Planning for Dam Decommissioning as an Environmental Priority

Dr. Latha Anantha
Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Dams are not forever!

Dams are not benign nor do they last forever! Dams have proven to be unsafe and have a finite life span. They have underperformed, and have silted up in many instances. Dams have destroyed the ecology of thousands of Living Rivers and the lives of millions of river dependent communities. While countries like India and China are in the middle of a dam-building spree, there is no proper mechanism for periodic assessment of the performance of these dams or of the project, including dam safety aspects; siltation studies; post facto impact assessment on downstream ecology, fisheries and related livelihoods; and seismicity. India is yet to have clearly defined, legally binding accountability mechanisms in case of dam failures.

The rivers in India are losing their irreplaceable ecological functions. "Flow regime" is central to the maintenance of habitat heterogeneity and the diversity of river species. Dams are disturbing this most critical environmental aspect. Restoring "flow regimes" that mimic natural flow variability should mark the evolution of a new paradigm in river basin management. Such an approach should have dam decommissioning options as a part of its long-term strategies.

It is time India and her neighbors start seriously planning for dam decommissioning as a viable option for restoring the ecology of rivers and creating more free-flowing rivers.

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