a dying river? In a world of grim news about the environment, the return of the Elwha River is a story to celebrate. If only it had been as easy as waving a wand."

Blasting the Elwha River dam

Blasting the Elwha River dam

A little river with a big story. This film captures the tenacity of people and salmon that would not give up on a river. It is a story about the power of water, and the power of people who love a place. The Elwha River is the ancestral home of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, who witnessed firsthand the impact of dams on the river and its fish. The tribe led the campaign to take the dams down; a century later, with help from numerous environmental groups and a national park, they are watching their dream come true.

This documentary film will draw on footage filmed over years by cinematographer John Gussman. His camera reveals the Elwha River’s story from the inside out. It takes us soaring over mountain headwaters of the Elwha, under the river into schools of salmon, and inside the power plant on its final day of operation as turbines grind to a halt. The film shows people and perspectives on all sides of the Elwha project, reflecting the many voices of the Elwha River.

The jackhammers and explosives have begun their work, and two dams are coming down in a cloud of dust. The recovery of a river ecosystem, and the communities that share it, is just starting to unfold. The film Return of a River opens at the dramatic moment of dam removal, then looks back to explore the winding journey of a campaign that took decades to realize. The film also looks forward, capturing the first steps of complex effort to bring an ecosystem back.

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