Some Dams Survive Through Inertia — Time to Take Them Down?

A dam on the Quassaick Creek in Orange County, N.Y.    Photo: Dave Sanders for The New York Times

The removal of legacy dams, which were first constructed dozens to more than a hundred years ago, is proving to be increasingly popular to restore river flows now that they are no longer serving any purpose for generating power or driving industrial uses.  The New York Times explained that there are hundreds of such dams in upstate New York and around the country and that local environmental groups and activists are gaining traction making the case that taking them out can be great for restoring fish spawning habitat as well as for reconnecting ecosystems that were physically blocked by these antiquated structures.

Why This Matters:  There is no doubt that a free-flowing river is a healthy river.  As has been much discussed recently, the need to do everything we can to restore and conserve the natural world to stave off the next wave of extinctions and to combat climate change.  According to the Times, there are about 2,000 dams in the Hudson River Estuary between New York City and Albany, N.Y. and there are thousands more across the country, many of which are totally obsolete and even dangerous to people — they can give way easily and some even have “recirculators” at the bottom of them that can pull people under if they happen to fall in or capsize when kayaking or canoeing.  The bottom line is that while dam removal may be controversial in some places, in others its a no-brainer.  And the government should encourage and even help fund it.  

The Whitley Dam in Indiana For Example

Early in January, the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette reported that the demolition had begun of the Collamer Dam on the Eel River in central Indiana, which will open up 95 miles of waterway, thereby promoting both safer recreation and ecological health.  It will be the fourth dam removed from the Eel River in recent years — dams that were originally placed on the river in the 19th century by early settlers to the areas to aid the development of grist mills driven by water power, but no longer served that purpose and had no role in flood control either.  Removal will take only five days and cost only $50,000 — funding came from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Ohio River Basin Fish Habitat Partnership and a private donation.

After Removal A Changed Landscape Emerges

A similar dam was removed in 2015 by the New Haven Land Trust with the help of Save the Sound, a local environmental organization, and once the pond behind the dam was allowed to flow freely, it exposed the land underneath, which looked “a little rough,” according to locals.  But the Land Trust had educated the public in the area about what to expect after the dam came out so they did not have “a revolt.”  Now the area is lush after being restored with native plants and trees, and Save the Sound also worked to restore the West River by creating rock pools within the banks of the free-flowing river so that it would be appealing to migrating fish.

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