A few decades ago, the US was still in the dam-building business. But more or less quietly, the momentum has shifted. According to a new book by SEJ member Elizabeth Grossman, the trend is toward removing dams around the nation to improve watersheds and the wildlife habitat they provide. Her book, "Watershed: The Undamming of America," looks at projects from Maine to Montana and Florida to Wisconsin.
In some cases, dam breaching is touted for helping endangered fish populations. In the Northwest, for example, the GAO found that despite billions in recovery spending, threatened and endangered salmon species in the Columbia basin have not rebounded. Many environmentalists and Indian tribes counter that the best way to help those fish is to breach four dams on the Snake River. A recent study by the Rand Corp. bolstered those arguments with an economic analysis. Rand found that removing the controversial dams would cost $70.9 million up front and then provide the region with $179 million annually in public benefits thereafter.
But new research published in the journal BioScience, urges caution in dam breaching. Emily Stanley, of the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison, found that nutrient build-up in sediments caught behind dams can harm the ecosystems removal is intended to help. Release and high-resolution photos.
Meanwhile dam-busters have their eyes on the pending federal energy bill, which includes language by Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-LA, 202-225-4031) and Sen. Larry Craig, (R-ID, 202-224-2752) that would "streamline" the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's relicensing process.
American Rivers has an on-line "dam removal toolkit" that includes a bibliography, assessment of costs and ecological background. The website is particularly useful for finding dams around the country slated for removal in the current year, along with contact people for those efforts.