No. 56, February 21, 2004

River Revival Bulletin

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

Editors: Elizabeth Brink and Wil Dvorak

table of contents









“12 Reasons to Exclude Large Hydro from Renewables Initiatives”

A new report co-published by 13 organizations working on climate change, development, sustainable energy and water management gives a dozen reasons why large hydro should be excluded from global efforts to promote renewable energy. The report cites the negative impacts of large hydro on people, ecosystems, energy security, and efforts to adjust to climate change. “Large hydro does not have the poverty reduction benefits of decentralized new renewables, like wind, solar and biogas, and it will increase our vulnerability to climate change. It must be stopped from capturing subsidies aimed at promoting environmentally friendly and socially appropriate technologies,” says International Rivers’s Patrick McCully, coordinator of the report. The rate of large dam construction has fallen sharply in recent decades, but the dam industry now sees the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism and new government initiatives to promote renewables as a solution to their problems. “The World Bank and the dam industry are calling for large hydro to get a carte blanche to benefit from renewables funds. If they succeed, new renewable technologies would get little more than crumbs from these initiatives,” says Antonio Tricarico of Reform the World Bank Campaign, Italy.


Nam Theun 2 hydropower project, another World Bank disaster in the making

The World Bank, with its long history of supporting destructive dams, is poised to support yet another disaster – the Nam Theun 2 Hydropower Project in the Southeast Asian country of Laos. The $1.1 billion dam project is supposed to generate revenue for the cash-strapped Lao government by exporting power to neighboring Thailand. Despite claims that Nam Theun 2 will “alleviate poverty,” the project will instead impoverish thousands, saddle the Lao government with more debt and devastate tropical river ecosystems upon which so many depend for their livelihoods. This briefing paper outlines some of the major concerns with Nam Theun 2 and counters some of the arguments made by its promoters.

Find more information and the full fact sheet at:

(International Rivers, “Nam Theun 2, Laos: Another World Bank disaster in the making,” 27 January 2004.)

us - california

NRDC fighting dam proposal on San Joaquin River

While environmentalists and farmers argue over the best use of the San Joaquin River’s water, the federal government has announced six possible sites for a larger reservoir to capture more of the river. One option would hold five times as much water as the current lake. The estimated cost: $1.75 billion. The bureau’s report is the first fruit of a multimillion-dollar government analysis to decide if a bigger reservoir would be worth the public’s money. It is part of the Calfed program, a state-federal effort to fix key water problems in California. But as the study continues, so does a 15-year-old federal lawsuit between environmentalists and farmers over water in the river. Natural Resources Defense Council lawyers say withered downstream sections of the San Joaquin – caused more than 50 years ago when Friant Dam was built – must be restored. The NRDC in San Francisco argues there’s a better answer than spending a billion dollars and building another dam. Lawyer Jared Huffman says cost-effective ways to increase water supply include underground water banking and partial restoration of the old Tulare Lake to store water.

(Grossi, Mark, “Six sites chosen for reservoir: But costs, lawsuit remain as hurdles before any decisions are made on San Joaquin River water,” Fresno Bee, 16 November 2003. Text found at:

Owens River Restoration Project Moves Forward

Los Angeles Mayor Jim Hahn and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) applauded an agreement filed in Inyo County Superior Court that gives the green light for a major environmental restoration effort to send water back down the Lower Owens River. The Lower Owens River Project (LORP) will return a steady flow of water to the Lower Owens River from the Los Angeles Aqueduct, below Big Pine down to the Owens Lake Delta. Under the agreement, LADWP expects to release the first water back into the river by September 2005, and achieve the baseflows of 40 cubic feet per second by April 2006. The LORP represents one of the most significant river habitat restoration projects undertaken in the United States, according to LADWP Watershed Resources Manager Brian Tillemans “This is an unprecedented project,” said Tillemans, who is a wildlife biologist. “We’ll be sending water down the entire 62-mile reach of the river with a base flow as well as sending seasonal habitat flows -- which are higher flows that mimic the natural snow runoff. This will create a flourishing river system, with native wetland habitats and warm-water fisheries. The birds and fish will love it.”

(Business Wire, “Owens River Restoration Project Moves Forward with Settlement Agreement; Ambitious Project Will Replenish River and Enhance Habitat Areas,” 10 February 2004.)

**Matilija Dam, Ventura River, CA**

Update: Panel Decides on a Plan to Remove Matilija Dam

Matilija Dam should be torn down all at once in order to revive the dwindling population of endangered southern steelhead trout, a coalition of federal, state and local officials has decided. After three years of study, a task force has come up with a plan to remove the obsolete 20-story structure north of Ojai and remove the 6 million cubic yards of silt behind it, said Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett. Advocates say the dam’s removal, which is expected to cost tens of millions of dollars, would replenish Ventura’s sand-starved beaches and restore a historical breeding ground for steelhead in the upper reaches of the Ventura River. Tearing down Matilija Dam would restore 50% of that lost population, advocates say. At 190-feet tall and 600-feet wide, Matilija is the largest dam in the country to be targeted for removal.

(Saillant, Catherine, “Panel Decides on a Plan to Remove Dam: Tearing down the Matilija barrier near Ojai would restore the Ventura River and reopen a route for endangered trout, advocates say,” Times, 9 February 2004.)

**O’Shaughnessy Dam, Tuolumne River, CA**

Update: Bush budget raises rent for use of the Hetch Hetchy reservoir

President Bush’s spending plan would drastically raise the rent of the Hetch Hetchy reservoir inside Yosemite National Park from$30,000 a year to $8 million annually, potentially raising water rates in San Francisco, San Mateo and parts of Alameda counties. The increase would mark the first rent hike since the late 1920s, and it has stirred reactions as fierce as the flooding of the scenic valley so many decades ago. San Francisco’s congressional representatives have pledged to fight the proposed increase, which comes as the city faces a budget deficit that could reach $300 million. The increase would also come as the San Francisco Public Utility Commission, the city agency that owns and operates the vast Hetch Hetchy system, embarks on a $3.6 billion reconstruction. The proposal, tucked away on Page 620 of the budget appendix, came as a surprise even to Yosemite National Park Superintendent Michael Tollefson, who notified the even more startled head of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

(Oakland Tribune, “Bush budget raises rent for use of the Hetch Hetchy reservoir,” 6 February 2004.)

Update: Feds decide more water to stay in Eel River

A federal regulatory commission says more water should stay in the Eel River, a decision that would mean less water for farmers and cities along an 80-mile stretch of the Russian River. The decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission caps a decades-long feud over the diversion of Eel River water into the Russian River via a tunnel that feeds a 96-year-old hydroelectric plant in Potter Valley. Cutting diversions from the Eel River by 15 percent is supposed to benefit three species of endangered fish, although there is some disagreement between state and federal experts. Sonoma and Mendocino County officials say the cut will hurt farmers and city dwellers on the Russian River, and the ruling is likely to be challenged in court. Friends of the Eel River, an environmental group critical of the diversion, said it was still reviewing the commission’s 75-page ruling. Most of the Russian River’s summer flow upstream of Healdsburg comes from the Eel River diversion.

Learn more by visiting Friends of the Eel River at:

(Soper, Spencer, “Feds finalize Eel diversion cuts,” Press Democrat, 31 January 2004. Text at:

**Cascades Dam, Merced River, CA**

Update: Cascades Dam removal lets river flow free in Yosemite

Geology textbooks describe how rivers constantly shift over millions of years. In Yosemite National Park, it took crews only two months to change the course of the Merced River, demolishing the obsolete Cascades Diversion Dam that had diverted water for the better part of a century. Yosemite watchdog groups say they’d never seen that part of the river flow naturally in their lifetime. “It looks like it’s natural,” said George Whitmore, chairman of the Sierra Club’s Yosemite Committee. “What an improvement.” Crews began attacking the dam in November, as the Merced’s water headed toward its lowest ebb. They built a ramp to get jackhammers into the river bed, close to the 184-foot-long dam constructed of concrete walls filled with boulders and overlaid with redwood slabs. The dam was built in late 1916 and 1917 to provide electricity for the Yosemite Valley’s budding tourism business. It served the valley for nearly 70 years, until age rendered it useless in the 1980s. A massive flood damaged it further in 1997. The dam cost $200,000 to build, Pieper said. It cost $2.8 million to demolish. Crews removed the dam under the prescription of the Yosemite Valley Plan.

(Mello, Michael, “Cascades Dam removal lets river flow free in Yosemite,” Modesto Bee, 12 January 2004.)

us - northwest

It’s lights out for White River hydroelectric plant

Puget Sound Energy has shut down its White River Hydroelectric Project after 92 years of operation. The federal agency that oversees U.S. energy production issued an order confirming the shutdown and canceling the license for the White River project. Puget stopped operations after rejecting a 50-year power license that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission first issued in 1997. Puget had appealed the license conditions, which required more water quality and fish protection measures. The Bellevue utility said the conditions made power production at the plant too costly. Two types of fish in the White River are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. “With the new federal operating conditions we faced,” said Ed Schild, Puget’s director of energy production and storage, “the project’s output would have cost our customers roughly twice as much as other power resources available today.” The project, built in 1911-12, required the utility to maintain 16 dikes, inlets, pipes, canals, fish screens and a diversion dam on the White River at Buckley. Lake Tapps water is held in by surrounding dikes. Puget diverted river water at Buckley and delivered it to Lake Tapps, the storage reservoir, through 7.5 miles of pipes and canals.

(The News Tribune, “It’s lights out for White River hydroelectric plant; Puget Sound Energy: It’s closed after pumping out power for 92 years,” 17 January 2004. Text at:

Monster dam proposed in Black Rock basin

Workers in coveralls are drilling through the basalt beneath this empty, wind-torn basin to see what it would take to erect a mighty new dam — a colossal structure as tall as the Space Needle and as wide as the Grand Coulee. It’s an odd backward lunge to early-day Northwest efforts to corral nature through monumental feats of engineering. The enormous project pushed by drought-weary Eastern Washington farmers calls for siphoning millions of gallons from the Columbia River and piping it into a downward-sloping valley. Water would flood the bunchgrass and balsamroot until a new, 10-mile reservoir was formed. The whole thing would be caged by a mile-long, 595-foot-high dam. At a time when the talk about dams often centers on which ones to dynamite, even supporters admit this new proposal sounds like an engineer’s fever dream. The estimated price tag alone hovers at $1.8 billion, enough, some say, to ensure it never happens. But in the last year, supporters have convinced the state and Congress to pay $6.5 million for early studies. The federal Bureau of Reclamation is conducting a preliminary inquiry. Conservative farmers and politicians are invoking the threat of global warming, pitching the project, in part, as an answer to predictions that the river-nourishing Cascade Mountains snowpack will diminish in coming decades.

(Welch, Craig, “New dam rivaling Grand Coulee suddenly not so unthinkable,” Seattle Times, 4 January 2004. Article on-line at:

Restoration plan for Washington’s East Fork

Fisheries officials regard the undammed East Fork as one of Western Washington’s best hopes for restoring threatened steelhead and chinook and chum salmon, said Jeff Breckel, executive director of the Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Board. State and local officials say they intend to go ahead with a major restoration plan of some type for the lower East Fork, which has been scarred by decades of gravel mining in its flood plain. “I would look at this as a first step in a much larger process,” Breckel said of the strategic plan submitted by Friends of the East Fork. The plan “provides good baseline information and sets us up to explore what we can do out there,” he said. The fish recovery board makes recommendations to a state panel on funding for salmon habitat restoration projects in Southwest Washington. On its recommendation, Friends of the East Fork received a $30,000 grant to prepare its East Fork strategic plan. The restoration plan recommends the use of heavy equipment to place logs, boulders and other structures in streams to control erosion and create pools, riffles and side channels for fish. The techniques, known as natural channel design, were pioneered by Colorado hydrologist Dave Rosgen on Rocky Mountain streams.

(Durbin, Kathie, “Despite critical reviews, plan may trigger restoration of lower East Fork,” Columbian,
7 January 2004. Text at:

**Jackson Lake Dam, Snake River, WY**

Jackson Lake Dam saved from power development

Conservation groups celebrated when a company seeking to develop a hydro-power plant at Jackson Lake Dam in Grand Teton National Park withdrew its application. Northwest Power Services Inc. said in a two-sentence letter to Magalie Salas, secretary of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, that it wanted to withdraw its application for a preliminary permit to study the dam for hydropower. The letter was signed by Brent L. Smith, president of Northwest Power, an Idaho company. Smith did not immediately return a phone call for comment, but Scott Bosse, river conservation coordinator with the Greater Yellowstone Coalition in Montana, cheered the retreat. “Evidently the proponents of the Jackson Dam hydro project finally got the message that Grand Teton is off limits to energy speculators who seek to profit at the expense of treasured public resources,” he said. Bosse’s coalition, along with American Rivers, another conservation group, had petitioned regulatory commission, asking it to reject the application. The effort to develop a power-generator at the dam in the national park is the second in recent years by the Idaho-based company or its affiliates. “Today those of us who treasure the Snake River and its spectacular wild trout fishery can breathe a little easier,” Bosse said.

(Jackson Hole Zone, “Hydropower group pulls plug,” 17 February 2004. Article found at:

**Soda Springs Dam, Umpqua River, OR**

Update: New effort to remove Soda Springs Dam

Removing Soda Springs Dam was considered early in the relicensing process that began in 1991, but PacifiCorp rejected the idea in 1999. Now nine conservation groups have brought the issue back and are seeking removal of the dam. They have requested another hearing from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency that issued a new 35-year operating license in November 2003. Soda Springs Dam is the farthest downstream of eight dams in the hydropower project that was completed in 1956. It produces 6 percent, or 11 megawatts, of the 185-megawatt system. The parties to the agreement say the new license best balances the values of Douglas County residents. Several environmental groups, however, want to see the restoration of historic fish habitat and the removal of Soda Springs Dam. EarthJustice, on behalf of nine conservation groups -- including local groups Umpqua Watersheds, Umpqua Valley Audubon Society, Steamboaters and The North Umpqua Foundation -- has filed request for a rehearing. “The final license does not protect these important values for fish, wildlife and for people,” said Penny Lind, executive director of Roseburg-based Umpqua Watersheds.

(The News-Review, “Removing the dam? North Umpqua Hydroelectric Project: Conservationists ask energy commission to reconsider eliminating Soda Springs Dam,” 15 February 2004. Article found at:

Update: Salmon will get more aid but not enough, and dams remain

In an observation room above the pounding Bonneville Dam, senior Bush administration officials announced a $10 million increase for Northwest salmon restoration. Last year, only two sockeye salmon made it from the Pacific Ocean through the eight dams to their spawning ground in central Idaho’s Red Fish Lake. But administration officials cited soaring salmon recovery figures, including prediction of 361,000 spring chinook – triple the 10-year average. James Connaughton, chairman of the President’s Council on Environmental Quality, acknowledged these figures are largely because of changes in ocean conditions. In the past the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund has helped states and tribes improve fish passage at dams, restore spawning and rearing habitat in rivers, and improve hatchery conditions. The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission said a $110 million increase is needed to pay for all ongoing restoration projects – more than 10 times the amount announced. Most of all, environmentalists and tribes remarked on the irony of the administration’s choice of venue. “They’re making salmon speeches at big dams. But dams are extremely lethal for fish. They’re consciously choosing dams over fish.”

(Callimachi, Rukmini, “Salmon will get more aid, but dams remain,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 27 January 2004.)

us - southwest

Rio Grande’s silvery minnow threatened

Interior Secretary Gale Norton committed to give serious consideration to Senator Pete Domenici’s proposal to solve New Mexico’s problem with the endangered silvery minnow by “taking the fish to the water.” The minnow’s primary habitat is the Rio Grande south of Albuquerque. It’s an area that sometimes runs dry, and for its survival, the fish requires water diversions from farmers and towns. Domenici, R-N.M., and Sandia Pueblo Governor Stuwart Paisano have asked the Interior Department to consider a proposal to relocate the fish farther upstream to parts of the river that have more regular flows. They have also proposed sanctuaries for the fish on tribal lands north of Albuquerque. Norton said an analysis is under way in the department but she “would be happy to take a closer look.” Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Kip White said the department is scheduled to provide Domenici with a feasibility report by the middle of March. Domenici and Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., challenged the department’s funding proposal for the Rio Grande project in the coming budget year. The department has recommended $18 million for the Middle Rio Grande Project, a 45 percent cut from the $33 million appropriated in 2004.

(Associated Press, “Minnow Plan Under Review,” 13 February 2004. Text found at:

us - midwest

Removal of Boardman River dams is being studied

County officials have formally asked for a federal study on removing several public dams along the Boardman River – the first step in a long and involved decision. The preliminary “restoration plan” requested by Grand Traverse County commissioners will be conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It will begin the process of studying the feasibility of removing Boardman and Sabin dams. The city’s Brown Bridge and Union street dams also will be part of the study. “It’s a process, and there are many steps in the process,” said Martin Kuhn, a physical scientist with the Army Corps in Detroit. Kuhn met here last week with county officials and almost 30 local residents who live near the dams. The county started talking about removing the dams late last year with Traverse City Light and Power officials, who are concerned about looming dam repairs that could cost the utility more than $2 million. The ultimate goal of the restoration plan is not to determine whether the dams are obsolete but whether removing them would improve the river environment for fish and wildlife, Kuhn said. “Generally speaking, you’re looking at creating longer reaches of sustainable spawning habitat, or sustainable living habitat,” Kuhn said.

(O’Brien, Bill, “Removal of dams is being studied, County seeks federal study on feasibility,” Record-Eagle, January 27, 2004. Full text at:

us - southeast

**Pleasant Green Dam, Eno River, NC**

Dam removal to yield fast flowing stream

The Pleasant Green Dam gives the Eno River two personalities: its languid, deep water upstream and a fast-flowing, boulder strewn river below. A plan to remove the deteriorating 89-year-old concrete dam would lower the water level and return a 1.5-mile stretch of impounded water to its former self, a shallow, fast-flowing stream. It would be the fourth old dam torn down to improve fish migration patterns in Eastern North Carolina since 1997. Park and wildlife officials say removing the concrete barrier would return the river to its natural state and allow fish and mussels to move freely upriver, expanding the gene pool of some rare species. That’s a particular concern with the Eno’s endangered mussels, which depend on migration of fish to ferry their larvae up and down river. “The biggest gain is the health of the river,” said Dave Cook, supervisor of the Eno River State Park. “Rivers do better when they don’t have dams in their way. We have species that we are concerned about. We’re trying to eliminate where man has altered the habitat.” But some neighbors of the Eno, fearful of a drop in property values, aren’t eager to see the slow, meandering river that borders their back yards disappear.
(Rawlins, Wade, “Dam removal to yield fast-flowing stream,” The News & Observer, 17 January 2004.)