US Dam-Removal Season Off To A Good Start

Elizabeth Brink
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
The top quarter of Glines Canyon Dam was removed from the Elwha River with a hydraulic hammer on a barge anchored upstream of the dam.
The top quarter of Glines Canyon Dam was removed from the Elwha River with a hydraulic hammer on a barge anchored upstream of the dam.
Photo by National Park Service, courtesy of Lower Klallam Tribal Library

From World Rivers Review June 2013

Those whose passion is river restoration refer to summer as “dam removal season.” And this season, there is a lot to celebrate, with some very large dam removals on key rivers.

The final environmental impact statement on what would be the largest dam-removal project in California history was released in April by the US Department of the Interior. It supports removal of the dams on the Klamath River, which flows from Oregon through California to the Pacific. Although the removal of the fish-killing dams – Iron Gate, Copco 1 and Copco 2 in California, and J.C. Boyle in Oregon – is not imminent, this report takes another step forward to restoring the once-salmon-rich river.

In the meantime, 500 miles to the north, restoration on the Elwha River is proceeding much faster than expected. Removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams began in September 2011. Instead of the anticipated two to three year process, removal proceeded quickly and the Elwha Dam was completely gone by late spring 2012.

Work on lowering the Glines Canyon Dam is currently in process, and expected to be complete by this summer. A fourth webisode in a series by the National Park Service is called “The River Emerges” and focuses on the triumphs of rescuing the Elwha from 100 years of bondage.

"The dam is not coming down without a fight. But we're winning," remarks Chuck Antos of Barnard Construction about what he laughingly refers to as the coolest job he’s ever had. "I imagine what this looked like back 100 years ago when there was nothing here, I mean we're now making it look like that again, and we're the first ones to see it. Me and the crane operator, we always say, we don't read about history, we make it."

Defenders of the Klamath hope to make history themselves, by removing dams that block salmon migration and cause toxic algae blooms in stagnant lake water – and opening up 420 miles of historic habitat for the first time in a century.

Taking out the four Klamath dams would resolve various water-related problems among Indian tribes, farmers and utilities in the Klamath Basin while restoring the third-largest salmon run in the lower 48 states, behind the Columbia and Sacramento rivers.

"The scientific and common sense conclusion is clear," said Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael. "We should tear down these dams."

Dam removal is not a series of isolated incidents, but a logical progression of dealing with aging infrastructure. According to American Rivers, 65 US dams were removed in 2012, joining the nearly 1,100 dams that have been removed across the US since 1912. Nearly 800 of those dams were removed in the past 20 years.

Restoration certainly isn’t limited to the Western US. In fact, Pennsylvania removed the most dams in 2012, with 11 coming down and others following closely behind. In May 2013, a plan was announced to remove nine dams on Little Lehigh and Jordan creeks as part of a single, comprehensive project to improve fish passage.

The largest dam removal project in Michigan’s history is taking place on the Boardman River. The $10 million project will remove three dams, restore natural conditions and improve the fishery in a large stretch of the popular river.

More information: 

Watch the Damnation trailer:
Follow the Elwha River restoration: