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A Dam Comes Down
Emily Gertz, 21 Sep 04

Reviving rivers by removing dams: controversial, to say the least.

atlantic_salmon_lifecycle.jpgIn the Pacific Northwest, it remains an elusive goal. The Bush administration's latest attempt at a plan for salmon and steelhead recovery rules out any dam removal entirely, even though most good science on salmon concurs that restoration of natural river conditions is key to both survival and recovery (to self-sustaining populations) of Northwest stocks.

What's more, this 2002 report from the Rand Corporation found that if the four dams on the lower Snake River were removed, and their electrical generation (and that of projected natural-gas-fired plants) replaced by alternative energy and energy conservation, the Pacific Northwest economy would not suffer--and I imagine the region's fabulous air quality wouldn't, either.

Meanwhile, back here in the Atlantic Northeast, a dam has begun to come down. Today, engineers from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Nature Conservancy began to remove New York's 90-year-old Culpepper Dam, on the Neversink River, part of an effort to save the endangered wedgemussel.

According to the New York Times,

The project is the first in New York history in which a dam is being removed for purely environmental reasons. It also signals a change of purpose for the Army Corps of Engineers, which has spent more than a century creating dams and now is just beginning to remove them.

'This is a pretty symbolic occasion for us,' said Brian J. Mulvenna, project manager from the Army Corps. He said the project is the first in which the corps has worked with a nonprofit organization since a federal law was passed in 1999 allowing such partnerships.

"'It also shows a changing of the guard at the corps," Mr. Mulvenna said, "as the older generation of dam supporters give way to a younger group who are often dam opponents.'"

Maine's Edwards Dam, on the Kennebec River, was the first in the nation to be removed for environmental reasons, in 1999. Just weeks after it was gone, Atlantic salmon--and other migrating fish like like the Kennebec's native alewives--found their way upriver for the first time in 170 years.

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Comments

Thanks for the post Emily.

Dam removal (and re-operation of reserviors) is a tried and true river restoration strategy. While the poster-children might be the Edwards Dam, the Neversink project, or the dams on the Elwha (sp?) River in Olympic National Park, the work has been going on for some time.

We (www.glpf.org) have invested millions of dollars in projects to restore natural flows and connectivity in the tributaries to the Great Lakes. Dam removals have played a significant role. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the State of Wisconsin lead the nation (and the world) in the removal of dams for environmental benefit. These projects often generate multiple benefits including reducing the liablility of dam owners who have inherited failing structures.

Anyway, thanks for the story, and keep up the good work!


Posted by: j david on 22 Sep 04

David, thanks for the comments from your informed pov...look forward to reading more of what glpf is doing on your web site.

I agree that dam removals are not ecologically controversial, and it's great to hear of so many projects moving forward.


Posted by: Emily Gertz on 23 Sep 04



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