For decades, Native American tribes as well as environmentalists have pushed to remove a dam in Washington that sits on the Middle Fork Nooksack River. This week, construction crews finally descended upon the dam to carefully detonate explosives that will break open the dam. The animals nearby may not love the loud bangs now, but it marks the return of vital habitat for many nearby species.
Over the next couple of weeks, crews will fully remove the 125-foot-wide, 25-foot-tall dam, allowing the Middle Fork Nooksack to run free for the first time in 60 years. With the dam’s removal, 16 miles of river and tributary habitat will open up to help boost populations of three threatened Puget Sound fish species: Chinook salmon, steelhead, and bull trout.
Two local tribes, the Nooksack and Lummi Nation have been behind the effort to help restore fish passage and the river’s ecological integrity. “Our natural resources are our cultural resources,” says Trevor Delgado, the Nooksack tribal historic preservation officer. “With this removal, we get a little piece of our home back — a place where our people have visited for hundreds of generations.” The project is expected to increase the resilience of the municipal water supply of nearby Bellingham.
On top of that, proponents hope to see indirect benefits for endangered Southern Resident killer whales. This population of orcas ranges across Pacific Northwest coastal waters and relies on dwindling numbers of Chinook as the main food source. With fewer than 80 of the whales remaining, the removal of the dam could be a crucial turning point.
This isn’t the first time we’ve written about dam removals this year. Back in February, we published a story about a wider trend across America of dams being removed to allow fish to return to their original spawning grounds.