No. 64, January 12, 2005

River Revival Bulletin

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

Editors: Elizabeth Brink & Wil Dvorak

table of contents












Barra Grande Dam, Pelotas River, Brazil

Judge reverses decision, stops deforestation for Brazilian dam

In a setback for a consortium led by US–based aluminum giant Alcoa, on December 16th a Brazilian judge reversed his earlier decision, and upheld a restraining order prohibiting deforestation for Barra Grande Dam. In his decision, Federal District Judge Vladimir Passos de Freitas cited "serious accusations that in the Environmental Impact Study (EIS)... facts of extreme relevance were omitted, such as the existence of more than 2,000 hectares of primary Atlantic Coast forest." Dam–affected communities and environmentalists applauded the judge’s decision, which suspends the completion of the 180–meter–high Barra Grande, which has an installed capacity of 690 MW of electricity. The $450 million hydroelectric dam project is already 90% built. Érico da Fonseca, a regional coordinator of Brazil’s Movement of Dam–Affected People (MAB), vowed to continue the movement’s fight on behalf of the 2,000 families who have lost their lands to the project. MAB played a crucial role in halting the project by mobilizing hundreds of farmers from the region to blockade logging crews trying to enter the dam site, while environmental attorneys filed lawsuits to save the forests. According to João de Deus Medeiros, of the Santa Catarina Federation of Ecological Groups, environmentalists are calling for a new review of the project’s EIS.

("Judge Reverses Decision, Stops Deforestation for Brazilian Dam", International Rivers Press Release, 19 December 2004.)


Three Gorges Dam, Yangtze River, China

Update: Concrete colossus versus the river dragon

This massive dam interrupting what the Chinese call simply "The Long River" (known to English–speakers as "Yangtze" or Yangzi) is now in place. It is the largest in the world, proudly pushing Itiapu on the Brazil–Paraguay border from first place. Over 600 feet tall and more than a mile long, tens of thousands of tons of concrete span the breadth of the once "Mighty Yangtze." Twenty–six electric turbines are poised to make their contribution to global commodity production and ostentatious displays of wealth by those who benefit from it. Behind the dam, a reservoir is gathering which will stretch 350 miles. This driving pace reflects the immediacy of China’s desire to develop. Those who have lost or are losing their homes are enticed from cramped apartments in dirty alleys to new high rises, but many of the promises made to them are false. Over and over relocatees find themselves in worse situations than those they came from. When they try to return, they’re persecuted, or find that their land has already been submerged. Displaced people who organized themselves for petition actions caravanned to the regional capitals of Chongqing and Wuhan, but the groups were disbanded. At least one man, Lei Weidong, paid the ultimate price for his objections when he was murdered in March 1999 after two trips to Beijing to protest displacement.

(Dragon Pierces Truth (pseudonym of a writer who wishes to be permitted to reenter China), "Impressions of a Death Match on the Long River; Concrete Colossus Versus the River Dragon," 21 December 2004.)


Nam Theun 2 Dam, Nam Theun River, Laos

Lao Premier urges investment in Nam Theun 2 Dam Project

Laos’ prime minister urged Southeast Asian countries to invest in his country’s hydroelectric industry, as it struggles to start work on a massive dam aimed at easing poverty but slammed by critics as an ecological disaster. The Laotian government bills the US $1.3 billion plans to build the Nam Theun 2 hydroelectric dam as the centerpiece of efforts to raise living standards of the country’s 5.7 million people. The project has been held up for years amid criticism from international environmental groups and social groups who say it will destroy the forest homes of rural Lao. They say the reservoir, created by the 48–meter–high (158–foot–high ) dam across the Theun River, would flood a 450–square–kilometer (175–square–mile) forest area. The area is home to about 4,500 indigenous people and 60 species of birds and mammals. Environmental groups also say the revenue will enrich communist party bosses and never reach the poor. The World Bank must decide by May 2005 whether it will provide a guarantee protecting international investors – who’d provide 70 percent of the funding – against the risk of investing in a communist country notorious for corruption and a weak legal system.

("Lao Premier Urges ASEAN to Invest in Dam Project," The Associated Press, 29 November 2004. Text found at:

us – general

Bush proposal restricts appeals on dams, helps hydropower firms avoid costs

The Bush administration has proposed giving dam owners the exclusive right to appeal Interior Department rulings about how dams should be licensed and operated on US rivers, through a little–noticed regulatory tweak that could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the hydropower industry. The proposal would prevent states, Indian tribes and environmental groups from making their own appeals, while granting dam owners the opportunity to take their complaints – and suggested solutions – directly to senior political appointees in the Interior Department. The proposal, which was subject to public comment but can be approved by the administration without congressional involvement, would use the president’s rule–making power to circumvent opposition to the idea among Senate Democrats. They killed an administration–backed energy bill that included similar language, for which the hydropower industry had lobbied. The proposed rule comes at a pivotal time in the history of the hydropower industry. Most privately owned dams were built – and granted 30–to–50–year federal licenses – in an era before federal environmental laws required protection for fish and other riverine life. In the next 15 years, licenses for more than half of the country’s privately owned dams will come up for renewal.

Access the full text of the proposed rule:

(Harden, Blaine, "Proposal Restricts Appeals on Dams: Administration Plan Could Help Hydropower Firms Avoid Costs," Washington Post, 28 October 2004. Article:


O’Shaughnessy Dam, Tuolumne River, CA

Update: Hetch Hetchy Valley restoration gaining momentum

It has been more than 80 years since the Hetch Hetchy Valley disappeared under the waters gathered behind O’Shaughnessy Dam, but its lost High Sierra splendor still resonates with nature lovers. John Muir called Hetch Hetchy the "wonderful exact counterpart" to Yosemite Valley. It is a valley about 9 miles long and 1 mile wide, ringed by granite walls and spires towering 2,000 feet. Before the dam, the Tuolumne River tracked through the valley floor, past verdant meadows, black oak and ponderosa pine. When the valley was inundated in 1923 to provide water to San Francisco, many assumed it would remain submerged forever. But the idea of restoration has gained momentum. A recent study by the group Environmental Defense indicates the valley could be resurrected, with water needs met by transferring water to Don Pedro Reservoir and building additional infrastructure. The study estimated it would cost between $500 million to $1.6 billion to expand water storage facilities below Hetch Hetchy, concluding that restoration was possible without threatening state water supplies. Earlier this month, the Schwarzenegger administration announced it was authorizing a state study to evaluate restoration scenarios.

(Martin, Glen, "Yosemite National Park underwater wonder: If there someday is a will, a way to reclaim the Hetch Hetchy Valley has been devised," San Francisco Chronicle, 21 November 2004. Text from:

Update: Bay Area business group mobilizes to save Hetch Hetchy reservoir

A business group has begun marshaling forces to fight the idea of restoring Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park by dismantling O’Shaughnessy dam. Concerned by public relations successes for advocates of the valley’s restoration, the Bay Area Council representing 275 of the region’s largest employers, has begun asking members to communicate with political leaders on the issue. In late September, conservation group Environmental Defense proposed replacing Hetch Hetchy by enlarging other reservoirs, increasing use of groundwater exchanges and purchasing water from irrigation districts. The council contends that demolishing the dam would lessen San Francisco’s rights to Tuolumne River water, which flows through Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, and would upset the ongoing CalFed process – a state–federal program aimed at boosting water supplies and restoring the health of the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta. Ron Good, executive director of Restore Hetch Hetchy, said that San Francisco’s Tuolumne River rights currently are junior to those held by the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts. Jerry Meral, a member of Restore Hetch Hetchy’s board and co–chairman of CalFed’s water supply committee, said restoring Hetch Hetchy would not damage CalFed. "That is the ultimate of ironies," Meral said, noting that the Hetch Hetchy system is not part of CalFed and makes no releases to the San Joaquin Delta.

(Sample, Herbert A., "Group mobilizes to save dam: Bay Area business council fights bid to restore Hetch Hetchy," Sacramento Bee, 2 December 2004.)

Robles Diversion Structure, Ventura River, CA

Update: Fish ladder set to restore steelhead population

Environmentalists and government officials gathered at the Ventura River to open a $9 million fish ladder designed to promote the recovery of the endangered Southern California steelhead trout. The fish passageway will allow the steelhead to get around the massive concrete Robles Diversion Structure, which was built in 1959 to divert water into Lake Casitas. The ladder will allow the trout to climb higher into spawning areas of the Ventura River and spread back into their historic habitat once the Matilija Dam is removed farther up the river. Ventura County Supervisor John Flynn, 71, said he was elated by the project and could recall standing in the Ventura River when he was a boy and watching the steelhead swim between his feet. Ron Merckling, a spokesman for the Casitas Municipal Water District that built the project and paid for it with help from a number of other agencies, said officials estimate about 200 steelhead now swim in the river. Larry Week, chief of the native anadromous fish and watershed branch of the California Department of Fish and Game, said there were once as many as 5,000 steelhead in the Ventura River before the Matilija Dam was built in 1948.

(Leach, Eric, "Fish ladder set to restore steelhead population," Los Angeles Daily News, 9 December 2004.)

us – northwest

Snake River dams, Snake River, ID

Bush administration rules out dam removal to aid salmon

The Bush administration ruled out removing federal dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers to protect 11 endangered species of salmon and steelhead, even as a last resort. In an opinion issued by the fisheries division of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the government declared that the eight large dams on the lower stretch of the two rivers are an immutable part of the salmon’s environment. Endangered fish, the opinion said, can be protected by a variety of measures, including carrying fish around dams and building weirs that work like water slides to ease young fishes’ journey through dams as they swim downstream to the ocean. The cost of the 10–year effort was projected at $6 billion. In 2000, the Clinton administration adopted a policy that allowed for dam removal, although only if all other measures had failed. The latest opinion provoked immediate outrage on the part of environmentalists and some tribal groups, who see it as another in a series of federal actions weakening protection for the salmon that are an integral part of the regional identity of the Northwest.

(Barringer, Felicity, "U.S. Rules Out Dam Removal to Aid Salmon," New York Times, 1 December 2004.

Ice Harbor Dam, Snake River, WA

Weir science tries to offer safer spillway for migrating salmon

One of the strangest vessels ever to travel the Columbia River is nearing its launch. The boxlike hulk, made of 1.7 million pounds of steel, sports a giant water slide and a submarine’s innards to make it submerge and resurface on command. Its one–time, tug boat–powered voyage will bring it to a permanent destination, the Ice Harbor Dam, the last hydropower project on the Snake River. The $12.8 million device is the latest in technical wizardry devised to protect salmon from death and injury at they traverse a system of eight federal hydropower dams. The structure – called a removable spillway weir, or RSW – helps juvenile salmon move downstream without getting sucked into power–generating turbines. Operators are moving to outfit all the dams with the structures within 10 years. But critics say there is reason to doubt the spillway weirs will improve survival of migrating salmon and steelhead. Some say the most likely benefit is the potential for dams to generate more energy for the Bonneville Power Administration. Bob Heinith, hydro program coordinator for the Columbia River Inter–Tribal Fish Commission, insists the hugely expensive structures are unlikely to boost overall salmon runs. "What this really is is another vehicle for Bonneville to make more money out of the river," said Liz Hamilton of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association.

(Rojas–Burke, Joe, "Weir science tries to offer safer spillway for migrating salmon: A retractable vessel is designed to ease the fishes’ journey over Columbia River dams, but critics doubt its ability to improve runs," Oregonian, 26 November 2004.)

Fishermen and industry take action to protect salmon, jobs

On December 17, fishing groups turned to their last resort to protect Columbia and Snake river salmon, fish on which their businesses and livelihoods depend. They announced that they will sue the US Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, and National Marine Fisheries Service for their failure to protect and restore imperiled wild salmon and steelhead. On November 30, the government finalized its so–called Federal Salmon Plan, which dictates how the federal government is supposed to operate dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers in ways that minimize harm to salmon. In filing their intent to sue, fishermen found the government’s new dam operation plan a huge step backward from even the previous illegal plan because it’s more likely to harm salmon. "The plan is a six billion dollar roadmap to extinction, and for the sportfishing community, extinction means financial ruin," said Trey Carskadon, president of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association.

For more information, contact: Trey Carskadon, NSIA, 503–631–8859

("Fishermen and Industry Take Action to Protect Salmon, Jobs," Earthjustice, 20 December 2004.)

Condit Dam, White Salmon River, WA

Update: Army Corps to review Condit Dam removal plan

A controversial plan to remove Condit Dam from the White Salmon River in the Columbia River Gorge is up for approval from the US Army Corps of Engineers. PacifiCorp wants to remove its 91–year–old dam, rather than having to install an expensive fish ladder to renew its federal operating license. Officials of Skamania and Klickitat counties oppose the $17.15 million dam–removal plan, saying it will clog the lower White Salmon with up to 2.3 million cubic yards of sediment that’s accumulated for nearly a century in Northwestern Lake. At 125 feet in height, Condit would be the largest dam removed in US history. The Corps will evaluate the permit request under the federal Clean Water Act and the Rivers and Harbors Act. The agency is soliciting public input regarding the impacts of the project on endangered species, cultural resources, water quality, general environmental effects and other public interest factors. The Corps is requesting public review and comment on the dam–removal plan before making its permit decision. PacifiCorp plans to begin the removal process in the fall of 2006. Workers will excavate a 12–foot by 18–foot tunnel into the downstream face of the dam, then blast a hole through to the upstream side with explosives. The remaining dam structure would be removed in segments.

("Condit Dam removal to be reviewed," The Columbian, 26 November 2004. Full text at:

us – southwest

Glen Canyon Dam, Colorado River, AZ

High flow test at Glen Canyon Dam

The Department of the Interior’s US Geological Survey is collaborating with partner agencies to conduct scientific experiments designed to evaluate the effect of a high–flow release from Glen Canyon Dam on the natural resources of the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park. Under the high–flow test experiment, Reclamation opened the dam’s bypass tubes for 90 hours. The peak high flows will run for two and one–half days (60 hours) at about 41,000 cubic–feet–per–second. The goal is to stir up and redistribute sediment from tributary rivers downstream from the dam to enlarge existing beaches and sandbars, create new ones, and distribute sediment into drainage channels. A previous high–flow test at the dam in 1996 was designed to stir up and redistribute sediment from the bottom of the Colorado River and add it to river banks. The hypothesis underlying that test was not borne out by the results, leading scientists to believe that a more effective approach would be to redistribute tributary sediment as soon as a sufficient amount had accumulated downstream of the dam. More than a million tons of sediment had accumulated by early November, triggering the proposal from the for the high–flow test.

For more information, contact Scott Harris of the U.S. Geological Survey, at (703) 648–4054 (office); The draft EA and Finding of No Significant Impact is at The news release on the EA is at the Bureau of Reclamation "Newsroom,"

(US Dept. of the Interior, "Scientists Study Effects of High–Flow Test on Grand Canyon; Interior Scientists Evaluate Effects of High Flow Test at Glen Canyon Dam,", 29 November 2004.)

us – midwest

Chetek Dam, Chetek River, WI

Chetek Dam fails 1,000–year test

Barron County Soil and Water Conservationist Dale Hanson says that in a study conducted by Eau Claire engineering firm Ayres Associates, it was revealed that the Chetek Dam would fail under the right conditions. "There were no real surprises," says Hanson of the study, which was released December 13. "We already knew the dam was going to be considered a high–hazard dam – which means if the dam fails, there would be a high risk for damage and/or possibility for loss of life." Dean Steines, P.E., a water resources engineer with Ayres Associates, says the study is a two–part endeavor. "What the study does is determine the hazard rating for a dam according to the DNR’s criteria," says Steines. "The hazard rating is assigned to the dam in relation to what amount of damage would be done if the dam were to fail. The Chetek Dam was classified as a high–hazard dam because if there was a 100–year flood, campgrounds and houses downstream would be inundated." "Because our study revealed the dam is a high–hazard dam, it has to be capable of holding back a 1,000–year flood, which it failed those tests as well." Since the Chetek Dam is considered a large dam, due to the height of the water behind it, the county cannot do anything to the dam without DNR approval.

(Jensen, Jeremy A., "‘No real surprises’ as Chetek Dam fails 1,000–year test,", 5 January 2005.)

Boardman River dams, Boardman River, MI

Dam Removal in Grand Traverse County

Environmental officials plan to get rid of three dams in Grand Traverse County. In a report by the Department of Natural Resources, officials suggest removing three Boardman River dams. They say the dams warm the water significantly and pose a threat to cold water fish and the dams cost too much to maintain. Removal would take 5–7 years and cost $7.2 million. The Army Corps of Engineers is reviewing the suggestion. If it meets their guidelines, the report will be sent to the county and Traverse City for review.

("Dam Removal," WorldNow, 15 December 2004.)

us – northeast

Heishman’s Mill Dam, Conodoguinet Creek, PA

Dam bypass channels shad upstream

American Rivers is chief sponsor of a $120,000 project to install an earthen channel around a township dam on Conodoguinet Creek to attract American Shad. The project used cutting–edge technology to mimic a section of a natural stream and open up new habitat for the ocean species. The "nature–like" bypass channel may be the first of its kind in the mid–Atlantic region and possibly the entire East Coast, says Sara Nicholas, project manager for American Rivers. The 500–foot long passage winds its way in a semi–circle through about seven acres of private flood plain starting just downstream of the dam and reconnecting with the creek 20 yards above it, Nicholas says. She adds the channel consists of a series of deep pools and shallow narrow points that gradually elevate the fish to the water level and grade behind the dam. Scott Carney, who works for Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission as restoration coordinator, says this is part of a larger ongoing effort to restore migratory fish species to the river basins. This effort also includes removing or bypassing dams. Dams have a "pronounced" negative impact on ecology, causing flowing water to stagnate and turning a running stream into a lake, Carney says. That decreases the oxygen in water while increasing both water temperature and sediment – in effect, smothering the old habitat.

(Cress, Joseph, "Fish gotta swim; but shad only spawn in fresh water," The Sentinel, 5 December 2004.)

us – southeast

Marvel Slab, Cahaba River, AL

Bridge removal restores Cahaba River

One of the purest and most unaltered rivers in Alabama is regaining populations of fish, snails and other wildlife following removal of a dam that for decades stopped up the river. The 194–mile Cahaba River often is called the state’s longest undammed river because it flows 154 miles south of the dam at US 280 without major impediment. But for decades there was one forgotten obstruction along that route. Call it a dam, call it a bridge or, like the locals, call it the Marvel Slab. No one knows when the bridge was built in the Cahaba, partly because it was planned quietly and without a permit. Adding to the mystery, the land on both sides was owned by a coal company at the time and was not open to public access. Then, three years ago, a unit of the Presbyterian Church USA bought that property. Officials were glad to help with the river’s restoration, even allowing the rubble to be buried on its land. "It’s what I think God wants us to be doing, which is being good stewards," said the Rev. Robert Hay. Still, it took three years to pull together the pieces: The Nature Conservancy coordinated efforts to get federal money from the Army Corps of Engineers and grants from the World Wildlife Fund.

(Bouma, Katherine, "Dam removal restores Cahaba River marine life," The Associated Press, 21 November 2004.)

Tellico Dam, Little Tennessee River, TN

Tellico Dam revisited; TVA’s promises unrealized

TVA’s last big dam project, the Tellico Dam on the Little Tennessee River, was also the agency’s most controversial. Its costs were enormous, but TVA countered that its benefits were even greater. What has become of the Tellico Reservoir in the last quarter century may be more than its most cynical detractors suspected; neither is it exactly what TVA once promised. The story of Tellico Dam is longer and more complicated than a James Michener novel, involving farm families forced from their homes, Cherokee village sites sent underwater, and an elusive endangered fish called the snail darter. Now–retired history professor and author Bruce Wheeler’s book "TVA and the Tellico Dam" is largely critical, but the 1986 book leaves open the prospect that the dam might have accomplished something worthwhile, at whatever cost. He still thinks TVA oversold the project in the face of daunting opposition. Wheeler has visited the reservoir recently and says, "To be honest, I think the project probably did have some benefits" – but he wonders whether much of the development of the area might have happened anyway, following local development patterns, without a dam and lake.

(Neely, Jack, "Tellico Dam Revisited; TVA’s promises for its most controversial project were supposed to be realized by now; are they?," Metro Pulse, 9 December 2004.)