No. 72, January 18, 2006

River Revival Bulletin

Produced by: River Revival, International Rivers
Editors: Elizabeth Brink & Wil Dvorak

table of contents










Farming destroying Brazil’s wetlands

A new study says deforestation is destroying Brazil’s vast Pantanal wetlands. Conservation International says increased grazing and agriculture has destroyed 17 percent of the native vegetation in the Pantanal, considered the world’s largest wetland. At the current rate, the Pantanal’s original vegetation would disappear in 45 years, researchers said. The transformation of native pasture to farmland has destroyed almost 45 percent of the original vegetation in the Paraguay River Basin, which includes the Pantanal. The river basin covers approximately 231,500 square miles, 60 percent of it within Brazilian territory.

The Pantanal, which comprises 41 percent of the entire basin, is a Brazilian National Heritage site, a significant site of international relevance, according to the RAMSAR Wetlands Areas Convention, and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Conservation International is calling for increased government regulation and better coordination of conservation efforts, as well as implementation of a broad environmental restoration program in devastated areas.

(Nature News, "Farming destroying Brazil’s wetlands,", 10 January 2006.)


Merowe/Hamadab Dam, Nile River, Sudan

Violence in the Merowe/Hamadab dam–affected areas

After months of growing tensions, the area that is being affected by the Merowe/Hamadab Dam Project in Northern Sudan erupted in violence in November. The Corner House and International Rivers called on all actors – including the Sudanese government, the government’s donors, civil society, the financial institutions and the companies involved in the Merowe/Hamadab Dam Project – to use their good offices to press for a negotiated, peaceful agreement between the dam authorities and the affected communities. With a capacity of 1,250 megawatts and a reservoir that stretches 174 kilometers, it is the largest hydropower project currently under construction in Africa. The project is being built by Chinese and Sudanese companies. It is financed by the China Export Import Bank and various Arab financial institutions. The dam project will displace about 50,000 people. Several thousand people have already been moved to El Multaga, a resettlement site in the Nubian Desert. A visit by the Corner House and International Rivers in February 2005 revealed that the situation in El Multaga is grim. The desert soil is extremely poor, and many plots are still covered with sand. Poverty is rising rapidly, and many families are reported to have left the resettlement site.

(International Rivers & The Cornerhouse, "Urgent Call for a Negotiated Agreement To End the Violence in the Merowe/Hamadab Dam–Affected Areas," 30 November 2005.)


Alameda Creek dams, Alameda Creek, CA

Fishy business

When it comes to water, human thirst trumps the environment nearly every time, even in an environmentally conscious city like San Francisco. Just ask the generations of steelhead trout trapped for more than eighty years in East Bay reservoirs owned by the city. Since 1997, the Alameda Creek Alliance has been working to free at least some of the fish. The main goal has been to restore the trout’s 25–mile migratory path. If successful, it would be the first restoration of a migratory steelhead habitat in East Bay history. The 700–plus–member alliance has made significant progress in the past eight years. It has convinced several public agencies to either remove fish barriers in Alameda Creek or seek funding for fish ladders so trout can swim past concrete walls too expensive to remove. "When I first started this, a state Fish and Game biologist told me to give it up, and explained why it couldn’t be done," alliance executive director Jeff Miller said during a recent tour of Alameda Creek. "But one by one, we’ve shot down all those excuses. We’re at the point now that I’m confident we’re going to solve all of our major fish barrier problems – except for the dams."

(Gammon, Robert, "Fishy Business," East Bay Express,, 07 December 2005.)

Friant Dam, San Joaquin River, CA

Friant Dam fight may be near resolution

State wildlife and water officials already have reviewed restoration plans for the San Joaquin River as part of a proposed settlement to an 18–year lawsuit between farmers, environmentalists and the federal government. The development comes as the battle to reverse decades of water diversion – a feat that killed off one of the largest salmon runs on the West Coast and dried up parts of the San Joaquin – appears to be entering its final chapter. Parties to the lawsuit insist the deal’s not finished and refuse to discuss its details. In 1988, environmental groups sued the federal government over the Friant Dam, which diverts 90 percent of upper San Joaquin River to farmers and towns near Fresno and south – water that would normally flow down the San Joaquin out the San Francisco Bay. The dam’s construction dried up large sections of the river, killing off bountiful salmon and steelhead runs, and creating low–water levels that plagued Delta farmers with salty water. Environmentalists have long fought with the farmers who get the Friant Dam water. Jared Huffman, an attorney for the Natural Resource Defense Council, said the parties "hope to report good news" soon.

(Lutz, Warren, "After 18 years, Friant Dam fight may be near resolution,", 10 January 2006.)


Cuyahoga River dams, Cuyahoga River, OH

Dam removal called key to Cuyahoga’s recovery

For most of its life, the Cuyahoga River ran wild, leaping over waterfalls, gushing down shale ledges and dancing around rocks. Talks have started on removing a 160–foot–long dam on the Cuyahoga River. If that plug is pulled, nearly half of the Cuyahoga River will flow unimpeded for the first time since pioneers settled in the Western Reserve. Removing the dam would open up 45 miles of the river between Akron and Cleveland and further the river’s recovery. Fish from Lake Erie could swim upstream to lay eggs in some of the Cuyahoga’s cleanest tributaries, which they now cannot reach. A recreational hazard for paddlers in canoes and kayaks would be gone. Momentum is building to remove the remaining four dams on the Cuyahoga River to further river recovery because of the success shown by removing dams in Kent and Munroe Falls. Dams impede the river from meeting the goal of the Clean Water Act, which requires the river to meet biological, physical and chemical standards.

(Kuehner, John C. "Dam removal called key to Cuyahoga’s recovery," Plain Dealer Reporter, 1 January 2006.)


New England states look at dam removal

There are more than 15,000 dams in New England. Connecticut leads the way in dam removal having dismantled some 16 of its approximately 4,000 dams. Massachusetts has torn down three of 3,000 and Rhode Island has discussed taking down one of its 622 dams. "There are tons and tons of dams in the region that may be able to be taken down. There are tiny dams that no one even knows about," said Laura Wildman, an environmental and water resource engineer for American Rivers. The average life expectancy of a dam is about 50 years. In 2000, more than 30 percent of dams nationwide were older than that, according to the Association of Dam Safety Officials. In Massachusetts, 70 percent of the so–called "high hazard" dams are even older, according to state records. The dismantling of Edwards Dam on Maine’s Kennebec River is perhaps the most celebrated removal effort in the region. Since it was knocked down in 1999, Atlantic salmon, alewives, sturgeon and shad have come back in such large numbers that even environmentalists, who had long touted the ecological advantages of removal, were surprised. Similar examples of habitat restoration can be seen on the Naugatuck River in Connecticut, where five dams have been removed. In Becket, 134 miles west of Boston, the Silk Mill Pond Dam was removed two years ago and next summer, the Ballou Dam downstream also will be dismantled, eliminating a barrier to Atlantic salmon migration.

(Donald, Brooke, "As states take another look at dam safety, removal eyed as option,", 1 January 2006.)

New Jersey Zinc Co. Dam, Lehigh River, PA

Lehigh River dam removal

The Department of Environmental Protection has awarded an $83,350 contract for removal of the New Jersey Zinc Co. Dam on the Lehigh River. "Governor Rendell is committed to enhancing dam safety and protecting Pennsylvania’s legacy of natural beauty," Secretary Kathleen A. McGinty said. This project is another example of DEP’s beneficial partnership with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and the American Rivers nonprofit groups to improve public safety and enhance the quality of Pennsylvania’s streams and aquatic ecology. The New Jersey Zinc Co. Dam was built in the early 1900s to supply water to the now–defunct company’s zinc smelting operation. New Jersey Zinc abandoned the dam when it ceased operations more than two decades ago, and the orphaned dam became the responsibility of the state. The 260–foot–wide dam is a run–of–the–river dam and is approximately 30 inches high. The dam creates environmental problems by blocking passage of American shad and other native migratory species, as well as changing the natural river ecology. With ongoing or planned fish passage projects downstream, removal of the dam will open 37 miles of spawning and rearing habitat for migratory fish and provide access for all life stages of resident fish in the Lehigh River.

(Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, "Lehigh River Dam Removal In Carbon County Will Improve Public Safety, Enhance Stream Quality; Project Removes Dangerous Dam, Restores Natural Flow of River," 29 November 2005.)

West Winterport Dam, Marsh Stream, ME

Rock ramp is option for Winterport Dam

For the past four years, the West Winterport Dam has served as a symbol of one of the area’s most divisive conservation battles. On one side of the fight were the residents of Frankfort and Winterport, who didn’t want the dam removed because it played a role in fire protection, flood control and recreation. On the other side were those seeking to improve fish habitat by removing the dam entirely. For more than three years the argument percolated, resulting in hearings and court cases that culminated in the dam’s owner agreeing to a settlement that allowed the dam to remain. According to Gordon Russell of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, further study has been done on the prospect of installing a large "rock ramp" at the dam, which would allow fish to swim up a gradual grade, over the dam, and into the impoundment on the upstream side Russell said the rock ramp would end up being a 5 percent grade, and would extend downstream about 300 feet from the dam itself. The cost would be about $400,000, Russell said. The project objectives would be to provide fish passage for Atlantic salmon, river herring and American eels; protect the dam and minimize long–term maintenance; reduce flooding and erosion below the dam; and enhance safety and reduce liability. The dam project would create rapids, with arched rock weirs placed every 20 feet to create resting pools for fish.

(Bangor Daily News, "Rock ramp Winterport dam option,", 13 December 2005.)

Hudson River Estuary action agenda

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Denise M. Sheehan announced the release of the final "Hudson River Estuary Action Agenda 2005–2009" and "Generic Environmental Impact Statement." The agenda contains the long–range goals and action steps for the coming four years. "The Action Agenda proposes a vision for the future of the Hudson River and identifies immediate steps to be taken for the continued revitalization of this important waterway," Commissioner Sheehan said. "Under the leadership of Governor George Pataki, DEC worked with stakeholders along the River to ensure the most effective and complete plan for the Hudson." The agenda expands the State’s efforts to protect and conserve the Hudson River, and outlines initiatives that will continue the progress made in restoring the historic waterway. It addresses comments made by the public after the release of the draft goals and targets in April 2005. The agenda marks the culmination of a four–year process to develop long–range goals and measurable interim targets for the Hudson River Estuary Program. The development of goals and targets included in the agenda were completed with participation from an advisory committee and subcommittees representing scientists, businesses, sportsmen, commercial fishermen, local elected officials, environmental advocacy groups, academics, educators and others.

(News from NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, "DEC renews commitment to Hudson River restoration with action agenda, Agenda Outlines Goals to Continue River Restoration over the Next Four Years," Empire Information Services, 21 December 2005.)


Powerdale Diversion Dam, Hood River, OR

FERC approves PacifiCorp dam removal

PacifiCorp announced recently that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has approved plans to remove a dam on the Hood River. FERC issued a "surrender order" that allows a licensed dam operator to halt operations at a hydroelectric facility. The order approved for the PacifiCorp Powerdale hydro project confirms a settlement reached in 2003 to decommission the dam in 2010. The FERC approval was welcomed by Governor Ted Kulongoski, who signed the settlement with the utility, state and federal agencies, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs, American Rivers and the Hood River Watershed Group. The governor said the order "will bring significant improvement to the Hood River watershed and will bring real benefits to migratory salmon and steelhead." Ron Suppah, chairman of the Warm Springs Tribal Council also praised the settlement and the FERC action. "The agreement to remove the project, protect hatchery operations and improve fish habitat, while at the same time mitigating impacts on PacifiCorp’s customers, is a fair solution for all involved," Suppah said. The Powerdale Dam produces six megawatts, a fraction of PacifiCorp’s total generating capacity of 8,400 megawatts.

(The Associated Press, "FERC approves PacifiCorp dam removal,", 5 December 2005.)

Milltown Dam, Clark Fork River, MT

State unveils Milltown restoration plans

A new plan lays out how the Clark Fork and Blackfoot rivers may be restored to a semblance of their historic condition after Milltown Dam near Missoula is removed within the next few years. The draft restoration plan, prepared by WestWater Consultants, says the Blackfoot and Clark Fork rivers "cannot be restored to historical conditions due to past and ongoing disturbances." However, with allowances for the existing infrastructure the rivers’ lower reaches could be restored to "near–historical conditions," the plan says. Included are measures to improve water quality by limiting erosion of the contaminated sediment that is not removed. The plan calls for creation of structures made from native rock, wood, vegetation and perhaps nonnative biodegradable material, to mimic conditions in similar Montana rivers. These structures would be used for channel and floodplain stability until vegetation matured enough, during a 15– to 25–year span, to provide that stability. The plan also is designed to foster habitat for native fish, including the imperiled bull trout. Other considerations in the plan include recreational opportunities, among them boating, fishing and access to trails.

(Gallagher, Susan, "State unveils river restoration plans," Independent Record, 3 November 2005.)

Bonner Dam, Blackfoot River, MT

Blackfoot River is flowing free for the first time in more than 100 years

The Bonner Dam is gone – ahead of schedule and on budget – and for the first time in more than 100 years, the Blackfoot River is flowing free. Envirocon wrapped up the project to remove the 120–year–old dam. The Bonner Dam, known by some as the Stimson Dam, was built in 1884 to provide power to a local sawmill and nearby communities. The rock–filled, timber crib dam was rebuilt several times over the years after being washed out in floods. The 1996 ice flow damaged the dam beyond repair. Envirocon is scheduled to start removing the much larger Milltown Dam in the next couple of years. The bottom two–thirds of the Milltown Dam is constructed in the same manner as the Bonner Dam, said Kris Cook, Envirocon’s lead person on the Bonner Dam removal project. The Bonner Dam removal project provided some important insight into how that portion of the Milltown Dam is likely to react when demolition begins. Cook said it was gratifying to see the Blackfoot River flowing freely once again. "Work has proceeded efficiently and with no lasting impacts on the river. Our ultimate goal is to leave the Blackfoot in a much better condition than we found it."

(Independent Record, "Removal of Bonner Dam complete,", 22 November 2005.)


Removal of dams can bring environmental, commercial gains

Standing on the banks near the gaping hole that had been carved into the 270–foot–long concrete and earthen dam, George Howard pointed to the water gushing through the breach. "We’re returning this river to its colonial days," said Howard, the vice president and a co–founder of Restoration Systems, a Raleigh–based environmental mitigation company. A century ago, migratory fish such as shad, herring and sturgeon ran thick from the Atlantic all the way up past Fayetteville and into the headwaters of the Cape Fear to spawn. But today, six dams block their path. Built decades or even centuries ago to harness the river for commercial traffic and as a source of power, the dams continue to influence the Cape Fear even as they have largely outlived their purpose. The three locks run by the Army Corps of Engineers along the Lower Cape Fear, for example, are now opened only to provide passage to migratory fish. The commercial traffic they were built to serve dried up long ago, and recreational boats have slowed to a trickle. Restoration Systems wants to change that by removing most of the structures, including possibly all three of the lock and dams. The $8.2 million dam–removal project along the Deep River, one of the river’s headwaters, offers a blueprint as to how the company would approach the Cape Fear dams.

(McGrath, Gareth, "Removal of dams can bring environmental, commercial gains," Wilmington Star–News, 29 December 2005.)


Salt River community considers restoration of 14 miles of river

The Salt River Pima–Maricopa Indian Community has proposed the Va Shly’ay Akimel Restoration Project. The project would provide restoration of 14 miles of the Salt River, bringing back pockets of water and native trees, plants and wildlife. Most of the project would take place on the reservation. The tribe likes the idea of environmental restoration, but there is some concern about the project bringing more people and development to the reservation. "Some members are concerned about encroachment," said Jacob Moore, special assistant on congressional and legislative affairs for the tribe. The $120 million project, a partnership of the tribe, the city of Mesa and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, could include trails for hiking, biking or horseback riding and would attract commercial projects. The tribal council will vote on the project at several steps along the way. It would take eight years to complete.

(Nichols, Judy, "Salt River community considers restoration of 14 miles of river," The Arizona Republic, 23 November 2005.)