National Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Project Office

National Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Project Office
Monitoring river impacts during removal of Elwha and Glines dams in Olympic National Park, Washington.

Former Glines Canyon Dam, WA
The primary monitoring and research objective for the Elwha River Restoration Project is to produce a scientifically sound technical narrative describing what happened to the fish, reservoir sediment, and the reservoir topography and vegetation during and following dam removal. This restoration project is unique, in part, because the removal of the two Elwha Dams represents the largest controlled release of sediment in the history of North America - an "end member case" for dam removal. This restoration project is also unique because it encompasses an entire watershed (i.e., 320 mi2 from Olympic Mountains to the Strait of Juan de Fuca) of predominantly pristine wilderness, historically home to all runs of Pacific Northwest salmon. The restoration potential of this project is optimized by the fact that most of the watershed is within the boundaries of Olympic National Park, the majority of which is contained within a federally protected wilderness area. In addition, fully understanding the physical and biological responses of this river system to dam removal will provide invaluable information needed for other river restoration projects involving dam removal. These data and associated analyses are critically needed for future projects slated for dam decommissioning as well as any dam operations undergoing FERC relicensing. Ultimately, the scientific community needs to produce a sound technical narrative of the project that describes: (1) what happened to the fish, (2) what happened to the sediment, and (3) what happened to the barren, unvegetated region of the reservoir.

Because this is the first dam removal on such a large scale, there are presently uncertainties about how rapidly, and in what patterns, sediment will erode from the reservoirs and move downstream. Many of those uncertainties can be answered by using aerial over flights, including those from unmanned aircraft systems, to monitor changes in the reservoirs and river channel. The resolution of aerial photography, and if available K-U band radar imagery, collected by UAS technology will be highly valuable for scientists and managers to monitor sediment volumes eroded from the reservoir and deposited downstream, where the mobile sediment can potentially affect salmon habitat and flood-stage elevation. The use of repeated UAS surveys, especially if the imagery collected can be orthorectified, will provide much-needed data about the rates and patterns of change that occur in this first-of-its scale river restoration. We anticipate that what is learned from the Elwha River changes over the next several years will be used widely to inform other proposed and planned dam removals in the Pacific Northwest and nationwide.

This UAS research initiative on the Elwha River is a collaborative effort between the USGS, Bureau of Reclamation, and the National Park Service. Funding for this effort has been contributed by the Bureau of Reclamation Science and Technology Program and USGS, along with in-kind staff support from the National Park Service who is the lead entity for the Elwha River Restoration Project. USGS team members include staff from the USGS UAS National Project Office in Denver, CO. Reclamation team members include staff from the Remote Sensing and GIS team (division of Flood Hydrology and Emergency Management Group) and the Sedimentation and River Hydraulics Group who are leading an adaptive management monitoring program on sediment processes associated with dam removal.

UAS Missions planned for June 2012 and September 2012.

Mission results: The Raven A imagery successfully created a orthorectified imagery base over the reservoir showing the restored river basin with the rapid change in sediment movement and infill. This imagery coupled with many other remotely sensed data types will provide a multi-layered historical collection of data over the area that can be used for historical purposes and aid in providing information for future dam removal efforts.

A Drone's Eye View of the Elwha River Adobe PDF -, October 5, 2012

Drones are Elwha Dam researchers' eyes in sky Adobe PDF- Peninsula Daily News, September 2012

Seattle Times Spotlights Elwha

Bureau of Reclamation UAS articleAdobe PDF

National Park Service Elwha River Web Cams

USGS Elwha River Restoration Project website

USGS Factsheet
USBR Technical Memorandum
Mission Poster Adobe PDF
Mission Photos and Video

Click on image for larger view Click on image for larger view
Glines Canyon Dam Removal Web Cam Elwha Dam Removal UAS Project Boundary
Glines Dam Photo from NPS Web Cam UAS Mission Boundary in Yellow

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