No. 63, November 11, 2004

River Revival Bulletin

Produced by: River Revival, International Rivers
1847 Berkeley Way, Berkeley, CA 94703 USA

Editors: Elizabeth Brink & Wil Dvorak

table of contents








Hutiaoxia Dam, Jinsha River (Upper Yangtze), China

Tiger Leaping Gorge draws strength from Nu River activists

China’s nascent green movement is throwing a gauntlet to the country’s new leadership in a nationwide drive to save the last of China’s free–flowing rivers. In an exceptional bid to influence the bureaucratic fortress of China’s energy policies, green groups want the government to honor their pledges to abandon single–minded economic growth at the expense of the environment. Emboldened by a surprise victory this summer in the fight to prevent the damming of the Salween River, China’s green groups are bracing up for another organized effort to stop the construction of the Tiger Leaping Gorge dam on the upstream of the Yangtze River in South China’s Yunnan province. They say the proposed dam would destroy the pristine environment of one of the deepest canyons in the world – a natural beauty spot known to generations of Chinese, strip local people of their livelihood and force the relocation of some 100,000 people, many of them from minority groups. Following a nationwide campaign of opposition organized by the green groups earlier this year, Premier Wen Jiabao suspended plans for a cascade of 13 dams on the Nu River, also known as the Salween River, which is shared by China, Burma and Thailand.

(Bezlova Antoaneta, "Tiger Leaping Gorge Draws Strength from Nu River Activists," IPS – Inter Press Service, 12 October 2004.)

us – california

Warning on eating reservoir fish

Health officials issued warnings on eating sport fish caught in 10 drinking water reservoirs in Marin, Santa Clara, Alameda and Contra Costa counties because of mercury and PCB contamination. Largemouth bass contained the highest mercury concentrations, and carp and channel catfish had the highest levels of PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, according to the advisories prepared by the counties with the help of the California Environmental Protection Agency. The public health agencies issued advisories after finding that the fish contained pollutants at concentrations high enough to pose risks to the general population and especially to women of childbearing age and growing children up to the age of 17. The new guidelines pertain to many reservoirs across the San Francisco Bay Area. The mercury in the environment comes from rock formations, mine wastes, airborne pollution from coal–burning power plants and other sources. Bacteria in the sediment convert inorganic mercury to the more toxic methylmercury, which enters the food chain. The water in the reservoirs is regularly monitored to ensure that it is safe to drink.

(Kay, Jane, "Warning on eating reservoir fish," San Francisco Chronicle, 15 October 2004. Text:

San Pablo Dam, El Sobrante Creek, CA

San Pablo Dam not ready for big quake

A major earthquake could cripple the San Pablo Dam, and long–term seismic improvements may cost up to $100 million, according to a study released in October. The report provides the first extensive look at the earthen dam’s seismic stability in nearly 30 years. Preliminary results indicated a "serious threat" to communities downstream, causing the district to voluntarily lower water levels a few months ago to reduce the risk of flooding if an earthquake were to occur on the Hayward fault. John Coleman, district board member, said the district performs state–required inspections of its dams and reservoirs, but the last major look at the San Pablo Dam was done in the 1970s. The study estimated long–term improvements to the dam could cost up to $100 million. The dam also would have to be drained for as long as two years to complete the work. Coleman said the improvement costs likely would be recouped through increased customer rates. The district currently serves 1.3 million people in a 325–square–mile area that includes Alameda County and part of Contra Costa County. "To take out (this) reservoir would have a huge impact on residents, especially during the summer and fall when water demand is highest," Coleman said. "We need to do more analysis and come up with a design plan that exceeds the standards that exist today."

(Phillips, Kelli, "Study: Dam is not ready for big quake," Contra Costa Times, 27 October 2004.)

Klamath River dams, Klamath River, CA

Paper examines temperature shift from Klamath dam removal

Taking out the Klamath River’s dams would cool the river in the fall and warm it in the spring, a shift that may or may not help chinook salmon, predicts a paper by US Geological Survey scientists. It is not an unexpected result. Reservoirs store water and heat, warming and cooling slower than a river would naturally, the paper reads. Taking out the four hydropower facilities below Link River Dam on Upper Klamath Lake would allow the river to quickly cool in chilly fall temperatures as tens of thousands of chinook salmon are pushing upstream to spawn, according to the paper’s authors. It would also create warmer conditions in the spring. While the paper postulates that would harm growing young chinook, it also admits that it could help speed their development, generally an advantage for fish. The paper was submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is overseeing PacifiCorp’s dam relicensing request. Removing the dams would also make more of the river hospitable to spawning salmon in the fall, the scientists found. That could keep an additional 50 kilometers of river below the temperature threshold for spawning salmon and incubation of eggs in the fall. That does not include habitat that would be opened up above Iron Gate Dam, a barrier which blocks all migrating fish. The prediction it is only one take in a barrage of complex questions being asked about the Klamath’s dams as part the relicensing process.

(Driscoll, John, "Paper examines temperature shift from Klamath dam removal," Eureka Times–Standard, 1 November 2004.)

Shasta Dam, Sacramento River, CA

Update: Indians seeking a voice on dam

As legislation calling for a study of raising Shasta Dam heads to the White House for President Bush’s signature, a small band of Redding–area Indians whose sacred grounds would be flooded by the project is fighting the clock – and casino politics – for a bigger voice in the decision. It shouldn’t be this difficult, said Caleen Sisk–Franco, the exasperated spiritual leader and principal tribal chief of the Winnemem Wintu. Sisk–Franco insists that a bureaucratic mistake decades ago is what unknowingly cost the Wintu their status as a federally recognized tribe. But rather than fixing the problem, she said, the government is giving the Wintu the runaround. A freshly minted deal reauthorizing the huge state–federal water program known as Cal–Fed anticipates raising Shasta Dam to store more water for eventual shipment to Central and Southern California, and the legislation includes the project as one of four for study on a fast track for construction. In September, the Wintu held a "war dance" at Shasta Dam to demonstrate their opposition to the proposed project. It was their first such dance since 1887, when the Wintu protested construction of a fish hatchery on the McCloud River. The Wintu desperately want to be able to press the case for better management of Shasta Dam’s water releases before their sacred lands are flooded again.

(Whitney, David, "Indians seeking a voice on dam: Lack of tribal status hinders Wintu in Shasta debate," Sacramento Bee, 9 October 2004. Text:

Matilija Dam, Matilija Creek, CA

Update: California eyes removing problematic dam

The Matilija Dam isn’t much of a dam anymore – on rainy days, it looks more like a waterfall. A pile of sediment has built up so high behind the dam that when just an inch of rain falls, water spills over in glistening cascades. The dam’s aging concrete also chokes off sediment and nutrients that could nurture the riverbanks and restore Ventura County beaches downstream. So, it’s got to go. But, tearing down the structure presents a costly challenge. The sheer size of its removal will make it one of the most complicated thus far, and the project will carry an expected price tag of $130 million. "It’s not just something that you can go in there and remove in a day," said Steve Evans, conservation director of the Friends of the River, which monitors dam removals across California. Environmentalists and engineers agree the Matilija Dam has outlived its intended purpose. Officials add that demolishing the 198–foot–high dam would ultimately improve the area’s ecosystem – helping restore endangered steelhead trout by allowing them to swim upstream and spawn, and allowing sand to flow downstream and restore eroded beaches. Jeff Pratt, director of the Ventura County Watershed Protection District, said the sediment makes the reservoir all but useless.

(Molloy, Tim, "California eyes removing problematic dam," Associated Press, 26 October 2004.)

us – northwest

The road back for Seattle’s only river

Ages of mistreatment still show in Seattle’s only river, the Duwamish. Aside from abandoned refuse the river is home to tons of industrial waste settled in the sediment. The Duwamish was industrial Seattle’s sewer, largely hidden from public view, created over a century after city fathers decided to steal it from Mother Nature and fill, dike and channel it in service to commerce. The lower course of the Duwamish once was wide and healthy, meandering through marshes, mud flats and. Before humans changed it to fit their needs, it carried water from four rivers spanning 1,643 square miles of watershed. Now, only about 2 percent of the original estuary’s banks still exists. The river is a 500–foot–wide Superfund site, cutting a permanent scar on eco–friendly Seattle’s history of growth and prosperity. In the other direction, toward its snowmelt source high in the Cascade Mountains, Seattle’s only river reveals glimpses of its more pristine past. The beauty of that past is what has inspired a score of government, environmental and community groups to plan to change the course of history once again. The goal: scoop and scour the river clean – at least as much as possible. Those involved dare to envision a river renaissance, where ecologically benign industry shares the waterfront with people–friendly parks and creature–friendly habitat.

(Ith, Ian, The Road Back: From Seattle’s superfund sewer to haven once more," Pacific Northwest, 3 October 2004. Text:

River projects making progress

Two forthcoming projects on the Stillaguamish River are part of an aggressive 10–year plan to combat the loss of chinook salmon. Since the listing of the chinook on the endangered–species list in 1999, tribal leaders, governments, loggers and farmers have sought to make a concerted effort to protect a river that chinook once frequented. Current populations are about 8 percent of historical levels. The repair of a landslide area that chokes an upstream portion of the Stillaguamish with sediment and the removal of dikes that prevent access to the river’s estuary top a list of projects that are part of a $42 million chinook–recovery plan. The plan, still in draft form, is expected to be approved by state officials next spring. Other river projects will focus on improvement of water flows necessary for salmon growth, the reconnection of the river to closed–off side channels, the growth of shoreline tree buffers that provide shade and the addition of woody debris, where young salmon can hide during threatening river conditions. For more than five years, community partners have met to hash out a plan for species recovery in the Stillaguamish – a must under the federal protection listing.

(Schwarzen, Christopher, "River projects making progress," Seattle Times, 20 October 2004. Text:

Milltown Dam, Clark Fork River, MT

Update: NorthWestern asks for go–ahead to begin Milltown Dam removal

NorthWestern Corporation, through its Clark Fork and Blackfoot LLC subsidiary, has asked the federal government for permission to begin preparing Milltown Dam for removal. In documents filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, NorthWestern asked for approval to lower the water level in Milltown Reservoir by 10 feet this winter. Eventually, when the Superfund cleanup was complete, a new, more natural river channel would be constructed through the old reservoir and past the bluff where Milltown Dam has blocked the Clark Fork for nearly a century. The project involves NorthWestern (and its Clark Fork and Blackfoot LLC) as the dam’s owner and Atlantic Richfield Co. as owner of the mines and smelters that created the metals–loaded tailings that pollute Milltown Reservoir. "NorthWestern is amending its FERC license now as a good faith gesture to the parties and to the entire Missoula County community," said Mike Hanson, the company’s chief operating officer. "We are committed to facilitating the favored (Environmental Protection Agency) remedy, restoring the Clark Fork River and addressing the concerns with endangered bull trout." Sediments removed from Milltown Reservoir, which are contaminated with arsenic, copper, lead and zinc, will be shipped by rail to Opportunity Ponds, a series of enormous settling ponds 100 miles upstream.

(Devlin, Sherry, "NorthWestern asks for go–ahead to begin dam removal," Casper Star Tribune, 30 October 2004.)

Snake River dams, Snake River, WA

Update: Problematic salmon subsidies

For more than two decades, Uncle Sam has dropped the ball on salmon recovery in the Columbia and Snake River basin in the Pacific Northwest. Attempts to save these endangered species have shred billions of federal dollars like fish through a turbine. All the while, the federal government has turned a blind eye to the most cost–effective solution to the problem: dam removal. A new decision ignores the scientific consensus that removing four dams on the Lower Snake River in eastern Washington is the best option for salmon recovery. Northwest ratepayers and federal taxpayers have already spent more than $4.5 billion on salmon recovery efforts. Yet, several stocks of lower Snake River salmon and steelhead are already extinct and the remainder could be pushed into extinction as early as 2016. Last May, a federal court decision exposed salmon recovery efforts for the monumental failure that they are. In response, a new $6 billion salmon recovery plan was released earlier this month. Sadly, this new plan repeats most of the same mistakes of the past and ultimately is more about saving dams than saving fish. Demonstrating a complete lack of common sense, the government’s new plan has a "throw money down an expensive rat hole" attitude. The plan blames Shamu and Sammy the Sea Lion for the demise of the salmon even though studies show that more than 85% of the fish are "harvested" by the four dams.

(Taxpayers for Common Sense, OP–ED, "Snake Bitten by Salmon Subsidies,", 2 October 2004.)

Snake River dams, Snake River, WA

Update: Boost Columbia salmon without dam removal

In May 2003, US District Judge James Redden told the federal government its Columbia River plan lacked the lawful and reasonable certainty of reliable follow–through. Redden wanted federal agencies held accountable for the harm they cause, but he did not want a plan that relied on promises and good intentions by others – states, tribes and private parties – that could not be enforced. Those agencies have returned with a collaborative response they say answers the judge’s concerns. A key sentence notes that NOAA Marine Fisheries has "taken steps to ensure that it is not impermissibly speculating about the beneficial or harmful effects of future actions that are not reasonably certain to occur." They will proceed with what is doable and likely. In other words, environmental groups and tribes should not hold their breath waiting for the dams to be breached and the Columbia River returned to natural levels. Plans announced last week focus on the survival of juvenile salmon and include increased control of fish and bird predators. The centerpiece is a 10–year plan to install removable spillway weirs at dams to allow young salmon to pass in the part of the water column they naturally navigate. Taken together, the revised plan represents $6 billion and does not include the cost of operating the hydro system. Environmentalists say the money would be better spent on breaching dams.

(Editorial, "Boost Columbia salmon without dam removal," Seattle Times, 16 September 2004.)

us – southwest

Glen Canyon Dam, Colorado River, AZ

Drought shrinking desert reservoirs

Lake Powell is enormous, but five years of drought have sapped it badly. It’s less than half full and down 30 feet. The lake level was falling 21 inches a week during the summer before stabilizing in September. Lake Powell is not the only lake that’s shriveling. The epic drought that has gripped the West for the last five years has choked off the water supply to lakes from California to Montana to New Mexico. As a result, many reservoirs, haven’t been so low since the 1970s or earlier. Their recovery will take years. The consequences are direr than just inconvenience for boaters. Low levels have kept away visitors, which has hurt towns reliant on tourism, robbed farmers of irrigation water. And for some city dwellers, disappearing reservoirs spell dead lawns and high water costs. Nearly every corner of the West has been stricken. Bear Lake in Utah and Idaho hasn’t been so low since 1935. Lake Mead in Nevada has dropped nearly 100 feet. Lake Arrowhead in California is lower than it’s been since records began in 1921.

(Watson, Traci, "Drought shrinking jewels of the desert," USA Today, 30 September 2004.)

us – midwest

Planing Mill Dam, Waupaca River, WI

Dam removal project to aid fish species and public safety on the Waupaca River

The state Department of Natural Resources is soliciting public comments on a request to approve abandonment and removal of the old Planing Mill Dam. The DNR has made a preliminary determination that neither an environmental assessment nor an environmental impact statement will be required for this action on the dam, which is on the Waupaca River in the city. The city has requested the action. The DNR said most of the dam was removed in the past . The remaining structure holds back about three feet of water. The remaining concrete spillway, steel I–beams and abutments will be removed and the stream banks graded, seeded and stabilized. The department said removal of the dam will increase the reach of the river available to many fish species that have been blocked by the structure, and also will remove a potential safety hazard. The proposed project is not expected to result in significant adverse environmental effects.

(The Post–Crescent, "Public comment sought on Waupaca dam removal project; Lifting barrier to aid fish species, safety on Waupaca River," 4 October, 2004.)

us – northeast

Sandy River Dam, Sandy River, ME

Sandy River dam removal will increase salmon spawning

Removal of the small Sandy River dam will open up important Atlantic salmon spawning grounds on the Kennebec River tributary, the project leader said. Calvin D. Ames, superintendent of Madison Electric Works, said he hopes dam removal can begin by June 2006. The board of directors, pursuing grants for the $490,000 project, reviewed the Sandy River dam project during a monthly meeting. The dam, built in 1893, generates $60,000 in electricity per year. A fishway was mandated as part of its licensing renewal in 1994. Madison residents agreed in early 2003 to authorize removal of the town–owned dam, rather than build a $1.5 million fishway. According to studies, the Sandy River has spawning potential for up to 30 percent of the Atlantic salmon that would inhabit the Kennebec. Dana P. Murch, a hydro dams supervisor with the state Department of Environmental Protection, agreed with Ames’ assessment. The Sandy River has the shallow, gravelly bottom and good water flow ideal for salmon spawning, he said. "The biologists have all said to me, the Sandy River is the first major spawning tributary for salmon as you come up the Kennebec River from the ocean," Murch said. "It is prime salmon habitat."

(Grard, Larry, "Dam removal will let fish pass," Portland Maine Press Herald, 29 September, 2004.)

GE says Hudson is cleaning itself of PCBs, challenges Superfund law

The US Environmental Protection Agency ordered the Hudson dredging project in 2002 for the removal of 1.3 million pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, that GE dumped into the river from plants in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward between 1940 and 1977, the year the chemical was banned. The PCBs, which are suspected carcinogens, contaminated the river’s lower 200 miles, creating the nation’s largest Superfund site. GE contends that the river is cleansing itself by burying the PCBs, and the project is not necessary. The company also is challenging the constitutionality of the 1980 Superfund law in US District Court in Washington. General Electric engineers are designing the largest environmental dredging project in the nation’s history while the company is fighting the project in federal court and has not yet agreed to actually clean up the massive contamination it caused in the upper Hudson. GE and the EPA are in intermittent negotiations on a contract covering the dredging of 4 million tons of contaminated muck from a 40–mile stretch of the river. Without an agreement, the EPA would have to tap the depleted federal Superfund for about $500 million to clean the river, then hope to recover the money by suing GE. Both sides, however, express optimism that an agreement will be reached and dredging can begin in 2006.

(Witherspoon, Roger, "GE designs PCB removal project," The Journal News, 24 October 2004)

Bellamy River dam, Bellamy River, NH

Dam removal makes way for fish

Migratory fish can reproduce in the Bellamy River for the first time since the 19th century after federal and state agencies teamed with businesses to remove a dam that blocked spawning grounds. Representatives of the New Hampshire Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership announced the $35,000 dam removal project during a news conference held on a gundalow floating just down river of the former dam site where fresh water meets sea from Great Bay. The dam was removed last week in an effort to re–establish passage for fish such as Atlantic salmon, American shad, river herring, sea lamprey, rainbow smelt and American eels, according to officials. The long–term goal of the Bellamy River dam removal is to allow fish to reach the Bellamy Reservoir and an additional 10 miles of river. Officials from the US Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the state Department of Environmental Services applauded the project, saying that opening the river will not only improve habitat for fish and the overall ecosystem but also draw tourism to the area in the form of sport fishermen. The project highlighted cooperation between governmental and corporate interests. A dozen New Hampshire companies contributed to the effort in either money, volunteerism or both. The timber cradle dam was taken down in just two days, according to officials.

(Dekoning, Brian, "Dam removal makes way for fish," Union Leader, 10 November 2004.)

Additional Information