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Fish, Water Activists Praise Dam Removal

by John Hughes, Associated Press
Spokesman Review, December 14, 1999

From the Kennebec River in Maine to Whitestone Creek in Washington state, the removal of 465 dams has boosted local economies and fish habitat while reducing public safety risks, three environmental groups said Monday.

A study of all U.S. dam removals since 1912 shows removals are an accepted means of dealing with unsafe, unwanted and obsolete dams, say American Rivers, Friends of the Earth and Trout Unlimited, which billed their effort as the first major study on the subject.

"This is a clear demonstration that dam removal is not a new or a radical idea," said Shawn Cantrell, Northwest regional director for Friends of the Earth in Seattle.

More than 2 million dams are still standing nationwide, including 75,000 dams 6 feet tall or higher, the groups say. The dams create power, protect towns from floods, improve navigation and provide irrigation, among other uses.

But hundreds of them have outlived their usefulness and are causing environmental damage, and should probably be knocked down, the environmentalists said.

Since dam removals often face local resistance -- largely over economic concerns -- the groups hope their study will dispel the notion that removals are rare and do more harm than good.

But in fact they are rare -- despite the groups' effort to document the 465 removals, said Linda Church Ciocci, executive director of the National Hydropower Association in Washington, D.C.

And while many dams have outlived their usefulness, each case must be considered on its own merits.

"In a large majority of cases you lose more than you win" by removing dams, Ciocci said.

Among the losses are non-polluting energy, recreation opportunities and property values around man-made lakes, she said.

Environmentalists agreed removal is not an option for most of the nation's dams, and that fewer than 1 percent are even being considered for removal.

But there have been success stories in dam removals, they say.

The 24-foot-high Edwards Dam in Maine was built in 1837 to help navigators and power saw mills. But barging on the Kennebec River was abandoned by the mid-1800s and the sawmills later closed,

"Thus both of the dam's two original purposes were eliminated," the report found.

Removal of the dam last summer has created new opportunities for tourism, boating and fishing, the report said.

In northeastern Washington state, the 32-foot-high Rat Lake Dam was built in 1910 to help store water but was removed in 1989 because of safety deficiencies. An inadequate spillway could have led to rapid dam failure, and removal eliminated several safety hazards, the groups said.

Most dams have been removed to address environmental concerns, such as restoring fish runs; to resolve public-safety concerns; and to deal with economic issues, such as their becoming too expensive to maintain, the report found.

States with the most recorded removals were Wisconsin, 73; California, 47; Ohio, 39; and Pennsylvania, 38, the groups said.

John Hughes , Associated Press
Fish, Water Activists Praise Dam Removal
Spokesman Review, December 14, 1999

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