ELWHA RIVER (Aug. 9, 2004) – Trash dumped along the Elwha River is raising health and safety concerns for local residents.

“It’s a mess out there in some places,” said Mel Elofson, assistant habitat manager for the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe.

Items found along the river include, abandoned automobiles, appliances, construction materials, engine oil and everyday household trash. A lot of the trash eventually makes its way into the river during high water flows. Recently two submerged automobiles were pulled from the river.

“Engine oil and fuel left in those cars can cause a serious problem in the river,” Elofson said. “A problem that doesn’t just harm fish and wildlife, but also humans. A large portion of the trash that is found in or near the river is next to the City of Port Angeles’ water well.”

Clean water is a necessity for city residents, and is vital in the effort to help restore struggling salmon populations in the Elwha River. The river supports chinook, coho, chum, and pink salmon, as well as steelhead, bull and cutthroat trout. Elwha River chinook and bull trout are listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Aside from the water quality issues, safety also is a concern, said Elofson. The Elwha River is a prime destination for swimmers and fishermen. The more trash that piles up, the more likely someone could get injured, either by stepping on or getting caught in the debris.

The tribe is working with federal, state and local agencies to repair habitat within the Elwha River watershed, helping to restore fragile salmon stocks. Important spawning and rearing habitat for fish was cut off after the construction of two dams – the Elwha and the Glines Canyon dams – in the early 1900s.

“All this restoration work that the tribe, the State of Washington and other local agencies have been doing to try and make the river a healthy place for people and salmon is being ruined because people are dumping their trash into the river,” Elofson said.

Anyone witnessing someone dumping trash along the Elwha River should contact the local authorities, said Mike McHenry, fisheries habitat manager for the tribe.

“It’s unbelievable that some people would rather save a few dollars at the dump in exchange for desecrating the Elwha River,” McHenry said. “It’s absolutely ridiculous.”

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For more information, contact: Mel Elofson, assistant habitat manager for the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, (360) 457-4012 ext. 13, melofson@elwha.nsn.us. Mike McHenry, fisheries habitat manager for the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, (360) 457-4012 ext. 14, mchenry@elwha.nsn.us. Darren Friedel, information officer for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, (360) 297-6546, dfriedel@nwifc.org.