The 2011–2014 removal of two large dams on the Elwha River, Washington State, the largest dam removal yet completed globally, created extensive cutbank exposures of reservoir sediments, allowing the first characterization of the facies architecture of sediments through direct observation in reservoirs worldwide and providing an unparalleled opportunity to assess the relationship between environmental influences, such as changes in sediment supply, and their expression in the stratigraphic record. Using a combination of facies description from observation of 49 measured sections and >100 exposures and analysis of digital elevation models and historic aerial photographs, we delineated the characteristic depositional zones of each reservoir and mapped the evolution of the subaerial delta over the life span of the reservoir. Former Lake Mills, the younger, upstream reservoir, was characterized by a tripartite, subaerial Gilbert-style delta that prograded >1 km into the main reservoir from 1927 to 2011. Sediments were composed of coarse-grained topset beds, steeply dipping foreset beds, and a fine-grained, gently dipping prodelta. While individual event horizons were discernible in fine-grained sediments of former Lake Mills, their number and spacing did not correspond to known drawdown or flood events. Former Lake Aldwell, impounded from 1913 to 2011, was initially defined by the rapid progradation of a Gilbert-style, subaerial delta prior to the upstream completion of Glines Canyon Dam. However, the 1927 closure of Glines Canyon Dam upstream caused the delta to evolve to a fine-grained, mouth-bar–type delta indicative of low, finer-grained sediment. This evolution, combined with a previously unrecognized landslide deposit into the upper delta plain, suggests that understanding the exogenic influences on reservoir sedimentation is critical to interpretation and prediction of the sedimentation within individual systems.

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